Logo   Religion in New England
New England religion: not just Puritanism. There's lots of religious diversity: Unitarianism, Universalism, Transcendentalism, Shakers, Christian Science and more.

Old North Church, Boston MA




European immigrants who settled New England in the 1600s were on a quest for religious freedom.

The Pilgrims who debarked from the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock in 1620 left England so they could worship in their own way without difficulty from others.

But New England theologians soon found themselves disagreeing with one another. Except in Roger Williams's Providence, Rhode Island, their belief in freedom of worship extended onty to themselves and their adherents, not to others.

When two New England preachers couldn't agree, one of them (usually the one with fewer followers) left town and established a new congregation with his followers in a new town.

Plentiful land allowed differing religious beliefs to thrive in the same region. This happened when Thomas Hooker of Cambridge MA set off to found Hartford CT, and when Roger Williams founded Providence RI. Williams actually did believe not just in religious freedom but in religious toleration. Soon there was a prosperous synagogue and a tidy Quaker meetinghouse in Newport RI, and more religious diversity to follow.


The strict form of Calvinism called Puritanism sought to "purify" the church of its high-church accretions, and demanded a strict reading of the Bible rather than elaborate interpretations.

Presbyterians wanted a central church governing system, while Congregationalists thought that each congregation could and should be independent of central control.

Though the stern tenets of early American Puritanism suited the colonists harsh life, religion's influence softened as life in the colonies improved.


What began as doubts about the legitimacy of the 4th-century doctrine of the Trinity progressed during the Enlightenment through the Deism of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to the liberal theology of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists. More...


Transcendentalists believe that true harmony in life only comes by communing with nature and coming to understand it. This 19th-century philosophical and social movement, although small in scope, had important effects on American thought, literature and religion, especially Unitarianism. More...

Christian Science

Perhaps the best-known of New England's religions is Christian Science.

In 1866 a devout New England woman experienced quick recovery from a severe accident, attributing her cure to a glimpse of God's healing power as taught and lived by Jesus.

Thereafter Mary Baker Eddy devoted the remainder of her long life (1821-1910) to better understanding, practicing, and teaching Christian healing, and to founding and promoting the Church of Christ, Scientist.

Today Christian Science, headquartered at the Mother Church in Boston, has branch churches in some 68 countries. More...


Among the most fascinating religions to take shape in New England was the American expression of Shakerism: men and women segregated by gender, devoted to plain living, hard work and religious purity.

Shakers believed in a closed community, separate from the world, where men and women lived without mutual physical contact, but worked, prayed and dined in common. More...

—Tom Brosnahan






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First Parish in Concord MA

Above, meetinghouse of First Parish in Concord MA, a congregation founded in 1636.

Below, the Christian Science Center, Boston MA.

Christian Science Center, Boston MA

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