Kawczak, Steven M.
Doctor of Philosophy, University of Akron, History, December (2011)
This dissertation is about death and its relationship to religion in late seventeenth-century England. The primary argument is that while beliefs about death stemmed from the Reformation tradition, divergent religious reforms of Puritanism and Arminianism did not lead to differing approaches to death. People adapted religious ideas on general terms of Protestant Christianity and not specifically aligned with varying reform movements. This study links apologetics and sermons concerning spiritual death, physical death, and remedies for each to cultural practice through the lens of wills and graves to gauge religious influence. Readers are reminded of the origins of reformed thought, which is what seventeenth-century English theologians built their ideas upon. Religious debates of the day centered on the Puritan and Arminian divide, which contained significantly different ideas of soteriology, a key aspect of a good death in the English ars moriendi. Puritans and Arminians regarded each other as political and religious enemies, yet their theology and teachings reveal the same understanding to the end of life and afterlife. Interestingly, people approached death identifying their common faith as Christians, not divided into different religious groups. Individuals heeded preachers’ advice to recognize mortality and prepare for death in advance of the deathbed. Guidance from theologians emphasized hope and expectation of a blessed death through reliance on God and His promises. This dissertation contributes to narrowing a gap in the scholarship on late seventeenth-century English history and is also a work in thanatology that assesses how humanity has dealt with death. This research especially considers wills as a primary source to evaluate how society faced mortality and Christian teachings shaped conventional thought. The evidence also reveals an increasing value placed on family. Finally, this dissertation is a reminder that assessing the personal topic of death and dying is a unique way to increase understanding of human nature as death is approached. This is a study of the humanities that deals with life’s meaning, mortality, identity and cultural change at one of the most crucial of the life cycles – death.