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School of English and Drama

Professor Isabel Rivers, MA (Cambridge) MA PhD (Columbia)


Professor of Eighteenth-Century English Literature and Culture



I did my graduate research in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, New York. I had a one-year post at East Anglia followed by a Research Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge, and spent 12 years at Leicester, where I was Lecturer and then Reader, and 19 years at Oxford, where I was Fellow and Tutor in English at St Hugh's College, and successively Lecturer, Reader, Professor, and Leverhulme Major Research Fellow in the University. I came to Queen Mary in 2004. I was an associate editor of The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), responsible for theologians and freethinkers in the eighteenth century, and of The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 7th edn (2009), responsible for classical and biblical contexts of English literature. I was Co-Director of the Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies (2004-2012), and am an active member of the Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English. I am an Emeritus Fellow of St Hugh's College, an Honorary Fellow of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre, an Honorary Life Member of the International John Bunyan Society, a Fellow of the Ecclesiastical History Society, and a member of the Advisory Board of LERMA. I was a member of the AHRC Peer Review College 2014-2021.

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Research Interests:

  • Dissenting, Methodist and Evangelical Literary Culture 1660-1830
  • Intellectual and Religious History 1660-1830
  • History of the Book 1660-1830
  • Dissenting Academies 1660-1860

Recent and On-Going Research

My recent book Vanity Fair and the Celestial City: Dissenting, Methodist, and Evangelical Literary Culture in England, 1720–1800  (OUP, 2018) received Honourable Mention for the Richard L. Greaves Prize of the International John Bunyan Society and was Finalist of the 2019 PROSE Award in Theology & Religious Studies by the Association of American Publishers. Topics covered include religious publishing, societies for distributing books, advice about reading, seventeenth-century nonconformist and episcopalian inheritances, Roman Catholic influences, North American connexions, interpreting the Bible, practical works, lives, letters, the uses of poetry, hymn collections, and magazines. You can watch me talking about it here

I am Director of the Dissenting Academies Project. The main outcome to date is Dissenting Academies Online (2011, ongoing), two fully searchable databases covering dissenting academies and their tutors, students, archives, and libraries for the period 1660 to 1860; the second outcome, in preparation, is A History of the Dissenting Academies in the British Isles, 1660-1860,] of which I am editor, with Mark Burden as assistant editor.

Future commissioned work includes an introductory essay to John Wesley's Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, in The Works of John Wesley: The Bicentennial Edition, general editor Randy P. Maddox.


Selected Publications


Vanity Fair and the Celestial City: Dissenting, Methodist, and Evangelical Literary Culture in England, 1720–1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)

Reason, Grace, and Sentiment: A Study of the Language of Religion and Ethics in England, 1660-1780, vol. 2, Shaftesbury to Hume (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, paperback 2005)

Reason, Grace, and Sentiment: A Study of the Language of Religion and Ethics in England, 1660-1780 vol. 1, Whichcote to Wesley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, paperback, 2005)

Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry: A Students’ Guide (2nd edn, London: Routledge, 1994, first published Allen & Unwin, 1979)

Edited collections

With David L. Wykes, Dissenting Praise: Religious Dissent and the Hymn in England and Wales (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011)

With David L. Wykes, Joseph Priestley, Scientist, Philosopher, and Theologian (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

Books and their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England: New Essays (London: Leicester University Press, 2001, paperback, London: Continuum, 2003)

Books and their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1982)

Chapters and articles in books

‘Wesley’s Publishing Strategy’, in The Routledge Companion to John Wesley, ed. Clive Murray Norris and Joseph W. Cunningham (Routledge, 2023)

‘Biblical Aids, Editions, Translations, and Commentaries by Dissenters, Methodists, and Church of England Evangelicals in Eighteenth-Century England’, in The Bible in Early Transatlantic Pietism and Evangelicalism, ed. Ryan P. Hoselton, Jan Stievermann, Douglas A. Sweeney, and Michael A. G. Haykin ( Penn State University Press, 2022)

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress in the Evangelical Revival’, in The Oxford Handbook of John Bunyan, ed. Michael Davies and W. R. Owens  (Oxford University Press, 2018)

‘Inward Religion and its Dangers in the Evangelical Revival’, in Heart Religion: Evangelical Piety in England and Ireland, 1690-1850, ed. John Coffey (Oxford University Press, 2016)

‘Whitefield’s Reception in England, 1770-1839’, in George Whitefield: Life, Context, and Legacy, ed. Geordan Hammond and David Ceri Jones (Oxford University Press, 2016) 

‘Scougal’s Life of God in the Soul of Man: the Fortunes of a Book, 1676–1830’, in Philosophy and Religion in Enlightenment Britain, ed. Ruth Savage (Oxford University Press, 2012)

‘Philip Doddridge’s New Testament: The Family Expositor (1739-56)’, in The King James Bible after 400 Years: Literary, Linguistic and Cultural Influences, ed. Hannibal Hamlin and Norman Jones (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

‘John Wesley as Editor and Publisher’, in The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley, ed. Randy L. Maddox and Jason E. Vickers (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

‘Religious Publishing’, in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 5, 1695–1830, ed. Michael Suarez and Michael Turner (Cambridge University Press, 2009)

‘Religion and Literature’, in The Cambridge History of English Literature, 1660–1780, ed. John Richetti (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

‘Doddridge, Philip (1702–1751)’, ‘Hervey, James (1714–1758)’, ‘Law, William (1686–1761)’, ‘Tillotson, John (1630–1694)’, ‘Watts, Isaac (1674–1748)’, in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004, and online)

‘Biographical Dictionaries and their Uses from Bayle to Chalmers’, in Books and their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England: New Essays, ed. Isabel Rivers (Leicester University Press, 2001, paperback, Continuum, 2003)

‘Charles Bulkley, the Baptist Shaftesburian’, in Il Gentleman Filosofo: Nuovi Saggi su Shaftesbury, ed. G. Carabelli and P. Zanardi (Padova: Il Poligrafo, 2003)

‘Prayer-Book Devotion: the Literature of the Proscribed Episcopal Church’, in The Cambridge Companion to Writing of the English Revolution, ed. N. H. Keeble (Cambridge University Press, 2001)

‘Shaftesburian Enthusiasm and the Evangelical Revival’, in Revival and Religion since 1700: Essays for John Walsh, ed. J. Garnett and C. Matthew (Hambledon Press, 1993)

‘Grace, Holiness, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Bunyan and Restoration Latitudinarianism’, in John Bunyan: Conventicle and Parnassus, ed. N. H. Keeble (Oxford University Press, 1988)

‘Dissenting and Methodist Books of Practical Divinity’, in Books and their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England, ed. Isabel Rivers (Leicester University Press, 1982)

‘“Strangers and Pilgrims”: Sources and Patterns of Methodist Narrative’, in Augustan Worlds, ed. J.C. Hilson et al. (Leicester University Press, 1978)

Journal articles and lectures

‘Thomas Jackson (1783–1873), Book Collector, Editor, and Tutor’, Wesley and Methodist Studies, 6 (2014), 63-89

Review article, ‘Writing the History of Early Evangelicalism’, History of European Ideas, 35 (2009), 105-11

‘William Law and Religious Revival: The Reception of A Serious Call’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 71:4 (2008), 633-649

‘The First Evangelical Tract Society’, Historical Journal, 50 (2007), 1-22

‘Joseph Williams of Kidderminster (1692–1755) and his Journal’, Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society, 7 (2005), 358–78

‘John Wesley and Religious Biography’, in John Wesley: Tercentenary Essays, ed. Jeremy Gregory, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 85 (2003), 209–26

The Defence of Truth through the Knowledge of Error: Philip Doddridge’s Academy Lectures (London: Dr Williams’s Trust, 2003)

‘Responses to Hume on Religion by Anglicans and Dissenters’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 52 (2001), 675–95.

‘ “Galen’s Muscles”: Wilkins, Hume, and the Educational Use of the Argument from Design’, Historical Journal, 36 (1993), 577-97.

See also my Queen Mary Research Publications profile


I have supervised the following successful PhD projects:

  • Mark Burden (AHRC CDA, funded by Religion and Society Programme), co-supervisor David Wykes, 'Academical Learning in the Dissenters' Private Academies, 1660-1720' (2012)
  • Tessa Whitehouse (AHRC CDA), co-supervisor David Wykes, 'Isaac Watts and Philip Doddridge: Letters, Lectures and Lives in Eighteenth-Century Dissenting Culture' (2011)
  • Stephen Burley (AHRC CDA), co-supervisor David Wykes, ‘Hazlitt the Dissenter: Religion, Philosophy, and Politics, 1766-1816' (2011)
  • Simon Mills (AHRC CDA), co-supervisor David Wykes, 'Joseph Priestley and the Intellectual Culture of Rational Dissent, 1752-1796' (2009)
  • Rosemary Dixon (AHRC funded), ‘Sermons in Print: John Tillotson and Religious Publishing in England c.1660-1752’ (2009)

Public Engagement

Co-convenor of the IHR/IES History of Libraries Seminar (since 2008)

Member of the judging panel for the triennial Richard L. Greaves prize of the International John Bunyan Society, 2022

‘Joseph Angus as Moral Philosophy Tutor at Stepney and Regent’s Park’, Opening the Angus Seminar, Regent’s Park College, Oxford, 28 October 2021

‘John Wesley and Thomas à Kempis: Early Methodism as a community of readers’, Methodist Studies Seminar, Oxford Brookes University, 5 December 2020

‘The use of Catholic models of spiritual solitude by Wesleyan Methodists and Quakers in the long eighteenth century’, Pathologies of Solitude Colloquium: Solitude, Religion and the Inner Voice, QMUL, 9 November 2019

‘The formation, arrangement, and dispersal of a major nineteenth-century Wesleyan Methodist book collection’, Libraries, Learning and Religious Identities: Britain, Ireland and the European Context, c.1100-c.1900, Durham, 10 September 2019

‘In Search of Popular Religious Books in Eighteenth-Century England’, 18th Century and Romantic Studies Colloquium, Princeton University, 29 April 2019

‘Commentaries, annotated Bibles, and other biblical aids in eighteenth-century England’, The Bible and Early Transatlantic Evangelicalism Conference, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville KY, 22 September 2018

‘Favourite Nonconformist Writers and their Eighteenth-Century Dissenting and Methodist Editors’, IHR Religious History of Britain 1500-1800 seminar, 19 June 2018

‘Doddridge’s library in context’, QMCRLE Reconstructing Libraries Study Afternoon, QMUL, 20 April 2018

‘Religious Education through Free Distribution: Books Published by Anglican, Evangelical, and Unitarian Societies in the Eighteenth Century’, plenary lecture, Ecclesiastical History Society, IHR, London, 20 January 2018

‘Dissenting, Methodist, and Evangelical Literary Culture in England, 1720-1800’, St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History, 2 May 2017

‘Dissenting, Methodist and Evangelical Literary Culture in England, 1720-1800’, Bath Branch of the Historical Association 23 March 2017

‘North American Connexions’, Open University Book History and Bibliography Research Seminar: Travelling Books and Readers in the Long Eighteenth Century, 11 April 2016

‘Interpreting the Bible in eighteenth-century England’, The Bible in Art, Music and Literature seminar, Trinity College, Oxford, 19 October 2015

‘How evangelicals in the long eighteenth century transformed practical works by two late Stuart clergymen, William Beveridge and Benjamin Jenks’, Concepts of Knowledge in the Late Seventeenth Century: Thomas Plume in Context, Centre for Bibliographical Studies at the University of Essex, 26 September 2015

‘Religious publishing and religious books’, AHRC/RSE Colloquium on Literary Commerce, University of Edinburgh, 21 July 2015

‘Advice about Religious Reading’, Symposium on Religion and Literature in the Long Eighteenth Century: approaches to genre, form, and reading practice, Chawton House, 15 May 2015

‘The Library of the Methodist Editor and Tutor Thomas Jackson, donated in 1859 to the Wesleyan Theological Institution, Richmond’, conference on Libraries in the Community, London, January 24, 2015

‘George Whitefield’s Afterlife among Evangelical Dissenters and Church of England Evangelicals in the Later Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries’, George Whitefield at 300 Conference, Pembroke College, Oxford, 27 June 2014

‘The Wesleyan Theological Institution’, Religious Archives Group Conference: Religious Archives and Universities, Pusey House, St Giles’, 8 May 2014

‘A manuscript notebook with transcriptions of three late 17th century authors: Tillotson, Prior, and Anne Wharton’, Friends of Dr Williams’s Library Special Event, Dr Williams’s Library, 26 March 2014

‘Approaches and questions for scholars of religion and literature: A personal view’,

Reading, Writing and Religion 1660-1830 Colloquium, QMUL, 7 December 2013

‘The Study of Religious Writing and Religious Education from the Perspective of a Literary and Intellectual Historian’, Religion and the Idea of a University Conference, Clare College, Cambridge, 3 April 2013

‘Ministerial training and higher education among Methodists and evangelical dissenters, 1760-1860’, Oxford-Manchester Methodist Studies Seminar, Nazarene Theological College, Manchester, 1 December 2012

 ‘Academical Learning in the Dissenters' Private Academies, 1660-1720’, with Mark Burden; ‘Dissenting Academies Online: Virtual Library System’, with Rose Dixon and David Wykes, New Forms of Public Religion, AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme, St John’s College, Cambridge, 6 September 2012

‘Thomas Jackson (1783–1873), Methodist Editor, Biographer, and Tutor’, The John Wesley Lecture, Lincoln College, Oxford, 24 May 2012

‘Philip Doddridge’s New Testament: The Family Expositor (1739-56)’, God’s Word in English: The King James Version as Translation conference, Antwerp & Leuven, March 24‐25, 2011

The Pilgrim’s Progress in the evangelical revival’, Bunyan and the Dissenting Tradition:

Sixth International Conference of the International John Bunyan Society, Keele University, 26 July, 2010

‘Autobiographical Reflections on Method’,  Innovative Methods in the Study of Religion Conference, London, sponsored by AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme and NORFACE: Re-emergence of Religion as a Social Force in Europe?, 29 March 2010

‘What religious history and book history can learn from each other’, The History of the Book: Culture, Community, Criticism, Chetham’s Library, Manchester, 21 January 2010

‘John Wesley as Editor and Publisher’, Modern Religious History Seminar, IHR, 14 October 2009

‘John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards’, The Fourth Annual Manchester Wesley Research Centre Lecture, 23 June 2008

‘John Wesley's Editions of Devotional Writers’, Wesley Historical Society Conference, Salisbury, 1 April 2008

‘Philosophy and Theology at Eighteenth-Century Dissenting Academies’, Religion and the English Enlightenment, Princeton University, 12-13 April 2007

‘Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul Of Man: The fortunes of a book, 1676-1830’, Restoration to Reform Seminar, St Peter's College Oxford, 13 November 2006

‘William Law and Religious Revival’, Transformations: Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Religion, Texts, Cultures, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles, 30 September–1 October 2005

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