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Unbinding order in history : conscience and civil good in the thought of Roger Williams, 1603-1683

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posted on 15.12.2014, 10:41 by Jennifer H. Smith
This thesis argues that Roger Williams' state fulfilled explicitly spiritual purposes, protecting and promoting the free exercise of conscience. The thesis further argues that far from elevating 'private' interest, Williams expected the strong exercise of natural conscience to endorse patterns of household and civil authority, securing individuals in the commission of their social positions and callings in civil society. Williams expected government and other civil agents to support the ordering exercise of natural conscience, to serve the public good in present history. The thesis corrects scholarly emphasis on Williams' 'separation of church and state,' showing how this historical accent has obscured the 'spiritual purposes' of his government in protecting the access of Grace to the souls of the elect, in present history. Incorporating notice of a previously unrecognised manuscript of 1666, the study examines Williams' account of the effects of 'natural history' (that is, history conditioned by original sin) or authority, power, order, and individuals within commonwealths. It explains the exceptional status Williams thought would accrue to states protecting conscience, the positive power of state institutions to promote and protect free conscience, and the related position of individuals within present commonwealths. Beginning with a detailed account of Williams' theological outlook, the thesis explores the social and political implications of original sin in history. Driven by these conclusions, it then gives full account of his expectations of 'democratical' government, before anatomising the practical mechanics of the collaboration Williams pursued between conscience, the state, and heads of households in Providence and Providence Plantations, forming an extended network of informal civil relationships to conform individual interests to community prerogatives.


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University of Leicester

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