This essay considers English mortuary customs in the context of religious conflict and economic crisis in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The anthropological concepts of person, ritual and symbol serve as points of departure from which to explore the religious significance of death and the implications of religious controversy in local societies. This combination of method and argument forms a critique of received scholarly opinion on the interaction of religion and economy in early modern England. Current orthodoxy asserts economic polarization as the prelude to a religious differentiation of rich Puritans from their poor neighbours in local parishes. Religious difference is interpreted as class difference in its embryonic form. The evidence discussed in this essay suggests the primacy of religious symbolism in the creation of a local religious culture distinguished by the cohesion of sympathetic families, as opposed to the residential cohesion of the traditional parish. The argument thus concerns both the nature of historical transformation in the religious communities of early modern England and the relative value of anthropological method in the analysis of that transformation.
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