Calvin and Locke: Dueling Epistemologies in The New-England Primer, 1720–1790

Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 8, Number 2, pp. 250-287.

By Stephanie Schnorbus

Most historians agree there was a shift away from Calvinism and toward Enlightenment thought during the eighteenth century. When discussing that shift in relation to children's literature or education, some historians use The New-England Primer as an example of unchanging Calvinism. Other historians argue that changes, especially the addition of certain illustrated lessons, secularized the primer. This essay argues that the changes to illustrations and their accompanying text in The New-England Primer can best be understood through a grasp of John Calvin's and John Locke's theories of knowledge. An examination of text, images, and epistemology in The New-England Primer reveals that the shift from Calvin to Locke was neither complete nor terribly secularizing. The changes that did occur, beginning with significant ones in the 1750s, are an excellent example of how Christianity and the Enlightenment interacted, and they call into question whether secularization is the best characterization of that interaction.

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(Something interesting I found)Posted:May 01 2010, 12:00 AM by Cait
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