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Title:"The power of a wise imagination": Case studies in value conflict in early eighteenth century America
Author(s):Dunn, Elizabeth Elaine
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Solberg, Winton U.
Department / Program:Religion, History of
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Religion, History of
Anthropology, Cultural
History, United States
Abstract:The public discourse surrounding a variety of issues discussed in the American colonies in the first half of the eighteenth century reveals a persistent clash of values. During this period, colonists debated the legitimacy of paper money, the role of itinerant ministers, the basis of political power, and the relationship between science and religion. Each of the first three topics is the subject of a case study that centers on a different colony. The fourth subject provides the focus for a comparison of the values of two complex personalities, Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards.
Evidence of parallel and competing value-orientations emerges from these case studies that revolve around the poles of what philosophers call essentialism and functionalism. Essentialism draws on a theocentric view of the world and assumes that value is a quality inherent in an object or idea. By contrast, functionalists define things by their purpose and base evaluation on the success or failure met in fulfilling that purpose. This approach, therefore, relies on people to determine worth, and value itself becomes a variable concept rather than a given one.
Change can and does occur within particular sets of values. People, however, sometimes modify cultural structures to more accurately reflect agreed upon principles. Attempts to preserve traditional beliefs can cause dramatic alterations in both society and ideals. Thus, change is not always associated with liberals, nor do conservatives necessarily eschew change. Each of the cases mentioned above reveals that American colonials reacted to change by formulating opinions based on more fundamental values. Often people found themselves advocating radical measures such as paper money or itinerant ministers in order to preserve a broader stability in society. The issue became one of whose version of stability would prevail.
Through an analysis that uses values as the focus, these colonial debates emerge as examples of enduring conflict that characterizes American history. Though often cited as instances of the process of "modernization" at work, they are more accurately characterized as evidence of a fundamental division in American culture that has never been resolved.
Issue Date:1990
Rights Information:Copyright 1990 Dunn, Elizabeth Elaine
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9114229
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9114229

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