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Protestant Empire

Religion and the Making of the Atlantic World
Carla Gardina Pestana


The expansion of Europe from its peninsula into other parts of the globe was one of the most significant events to shape the modern world. Among the many effects of this cataclysmic movement of people and institutions was the intermixture of cultures that occurred in the colonies that Europeans created. Europeans crossed oceans, encountered native inhabitants, and inter­acted with them in a myriad of ways. What emerged from these encounters was, as historians James H. Merrell and Colin G. Calloway have pointed out, a new world for everyone involved.1 Central to the creation of this new world was a clash of religious beliefs and practices. As a result of cultural encounters, all religions were changed—European Christianity no less than Native Amer­ican spirituality. When Europeans moved out into the Adantic basin, they brought together the diverse religious traditions and experiences of people from three continents.

By 1800 Christianity had reached into sub-Saharan Africa, both in the Kongo, where Portuguese Catholics had introduced Catholicism centuries before, and more recendy in Sierra Leone, a new colony under British author­ity peopled by Protestant settlers of African descent who were strongly com­mitted to the Christian faith. Native religions had been reshaped by the introduction of Christianity in vast areas of North and South America. Roman Catholicism had become an indigenous religion over centuries of adaptation in Latin America to the south and in Quebec to the north, while Protestant Christianity had made serious inroads in some communities in the broad central swath of North America. The movement of peoples with their beliefs and practices had spread not just Christianity generally but competing versions of that faith, so that in Anglophone areas of the Atlantic world a variety of Christian faiths were flourishing and vying for adherents, from Baptists and Methodists to Moravians and Quakers, by 1800. Though Chris­tianity was dominant among the new religions, the other Old World……