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Religion and Spirituality

In 1618, the mounting tensions between the Protestants and Catholics launched the Thirty Years' War in Europe. The war lasted until 1648, and was fought principally in Germany. The conflict involved most of the major European continental powers. Although it was from the outset a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics, the rivalry between the Habsburg dynasty and other powers was also a central motive, as shown by the fact that Catholic France even supported the Protestant side, increasing France-Habsburg rivalry. The impact of the Thirty Years' War and related episodes of famine and disease was devastating. The war ended with the Treaty of Westphalia.

Meanwhile, in the first years of the 17th century, small numbers of English Puritans broke away from the Church of England because they felt that it had not completed the work of the Reformation. They were commonly known as "Pilgrims," and committed themselves to a life based on the Bible. Most of these Separatists were farmers, poorly educated and without social or political standing. One of the Separatist congregations was led by William Brewster and the Reverend Richard Clifton in the village of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire. The Scrooby group emigrated to Amsterdam in 1608 to escape harassment and religious persecution. The next year they moved to Leiden, where, enjoying full religious freedom, they remained for almost twelve years. In 1617, discouraged by economic difficulties, the pervasive Dutch influence on their children, and their inability to secure civil autonomy, the congregation voted to emigrate to America. In 1620, a band of English Puritan separatists arrived at Plymouth Harbor, and founded a colony there. The Pilgrims faced a lengthy series of challenges, from bureaucracy, impatient investors and internal conflicts to sabotage, storms, disease and uncertain relations with the indigenous peoples.

In England, the authorized King James Bible was published in 1611. The New Testament of the King James Version was translated from the Received Text (Textus Receptus), called so because most extant texts of the time were in agreement with it. The Old Testament of the King James Version is translated from the Masoretic Hebrew Text. The King James Version has had a profound impact on English literature, and the works of famous authors such as John Milton, Herman Melville, John Dryden, and William Wordsworth are replete with inspiration derived therefrom.

At the same time, the Religious Society of Friends (commonly known as Quakers) began in England in the 17th century by people who were dissatisfied with the existing denominations and sects of Christianity. Traditionally, George Fox has been credited as the founder or the most important early figure. Living in a time of great social upheaval, Fox rebelled against the religious and political consensus by proposing an unusual and uncompromising approach to the Christian faith. His journal is a text known even among non-Quakers for its vivid account of his personal journey. Unlike other groups that emerged within Christianity, the Religious Society of Friends has tended toward little hierarchical structure, and no creeds. The various branches have widely divergent beliefs and practices, but the central concept to many Friends may be the "Inner Light" or "that of God within" each of us. Accordingly, individual Quakers may develop individual religious beliefs arising from individual conscience and revelation coming from "God within"; further, Quakers are obliged to live by such individual religious beliefs and inner revelations. In America, William Penn, also a Quaker, founded the state of Pennsylvania and devoted his life to advocating the ideals of tolerance, individual liberty, and equality.

At the same time that the Quakers increased in following, the Baptists emerged in England out of the Separatist movement, which the Baptists believed had neither faithfully adhered to the Bible nor severed ties with the corrupt practices of the Church of England. The Baptists also differed from the Separatists on the issue of baptism, believing that the rite was reserved for confessed believers. Famous Baptists of the period include John Smythe, Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, and John Bunyan, who authored the classic allegorical novel, The Pilgrim's Progress.