Enlightening Enthusiasm

We are pleased to announce the publication of Lionel Laborie’s monograph, Enlightening Enthusiasm: Prophecy and Religious Experience in Early Eighteenth-Century England (Manchester University Press, 2015).

‘In the summer 1706, three Protestant refugees from the last French war of religion arrived in London to prophesy the fall of Rome and Christ’s imminent Second Coming. They claimed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, experienced bodily agitations and sought to revive the apostolic Church. Within two years, these ‘French Prophets’ counted nearly 500 followers, including Huguenots, Anglicans, Philadelphians, Quakers, Presbyterians, Baptists, Quietists and even Jews. Their movement launched missionary tribes after failing to resurrect one of their members from the dead and spread across Europe. They remained active in Britain until the late 1740s, reappearing sporadically among the first Methodists, Moravians and Shakers.

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The French Prophets sparked one of the greatest controversies in eighteenth-century England, marked by a prodigious battle of pamphlets on revealed religion and miracles, violent riots and a political trial. They were branded as ‘enthusiasts’, then a derogatory label for religious fanaticism, but one whose modern representation largely draws upon the hostile discourse of Augustan moralists.

This book examines the nature of religious enthusiasm against the backdrop of the early English Enlightenment. It offers the first comprehensive approach to enthusiasm by looking at this multifarious issue from a social, religious, cultural, political and medical perspective. Based on new archival research, it challenges our modern understanding of this originally infamous term by dissociating religious experience from millenarianism, radical dissent and popular religion, to shed new light on the reality of enthusiasm in early Enlightenment England.’

The book can be ordered from the publisher’s website, http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9780719089886

InvenCaP Blog – Church Books and their Copies

By Mark Burden

I am pleased to report that InvenCaP’s initial survey of dissenting records in national and local record offices is now complete. During this early stage of the project it has been important to consider in some detail the relationship between original documents and later copies. As well as locating approximately 250 original church books, registers, and financial account books from the period 1640-1714, we have now compiled an inventory of over 100 significant manuscript copies of these documents. These copies, which currently only include complete or near-complete transcriptions of church books and registers, have often been relied on by historians, and are sometimes assumed to be the earliest documents of their kind. Such confusion must undoubtedly have led to mistakes in genealogies and church chronologies for several centuries, and it seems highly probably that the ideological assumptions of these later copies have also had an impact upon both diachronic and synchronic histories of dissent more broadly. Of equal significance to the Puritan Experience project would be a detailed consideration of the changes in narrative emphasis and structure between each source and its copies. Such changes can manifest themselves in the reordering and retitling of material, as well as in the rewording of key documents; more subtly, the changed function of information within a document can be affected by the identity and orthographic choices of the scribe, the quality of the paper and binding, and the slippage between autograph signatures and copies.

There are of course a substantial number of record office transcriptions compiled primarily for the purposes of producing indexes of names, aiding family and local historians, and preserving collections. Leaving these to one side, by far the largest number of copies of church books recorded by InvenCaP date from the nineteenth century; many of these were produced with a view to clarifying the history of a specific church, or in response to the request from the Registration Commission that all such documents should be deposited in London. As the frequent melancholy references to ‘lost’ documents makes clear, the individuals and associations involved with the copying of these texts shared our twenty-first century preoccupation with the conservation and preservation of valuable records. Nevertheless, the production of copies frequently had unintended consequences. For example, as individual churches discovered older (or more recent) transcriptions, or gave up their initial plan of keeping a version of the deposited records for the use of their congregation, the nineteenth–century Registration Commission found itself acquiring multiple copies of the same registers; keeping track of the provenance of all these items could only be achieved by pasting correspondence and survey returns into each book. These letters and forms provide today’s historians with a virtually untouched archive relating to the use of church books in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and tell us much about the owners and transcribers of these documents.

It was common for the transcriber to have close personal links to the church, and to have wider antiquarian interests in dissent or local history. Joseph Rix, who in 1855 completed a five-volume manuscript account of the nonconformist churches at Hail Weston and St Neots, was a member of a longstanding and powerful dissenting family with connections to Isaac Watts and Joseph Parker. His account was typical of contemporaneous printed histories of dissenting churches, mixing narrative sections with extensive transcribed passages from church books and other original documents. Another dissenting antiquarian – equally voluminous if less eminent – was Joseph Davey, who in the 1840s and 1850s transcribed verbatim a whole series of early dissenting church books from the east of England, including those of Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Bury St Edmunds, Woodbridge, Guestwick, Wrentham, Tunstead, and Wattisfield. Like Rix, Davey’s interests were primarily historical rather than genealogical, and he used his notes to write a lengthy manuscript account of Great Yarmouth church during the commonwealth.

Dissenting church books also enable an interesting exploration of the truism that there is no such thing as an original document. Researchers are now very used to the notion that no text can faithfully represent the events which it records, whether fiction or fact. This principle is no less true of baptisms, marriages, and deaths than it is of ordinations, church meetings, sermons, or cases of conscience. However, it is also verified by the content and structure of so-called ‘original’ church books themselves, many of which consist almost entirely of copies of earlier written documents. These sources may include trust deeds and licences, receipts and other financial briefs, church covenants and confessions, testimonials and recommendations, petitions by members of the congregation, and letters relating to church business. In some cases, the surviving church book is itself a near-contemporaneous fair copy of a rough minute book recording church meetings; the most important minutes could be written up in batches at the distance of a few months or even years. The same could happen with loose registers of baptisms and members, initially drawn up by the minister but later copied into a bulkier bound volume at his instruction or following his decease. We might tentatively conclude that the often-remarked discrepancy between different copies of the same biographical information is sometimes the result not of scribal error, but of a change in perspective caused by the passage of time between different records of an event.

Reliquiae Baxterianae: Online Exhibition

The wonderful online exhibition devoted to the Reliquiae Baxterianae is now online from the Google Cultural Institute and provides a wealth of information about the Baxter manuscripts, their state of preservation, their successive editions, as well as the reception of Baxter’s œuvre and much else besides.

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The exhibition is beautifully curated, as well as entertaining, and is a mine of information for anybody with an interest in early-modern dissenting culture. We highly recommend it!

See: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/exhibit/-AJC4CrPoff9KA?position=7%3A0

BSECS 2016: Writing, Religion, and Enlightenment Panel

Call for Papers: Writing, Religion, and Enlightenment panel at BSECS 2016 (St Hugh’s College, Oxford, 6th-8th January 2016)

The focus of this panel is the relationship between writing and religion in the period of the Enlightenment (broadly interpreted). We invite proposals for 20 minute papers on this theme in relation to texts, from the canonical to the unpublished, connected with or produced by different religious denominations and communities (Anglican, Dissenting, Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, Quaker and others). We are open to methodological approaches drawn from different disciplines, but the central concerns of the panel are: i) The ways in which individuals and groups represent and live their religious faith and identity through the reading, writing, and dissemination of texts; and ii) critical analysis of texts that might be termed ‘religious’ with a particular attention to language, form and genre.

Additional questions that the panel might address include, but are not limited to:

  • How were religious genres including hymnody, sermon and prayer conceived of in the period? What differentiates them from genres in the secular tradition?
  • How do religious writers imagine their readers?
  • How can religious texts be situated within the textual landscape of the Enlightenment? And in what ways do they engage with key Enlightenment debates (including, for example, ideas of self and of agency, rationality, and forms of knowledge)?
  • How do eighteenth-century writers validate their religious writing, and on what grounds do they negotiate the internal and external authority of their work?
  • How might we counter claims that religious writing fails to conform to the ideal of the literary?
  • What are the advantages/limitations of seeking to recuperate close reading and form-based criticism as an alternative to the historicist monopoly over the study of religious literature?
  • What can we learn from an investigation of religious writing that might influence our analysis of literary texts more broadly?

This panel represents the latest in a series of events organised by the panel chairs, and suitable papers will be considered for a planned publication comprising a journal special edition on this theme in 2017.

Abstracts of 250 words or fewer should be submitted by midnight on 11th October 2015 to L.I.Davies@soton.ac.uk

Details of the BSECS Annual Conference can be found at http://www.bsecs.org.uk/

The Crisis of British Protestantism

Hunter Powell’s monograph, The Crisis of British Protestantism: Church Power in the Puritan Revolution, 1638–44,  is now out with Manchester University Press.

‘This book seeks to bring coherence to two of the most studied periods in British history, Caroline non-conformity (pre-1640) and the British revolution (post-1642). It does so by focusing on the pivotal years of 1638–44 where debates around non-conformity within the Church of England morphed into a revolution between Parliament and its king. Parliament, saddled with the responsibility of re-defining England’s church, called its Westminster assembly of divines to debate and define the content and boundaries of that new church.

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Typically this period has been studied as either an ecclesiastical power struggle between Presbyterians and independents, or as the harbinger of modern religious toleration. This book challenges those assumptions and provides an entirely new framework for understanding one of the most important moments in British history’.

To order, see the publisher’s website, http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9780719096341