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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

3. Utopian

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Activities: Author Activities

William Penn - Teaching Tips

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  • Students may assume that the seventeenth-century Quakers and Puritans were similar to one another since they shared some traits: both groups immigrated to escape persecution and dreamed of creating a utopian society that would purify the Christian religion and serve as a model to the rest of the world. It is crucial that students understand that, despite these similarities, the Quakers and Puritans were fundamentally different from one another and endorsed radically different values. The Puritans' insistence on rigid hierarchies, religious conformity, and a typological worldview were completely at odds with the Quakers' commitment to religious and racial tolerance, their pacifism, their support of women's spiritual equality, and their belief that written scripture was secondary to an individual's "inner light." The Puritans were so outraged by Quaker theology that they banished, tortured, and even executed Quakers who attempted to preach in Massachusetts. Ask your students to make a list of the differences between Quakers and Puritans. Have them consider how the values of each group have had a lasting effect on American values, politics, or national character.

  • In his "Letter to the Lenni Lenape Indians," Penn explains his belief that the Indians and the Quakers (and indeed all people) share the same God and are ruled by the same moral laws: "This great God has written his law in our hearts, by which we are taught and commanded to love and help and do good to one another, and not to do harm and mischief one unto another." This statement helps elucidate the Quakers' commitment to pacifism and their theological doctrine of the "inner light," or the manifestation of divine love that dwells inside and thus unites all humans. Ask your students to consider the implications of the idea that God "has written his law" in all people's hearts. Have them compare this notion to Puritan ideas about spiritual election. How might these different views of spirituality have affected the way Puritans and Quakers chose to deal with Native Americans?

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