Many historians have attempted to understand the violent religious conflicts of the 17th century from viewpoints dominated by concepts of class, gender, and demography. But few studies have explored the cultural process whereby religious symbolism created social cohesion and political allegiance. This text examines religious conflict in the parish communities of early modern England using an interdisciplinary approach that includes all these perspectives. Daniel Beaver studies the urban parish of Tewkesbury and six rural parishes in its hinterland over a period of 100 years, drawing on local ecclesiastical court records, sermons, parish records, corporate minutes and charity books, and probate documents. He discusses the centrality of religious symbols and ceremonies in the ordering of local societies, particularly in local conceptions of place, personal identity, and the life cycle. Four phases in the transformation of parish communities emerge and are examined in this book. This exploration of the interrelationship of religion, politics, and society, and the transformation of local communities in civil war, has a value beyond the particular history of early modern England, contributing to a broader understanding of religious revivals, fundamentalisms, and the persistent link between religion, nationalism, and ethnic identity in the modern world.
Daniel C. Beaver is Assistant Professor of History, Pennsylvania State University.