Puritanism was a religious denomination that emerged from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and came to have a significant impact on English political events in the 17th century and on American culture. The Puritans shared with Protestants the belief that the Bible should be translated into languages other than Latin, but were unique in their belief in predestination.
The Protestant Reformation
Puritanism originates with the Protestant Reformation, a religious upheaval that began in 1517 and challenged the religious supremacy of the Catholic Church. Another prominent Protestant reformer was John Calvin of Geneva, who had a more radical vision of Protestantism known as Calvinism. Calvinists in England in the later 16th century began calling themselves Puritans, as they sought to "purify" the English Church, which had split from Catholicism in the early 16th century but which they deemed was not different enough.
One of the major beliefs of Puritanism, and one shared by all Protestants, was that the Bible should be translated into local languages, rather than remain in Latin as dictated by the Catholic Church. Protestantism had at its core the belief that each individual was responsible for their own faith, and so individuals needed to be able to read the Bible in their own language. Thus Puritans and Protestants were major supporters of translations of the Bible into different languages, for the sake of individual worship.
The belief that set Puritans and Calvinists apart from other denominations of Protestantism, however, was predestination. Puritans believed that God had already determined who would go to heaven and who to hell, and that a small percentage of individuals among the population were the Elect, those predestined for heaven. While no one knew whether he or she was predestined for heaven, the Elect would naturally be hard workers and good people and so Puritans strove to be the best they could be in the hope that they were one of the Elect.
Puritans had a significant impact on the United States, where many established colonies after fleeing persecution in England. Because Puritans worked hard in the hopes that they were of the Elect, these colonies were economically successful. Scholars such as Max Weber even argue that the unique Puritan work ethic permeated American culture and helped the young nation work hard to achieve economic success. In England, Puritans had a different, more controversial impact: in 1642, they helped start the English Civil War, which would culminate in the execution of King Charles I.
Aatif Rashid writes on international politics and culture. His articles have appeared in magazines such as "The Oxonian Globalist" and online at Future Foreign Policy and ThinkPolitic. He holds Bachelor's degrees in English and history from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters degree from the University of Oxford.