Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize Awarded

Douglas Winiarski recognized for Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England

The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) has announced that the 2018 Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize will go to Douglas Winiarski for his book Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England, published in 2017 by the University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. The Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize is given to the best nonfiction work on the history of Massachusetts published during the preceding year. Winiarski will receive the award at an event at the Society on February 13, 2018.

After reviewing 16 submissions that interpret the history of Massachusetts through an exciting range of subjects and time periods, the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize selection committee chose Darkness Falls on the Land of Light as the winner this year. The committee notes that the book is an extraordinary work of history that transforms our understanding of lived religious experience in 18th-century New England. Drawing heavily on research in local archives and church records, it contributes to the comprehension of ecclesiastical practices, a subject that helps us grasp the full range of religious life in New England. The heart of the book is the investigation of shifts in the meanings of religion for men and women, a reconstruction that brings to life developing rifts in the cultural order. Winiarski shows that, by the end of the 18th century as a result of these struggles, the religious landscape was profoundly different from the old Congregational establishment. The story this book tells is of breakdown and transformation, of broad and deep changes, that have eluded discovery in standard historical accounts.

“The history reconstructed in Darkness Falls on the Land of Light offers many surprises,” wrote the selection committee. “Its readers will find in it massive research, fascinating questions, revealing quotations, and compelling conclusions—all embedded in a rich and clear prose. It is a splendid book, worthy of the high distinction of the Gomes Prize.”

Douglas L. Winiarski is associate professor of religious studies at the University of Richmond. He is the author of Darkness Falls on the Land of Light and is a contributor to Native Americans, Christianity, and the Reshaping of the American Religious Landscape, also from UNC Press. Darkness Falls on the Land of Light is has won numerous awards including the Bancroft Prize (2018); the Nonfiction Book Award, New England Society (2018); Library of Virginia Literary Award (2018); and Choice Outstanding Academic Title (2017). It was a Finalist for the George Washington Prize (2018) and received an Honorable Mention for the Philip Schaff Prize, American Society of Church Historians (2017).

About the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize
The Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize, for the best nonfiction work on the history of Massachusetts published during the preceding year, honors the memory of a respected Harvard scholar and beloved Fellow of the MHS. Peter J. Gomes (1942-2011) was elected to the MHS in 1976 and joined the Board of Overseers in 2010. He was Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard University.