Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (vi, 213 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Branka Arsic

Committee Members

Richard Barney, James Lilley, David Wills


Early American Literature, Pain, Puritanism, Spiritual Conversion, The Human Body, The Mind, Pain in literature, Puritans

Subject Categories

American Literature


This dissertation studies the many ways in which physical pain produces instances of personal piety in poems, narratives, and theological tracts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Puritan New England. Specifically, the project revises the idea that spiritual regeneration happened only through Puritan contacts with established liturgical means and precast homiletics; it contends instead that conversion occurred because of bodily pain. Analyzing four canonical Puritan writers--Anne Bradstreet, Mary Rowlandson, Cotton Mather, and Jonathan Edwards--Theologies of Pain demonstrates that texts of even the most historically mainstream Puritans contend with the disruptive force of pain. Anne Bradstreet sees pain as an object of contemplation destabilizing the semiotics of the human body inherited from ancient and Renaissance philosophy. For Mary Rowlandson, it is a paradoxically reassuring force that allows her to retain her spiritual identity while under captivity in the wilderness of western New England. Cotton Mather, perhaps the most loquacious spokesperson for the Puritans in this study, theorizes that pain is a uniquely divine sensation that reorients thinking. And Jonathan Edwards--by contrast to the three other writers--reasons that pain is never a sensation but is, instead, a posture of mind attributable only to the unregenerate, or "natural," man. After conversion, pain becomes negated in Edwards's theology. This project thus shows that in New England Puritanism, pain resists collective interpretation and, instead, signifies intensely in its adherents' personal expressions of piety.