Kabbalah and the Founding of America: The Early Influence of Jewish Thought in the New World

New York Univ. Jul. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9781479807987. $39. REL
With this latest work, Ogren (Anna Smith Fine Associate Professor of Judaic Studies, Rice Univ.; The Beginning of the World in Renaissance Jewish Thought) considers the connection between Kabbalah and the formation of religious thought in the colonial United States. His well-researched narrative pays particular attention to Kabbalah’s place in the intellectual thinking of notable early American religious figures (including Scottish missionary George Keith, ministers Increase Mather and Cotton Mather, and Yale University president Ezra Stiles), and traces the trajectory of Kabbalah’s influence on Quakerism, Puritanism, and early American thought. For example, Ogren writes that studying Kabbalah inspired Ezra Stiles to deliver a 1781 speech in which he declared that learning based on rabbinic and kabalistic thinking should be the basis of a new form of education in American colleges. Using primary source materials from the 1680s through the 1780s, Ogren also studies the origins of a kabbalistic text from 1722 that is thought to be the first one published in the British colonies.
VERDICT Ogren has authored a tour de force with this well-written and captivating volume that reexamines the role of religion in the period leading up to American independence. A must for readers interested in an often untold perspective on the history and religious identity of the United States.
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