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The Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English

Seminar 2009

1. 7 January 2009
‘Unitarian MPs in the Nineteenth Century’
Professor David Bebbington (University of Stirling)

Unitarians were the most prominent of Nonconformists in political life during the nineteenth century. This paper, based on a database of members of the denomination who sat in the Commons during that period, began by drawing attention to the difficulties of deciding who was a Unitarian. It went on to analyse the social composition, party affiliations, favourite issues, roles in public life and broader characteristics of this body of men.

2. 4 February 2009
‘An English Dissenter and the Crisis of European Protestantism: Roger Morrice’s Perceptions of European Politics in the 1680s’
Professor Stephen Taylor (University of Reading)

As a result of the work of the Roger Morrice Entring Book Project, the world of Roger Morrice has been the subject of much scholarly attention in recent years. This paper focused on a neglected aspect of the Entring Book–the foreign news recorded in it. The paper attempted to do two things. First, it examined the foreign news recorded in the Entring Book, analysing the type of news recorded by Morrice and from where he obtained it. Second, it explored his selection and recording of news, suggesting that what Morrice recorded reveals much about the mental world of Morrice and those whose views he shared – the group described by Mark Goldie as ‘Puritan Whigs’. The paper suggested that a specific Reformed mentality underpinned Morrice’s understanding of events in Europe in the 1680s.

3. 4 March 2009
‘Joseph Priestley, Joanna Southcott, and British Philo-Semitism’
Dr Matthew Niblett (University of Oxford)

The last years of the eighteenth century witnessed a revival of Protestant interest in both Biblical prophecy and the millennium. Although restorationism had long featured as a strand of Protestant theology, discussion over the fate of the Jews and their relation to the Second Coming suddenly resurfaced as a pressing theological issue. Those who investigated such themes included rational dissenters such as the theologian and natural scientist Joseph Priestley, as well as more mystical figures such as the prophetess Joanna Southcott. While Priestley and Southcott were both treated as dangerous enthusiasts by their enemies, the way in which their visions of the millennium reflected rather different understandings of Biblical interpretation is often overlooked. This paper offered a comparison of these figures and their involvement in these discussions, exploring how philo-Semitism was often linked with fierce debates over the use and misuse of Scripture.

4. 22 April 2009
‘Reading and the Study of Divinity in Late Seventeenth-Century England: A Case Study of John Wilkins’s Ecclesiastes’
Rosemary Dixon (Queen Mary, University of London)

John Wilkins’s Ecclesiastes (first published in 1646 and in its thirteenth edition by 1718) has most often been drawn on for evidence about the practice of preaching. Its significance as a guide to theological reading and study, however, has been largely overlooked. Though Wilkins includes instructions about the style, composition, and delivery of sermons, the majority of Ecclesiastes is taken up with a series of reading lists, in which Wilkins encourages preachers to recycle material from published sermons and practical works in their own preaching. This paper examined various annotated and interleaved copies of Ecclesiastes, showing how far Wilkins’s advice was put into practice by Church of England clergymen and dissenting ministers. It concentrated particularly on Isaac Watts’s extensively annotated copy of the 1693 edition, held in Dr Williams’s Library. The paper provided both a context in which to understand the relevance of Watts’s copy, and a broader appreciation of the importance of works like Ecclesiastes as sources for the history of reading.

5. 17 June 2009

‘The Letters of Francis Blackburne’
Professor Grayson Ditchfield (University of Kent)

Francis Blackburne (1705-1787), rector of Richmond, Yorkshire, from 1739 and archdeacon of Cleveland from 1750, was an outstanding exponent of the Latitudinarian and Whig tradition within the eighteenth-century Church of England. In his publications he propounded the so-called ‘mortalist’ heresy and his best-known work The Confessional (1766) strongly attacked the principle of clerical and undergraduate subscription to human formularies and insisted that belief in Scripture alone represented the true test of faith. He made it known that he would accept no further promotion in the Church, since to do so would involve a renewed public profession of belief in the doctrines embodied in the Thirty-Nine Articles. Yet he never seceded from the Church and for more than thirty years proved himself a highly conscientious pastoral clergyman and an efficient ecclesiastical administrator. His published works show him to have been an ardent polemicist for the values of Reformation Protestantism. However, his private letters give a different impression. For all their determined assertion of civil and religious liberty and their denunciations of the Church hierarchy, they also provide detailed evidence as to the reasons why Blackburne felt able to remain a clergyman of the established church. He was convinced that the Church of England was open to the possibility of internal reform, and retained the hope that it could once again become a bastion against Catholicism, which to the end of his life he saw as an insidious and increasing danger. The aim of this paper, by focusing upon his letters, was to offer some illumination of the character of the Church in that period.

6. 8 July 2009
‘Dissenters in Eighteenth-Century Polite Culture’
Dr Lawrence Klein (Emmanuel College, Cambridge)

While eighteenth-century dissenters regularly took issue with the worldliness and temptation associated with the ambient polite culture, polite culture was diverse, had many components and could be adapted to a range of individual social pathways. In some forms (such as fashionable consumer goods), polite culture was hard to avoid, at least for the affluent of whatever religious outlook. To the extent that politeness was a technology of social relations, it positively invited and facilitated interaction among persons who were different from each other in religious disposition as well as in gender, social background, economic resources, geographical origin and intellectual formation. This paper looked at the experiences of several dissenters whose paths crossed in Bath around the years 1780. It used their involvement in the first Bath Philosophical Society as a point of departure for investigating how dissent played a role in impeding, complicating or facilitating their actual engagements in the surrounding culture.


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