1. 11 January 2012
'An Anatomy of Religious Dissent in London, 1700-1830′
Dr John Seed (Roehampton)
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century London was in many respects the headquarters of religious dissent. The Board of Dissenting Deputies was a lay body of national importance. Similarly the ‘Body of Protestant Dissenting Ministers of the Three Denominations’ in and around London was the most influential clerical organization. London ministers addressed the throne, and the regium donum and other funds passed through their hands. And yet there is no historical overview or ‘anatomy’ of religious dissent in London. This paper looks at the various sources which can begin to provide some kind of perspective on the numbers, the social geography and the denominational structure of London dissent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But the case of London raises a number of important questions about how to understand dissenting history, and the second half of the paper looks at the dissident margins of London dissent and what might be termed ‘plebeian dissent’.
2. 8 February 2012
‘The Triumph of the “Failed Literator”: Henry Crabb Robinson on Metaphysics, Science, and Literature’
Philipp Hunnekuhl (Queen Mary)
Henry Crabb Robinson has been regarded, traditionally and very much in line with his own self-depreciative judgement, as a mere intermediary between the more prominent literary figures of his day. Having been excluded from the British universities due to his dissenting allegiance, he studied philosophy, science, and literature at Jena from 1802 to 1805. He aspired to thus become a professional ‘literator’ after his return to England – a ‘person concerned with textual criticism, commentary, and
analysis’, according to the OED. This paper traces his intellectual development, and it argues that although the plans to lead such an exclusively literary life did not materialise, his ‘philosophical erudition unique among British writers in the early nineteenth century’ (Vigus) is reflected vividly in his largely informal and
fragmented critical commentary on literature. This turns his professional failure into a stunning success as a literary critic. In order to support this claim, the paper will be drawing on a significant amount of as yet unpublished manuscript materials from the Crabb Robinson collection at Dr Williams’s Library.
3. 14 March 2012
‘ “Very curious and scarce”: Thomas Hollis’s Gifts to Dr Williams’s Library, 1750-1774’
Professor Allen Reddick (Zurich)
Thomas Hollis (1720-1774), wealthy dissenter, largely republican, devoted his life to liberty causes and public service, following the precepts of John Milton, his hero. Working behind the scenes, often anonymously, he attempted to create a network of like-minded individuals, institutions, and communities throughout Europe and North America. His most important efforts in this regard involved the donation of thousands of books, many rare and bound with dyed morocco stamped with gold ‘liberty’ emblems, to libraries and individuals. For Harvard College, the North American institution founded by Congregationalists, he restocked their library with thousands of books after the entire Harvard College library burned in 1764. To Dr Williams’s Library, he gave a large number of books and pamphlets, second in Britain only to
Christ’s College, Cambridge, Milton’s college. These remarkable books illuminate the relationship between Hollis, Dr Williams’s Library, and dissenting causes on both sides of the Atlantic and provide insight into the world of dissent in the 1760s and 1770s.
4. 9 May 2012
‘Unitarians and St Paul in Nineteenth-Century Britain’
Dr Michael Ledger-Lomas (Cambridge)
Opponents of Unitarians in early nineteenth-century Britain felt that St Paul should have been a thorn in their flesh. Paul’s epistles consistently preached that Jesus Christ was divine and that he died to redeem humanity from sin – the very doctrines that Unitarians claimed were foreign to apostolic Christianity. Critics
queued up to mock their attempts to solve the problem by quibbling with the received translation and interpretation of Paul’s words. Thus Thomas Belsham’s notorious The Epistles of St Paul Translated, with an Exposition, and Notes (1822) ‘serves St Paul, as a cook serves a dead turkey, when she fastens the legs of it to
a post, and draws out all the sinews’. They felt that Paul forced Unitarians to choose between their human Jesus and their
professed respect for the authority of the apostles and the New Testament. This paper surveys the study of Paul by nineteenth-century Unitarians in the light of these accusations. It will suggest that Belsham’s bold attempt to present the epistles as a Unitarian textbook certainly gave way to more searching investigations of
their shortcomings as a record of revelation. Yet it would be misleading to isolate the Unitarian engagement with Paul from mainstream Protestant thought or suggest that it speedily exposed them as cultured despisers of Scripture. Close examination of the arguments put forward by Belsham and his contemporaries shows that they shared deep assumptions about how to read the epistles with their orthodox opponents, notably conservative attitudes about their genuineness and a reliance on paraphrases as a way of smoothing out difficulties in them. Subsequent generations of Unitarians had a sectarian interest in destabilising the Pauline corpus and in questioning Paul’s apostolic authority. Yet in doing so, they championed scholarly methods, such as those of German higher criticism, which came to be widely emulated outside Unitarian ranks.
5. 13 June 2012
‘Philip Doddridge and Moderate Calvinism in Early Eighteenth-Century Dissent’
Robert Strivens (London Theological Seminary)
Philip Doddridge (1702-51) was one of the foremost ministers in early eighteenth-century English dissent. A man of tremendous energy, he combined the pastoring of a sizeable dissenting congregation in Northampton with the running of one of the best-known dissenting academies of his day and a significant itinerant preaching ministry. He identified himself as a ‘moderate Calvinist’, a term often associated with ‘Baxterianism’. What precisely did these terms mean, when used by Doddridge and
his contemporaries? Did they describe a theological position or an attitude of mind? To what extent did moderate Calvinism correspond with the theology of Richard Baxter and can a line of descent be clearly drawn from the seventeenth-century puritan to the eighteenth-century Northampton dissenter? Through a close examination of Doddridge’s writings, in particular his Course of Lectures and his Family Expositor, this paper will explore how he understood moderate Calvinism and related terms, in an attempt to define his theological position on key areas of doctrine more clearly and to locate him more precisely within the various parties
within the dissent of his own time.
6. 11 July 2012
‘Some Paths towards Predestination: the Revival of “Calvinism” in the Eighteenth-Century Church of England’
Dr John Walsh (Oxford)
This paper tentatively opens up a nelected question : how did ‘Calvinism’ find its way back among the clergy of the Church of England following the eclipse which overtook it after the Restoration? By the late 1730s parish clergy can occasionally be found who kept the old Reformed tradition alive, but very few of them linked up with the new Evangelical Revival. In the eighteenth century ‘Calvinist’ was a notoriously vague epithet. In evangelical circles (which contained many Arminians) it commonly meant one who accepted the doctrines of predestined election and the indefectibility of grace in believers. Clergymen reached ‘Calvinism’ by different routes. Not a few arrived at it existentially, finding that it helped to explain their own experience. Others read their way into it, frequently by studying the ‘old books’ of Reformed divinity. Several came at it through personal contact with contemporary Calvinists of other denominations. In addition, some major religious controversies played their part by forcing uneasy clerics to study more closely the confessional texts of the English Reformation. But before neo-Calvinism could gain a firm base
among the clergy it had to be presented in acceptable forms and accomodated to eighteenth-century cultural norms. It had above all to be ‘moderate’.