Time, Habit, and Agency in English Puritanism

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion


This paper attempts to fill in a dimension of discussions of religious relations between memory and the body, time and agency, habituation and social control. Analyzing the works of seventeenth-century divine Richard Rogers, I distinguish two ways of attending to time: amount of time spent well, and continuity of attention. For Rogers, lapses in memory and moment of idleness are gaps through which Satan snares the unwary; the godly must foster correct habits "at all times." The case of English Puritanism underlines the central role that time plays in the formation of correctly habituated human activity. It points to a key site at which religious ideas and practices gain leverage over human agency. It suggests further that modernity is distinguished by the more effective means of habituation fostered by highly motivated and consistent attentiveness to time. This distinction goes beyond Weber and other work on the Protestant ethic thesis and could inform further empirical work in the area.

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