How A Repressive, Dour, Wig-Wearing Puritan Liberated Marilynne Robinson


Do I Look Like a Liberator of 21st Century Humankind? (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In the latest issue of Humanities, the magazine for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Nobel Prize-winning writer Marilynne Robinson discusses how Jonathan Edwards, that repressive, dour, powder wig-wearing killjoy Puritan, popularly known for his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” liberated her.

The essay, titled (brace yourself), “Jonathan Edwards in a New Light: Remembered for Preaching Fire and Brimstone, He Was Actually One of the Great Intellectuals of His Era,” is striking most notably because Robinson is known as an unashamed Calvinist who actually reads, loves, and frequently writes about Calvin, while she’s been relatively silent about Jonathan Edwards. This essay demonstrates she’s more than a one-note, albeit highly literate, Calvinist.

Here’s some excerpts:

I know this sounds improbable on its face. We are told that it is modernity that liberates, and Puritanism, with its famous defense of predestination and its all-devouring work ethic, that we ought to be, and perhaps never are, liberated from. I have always been unperturbed by these criticisms.


Jonathan Edwards provided me with a metaphysics that made the phenomenal world come alive for me again and that seemed to me to undercut every version of determinism, including even predestination, without obliging me to accept an alternative.

Robinson concludes the essay:

Edwards’s vision….taught me to think in terms that finally did some justice to the complexity of things.

Read Robinson’s essay on Jonathan Edwards here.

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