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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.



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)
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