Pocohontas's baptism: Reformed theology and the paradox of desire

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Seeking to elucidate certain elements of Reformed theology, the writer explores the conversion narrative concerning the baptism, in the early 17th century, of the Native American woman Pocahontas. She explains that in a letter detailing his anxieties about his relationship with Pocahontas, the English settler John Rolfe denies the desire of carnal affection while celebrating his longing to convert Pocahontas. She highlights this link between the desire for the flesh and the desire for the spirit, and she traces the ways in which these longings operate in Rolfe's letter and in the baptismal theology informing the conversion of Pocahontas. She suggests that an analysis of the desires of the convertor and of the connection between the feared yearning for the flesh and the sacred desire for the divine reveal important aspects of Reformed thought.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-30
Number of pages16
JournalCritical Survey
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1999


  • puritan theology
  • Pocahontas
  • baptism


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