Literature and the Encounter with God in Post-Reformation England
Each of the figures examined in this study”John Dee, John Donne, Sir Kenelm Digby, Henry and Thomas Vaughan, and Jane Lead”is concerned with the ways in which God can be approached or experienced. Michael Martin analyzes the ways in which the encounter with God is figured among these early modern writers who inhabit the shared cultural space of poets and preachers, mystics and scientists. The three main themes that inform this study are Cura animarum, the care of souls, and the diminished role of spiritual direction in post-Reformation religious life; the rise of scientific rationality; and the struggle against the disappearance of the Holy. Arising from the methods and commitments of phenomenology, the primary mode of inquiry of this study resides in contemplation, not in a religious sense, but in the realm of perception, attendance, and acceptance. Martin portrays figures such as Dee, Digby, and Thomas Vaughan not as the eccentrics they are often depicted to have been, but rather as participating in a religious mainstream that had been radically altered by the disappearance of any kind of mandatory or regular spiritual direction, a problem which was further complicated and exacerbated by the rise of science. Thus this study contributes to a reconfiguration of our notion of what ’religious orthodoxy’ really meant during the period, and calls into question our own assumptions about what is (or was) ’orthodox’ and ’heterodox.’
Michael Martin is Assistant Professor of English at Marygrove College, USA.
'With its ever-broadening awareness of writings by and about women, Catholics, radicals, Jews, and Muslims, criticism of early modern religious literature has become more and more ecumenical. But Michael Martin reminds us that one group of mystically-inclined writers - including eccentrics such as John Dee, Sir Kenelm Digby, Henry and Thomas Vaughan, Jane Lead, and even John Donne - remains sorely understudied and undervalued. Bolstered by penetrating insights from medieval and postmodern religious thinkers, Literature and the Encounter with God in Post-Reformation England is a sophisticated and informative study of these writers and of their diverse and determined attempts to approach an increasingly unapproachable God.' Gregory Kneidel, University of Connecticut, USA 'Martin's is a bold investigation ... [he] rescues figures from the margins, such as Lead and Dee, to demonstrate the ways in which early modern visions were manifested. The book constitutes a collection of case-studies demonstrating the vitality of religious experience in the seventeenth century. It also models for scholars new ways to discuss the role of religion in the late Renaissance.' Journal of the Northern Renaissance 'Martin's book ... is a readable and critically engaged consideration of the complexities of religious feeling for everyday people ... Martin's methodology introduces the importance of relinquishing a critical condescension towards religious conviction in order to consider it on its own terms ... [he] delivers a straightforward and comprehensive picture of an interesting variety of sources.' Seventeenth-Century News 'Martin’s close readings are compelling, and his discussions are rich with insights on early modern orthodoxy, scientific inquiry, and the language of desire. ... this study provides a fresh reading of mysticism and religious affect in the early modern period, particularly in its generous attempt to account for figures, like the Vaughans and Lead, who have histor