The Habitus of Federal Theology: From the Scottish Covenanters to Early America

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2021-05

Authors

Csoros, Mark

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Abstract

Since the mid-nineteenth century, historiography on the Scottish Covenanters has made a remarkable and appropriate shift away from the propagandist histories which previously characterized much of the work in this field. This trend has resulted in valuable and nuanced understandings of Covenanting featuring exemplary historicity, and for that deserve to be celebrated. But in recent years, this scholarship has begun to overcorrect. Instead of the caricatured portrayals of the Covenanting movement as uniformly extreme, homogenously Presbyterian, and completely anti-crown, recent emphasis on the differences between Covenanter factions has begun to erode the rationale for considering Covenanting to be a movement at all. This scholarship has not produced a replacement rationale, but continues to describe scholarship as on “the Covenanters” or “the Covenanting movement” despite its efforts to dismantle the basis of support for such descriptions. This thesis proposes a new paradigm for Covenant historiography, under which the Covenanters are defined by their shared habitus of federal theology, not by their divergences in practice, thus preserving the appropriate conception of Covenanting as a distinct phenomenon, as well as the laudable historicity of recent scholarship. In addition, the use of this paradigm yields valuable insights into the relationship between Covenanter dispositions of federal theology and the early American religiopolitical thought which developed into a federal political structure.

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