Symposium – Reading Group

Reading, Writing and Religion 1660-1830

Saturday 7th December

Queen Mary, University of London

Details of the day’s programme are available below. Attendance is free, but places are limited so please register by emailing by Tuesday 3rd December.

Reading Group

As part of the day’s programme we are including an informal reading group session. The recommended extract is:

Reading Women: Literacy, Authorship, and Culture in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800

edited by Heidi Hackel and Catherine Kelly (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009) pp. 1 -10

Available online here.

Please also feel free to bring along primary or secondary texts that might contribute to the group’s discussion of Gender, Reading and Writing

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Symposium Programme

Reading, Writing and Religion 1660-1830

Saturday 7th December

Queen Mary, University of London

Details of the day’s programme are available below. Attendance is free, but places are limited so please register by emailing by Tuesday 3rd December.

Location details:

We will be on the Queen Mary campus in Mile End, in the Lock-keeper’s Cottage (42 on this campus map:
Travel instructions to QMUL: take the Hammersmith and City, District or Central Line to Mile End. Exit tube station, turn left down Mile End Road, cross Burdett Road, go under the Mile End Green Bridge (a large yellow bridge), over the canal, and the college is on the right. Enter East Gate, and the Lock-Keeper’s Cottage is the brightly-coloured second building on the right.




10.15am Registration and tea

10.30am Welcome

10.35am -12.15pm Panel 1 Writing Religion: Prose, Prayer and Music

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

Gareth Atkins  ‘Writers and readers of evangelical biography, c. 1780-1830′

Sabine Volk-Birke ‘Prayer in performance: Milton’s psalms in Handel’s and Hamilton’s Occasional Oratorio’

Miranda Stanyon  ‘Music and the miraculous in Bodmer’s and Breitinger’s writing’

                                                                             Chair: Tessa Whitehouse


12.30pm – 1.30pm Reading group: Gender, Reading and Writing

Some short pieces of reading will be circulated in advance (copies will also be available on the day). We invite speakers and attendees to bring along further materials or ideas for discussion.


1.30pm – 2.30pm Lunch break

Please note that lunch won’t be provided – we’ll plan to continue our discussions at one of the many cafes on the Queen Mary campus, or there’s a common room in the Lock-keeper’s Cottage if you wish to bring sandwiches.


2.30pm – 3.40pm Panel 2  Women’s Uses of Religious Writing

Cindy Aalders ‘She instructs and may reform my heart’: Women reading together in the letters and diary of Catherine Talbot

Angharad Eyre  ‘Serving the Cause of the Redeemer: Women’s Missionary Writing’

Victoria Van Hyning ‘Drowning Together: Prioress Winefrid Thimelby Wants to Die’

Caroline Bowden  ‘Forming book collections in exile: pragmatic solutions for the religious life’

                                                                                                Chair: Laura Davies


3.40pm – 4.00pm Tea break


4.00pm – 5.00pm Quickfire work-in-progress presentations

Alison Searle ‘Religious Nonconformity and Performance in Britain (c. 1620-1680)’

Simon Lewis ‘An exploration of early anti-Methodist literature, with particular reference to The Mock-Preacher, c.1739-c.1751’

Peter Forsaith William Beckford’s ‘religion’

Joanna Wharton ‘Associationism and Embodied Reading Practices in Barbauld’s Hymns in Prose’

Chair: Emma Salgard Cunha


5.00pm – 5.30pm Open floor for closing discussion           

5.30pm Everyone is welcome to join us for drinks in a local pub

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Reading, Writing and Religion 1660-1830

Reading, Writing and Religion 1660-1830


 Saturday 7th December

Queen Mary, University of London


A free, one day event convened through the Writing Religion Research Network, which aims to bring together scholars interested in the literature and religious culture of the long eighteenth century.

The theme of the colloquium is Reading, Writing and Religion 1660-1830. We invite papers, short presentations and reports on work-in-progress on the following topics:

  • The relationship between faith or religious affiliation and particular forms of response to texts
  • The circumstances in which reading-writing-religion were associated in this period and the consequences of such associations
  • Considerations of gender with respect to reading-writing-religion
  • Representations of religious belief in drama and fiction
  • Uses of religious texts in different literary genres
  • Evidence from nonfictional literary forms (such as letters, diaries, essays, sermons) about associations between reading, writing and religion

The structure of the colloquium will be informal and designed to promote discussion and productive exchange of ideas and information. 


Morning Sessions

General Panel: 20 min papers and discussion

Reading Group: Discussion of short pre-circulated texts

Afternoon Sessions         

Gendered Approaches Panel:  20 min papers and discussion

Quick Fire Presentations (5 minutes each)

Open Q and A


Please submit abstracts to: by Friday 25th October

Full programme details will be announced by Friday 8th November


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Colloquium – Programme



Attendance is free and open to all.

16th March 2013

Regents Park College, University of Oxford, OX1 2LB



1.00-1.15pm Welcome

1.15-1.25pm Opening address 

1.30-2.40pm Panel 1

Emma Salgård Cunha, University of Cambridge, “Efficacious Words: The Poetics of the Evangelical Sermon”

Laura Davies, University of Oxford, “Time, Writing, and Religion: Exploring a Structuralist Approach”

2.40-3.00pm Break

3.00-4.10pm Panel 2

Katarina Stenke,  “Eighteenth-Century Biblical Verse Paraphrase in the Periodical Press: Making it New”

Gabriel Roberts, University of Oxford, “Deist Rhetoric”

4.10-4.40pm Break

4.40-5.45pm Short presentations and discussion

Naomi Billingsley, University of Manchester, “William Blake’s Visual Christology”

Megan Kitching, Queen Mary, University of London, “Natural Religion and Philosophical Poetry in the Eighteenth Century”

Regina Maria Dal Santo, University Ca’ Foscari Venice,
“Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy or Parson Yorick? How sermons might influence literature and vice versa”

5.45pm Closing Remarks

You are then warmly invited to join us for drinks and further conversation at The Eagle and Child Pub, St Giles, Oxford.

Directions to Regents Park College (central Oxford):

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Colloquium: Writing Religion


16th March 2013

Regents Park College, University of Oxford, OX1 2LB

 Writing Religion

  Religious Purpose in Eighteenth-Century Literature

This day colloquium (1pm-6pm Saturday 16th March) builds on the success of our roundtable at the BSECS Conference this January. The aim of the colloquium is to bring together interested researchers keen to participate in a discussion of the value of literary-critical approaches to religious writing.

We encourage participants to ask new questions of eighteenth-century texts which might broadly be categorised as ‘religious’. In particular, we seek to generate discussion around issues of central literary significance – authority, intention and purposiveness – as they emerge within the special circumstances and contexts of religious writing. Furthermore, we hope to identify points of connection and disjunction between such writing and wider literary culture.

The structure of the colloquium will be fairly informal, and designed to promote conversation and productive exchange of ideas.

We therefore invite scholars who wish to participate to submit a brief proposal for either: a short (5-10 minute) presentation or a longer (20 minute) paper. Our intention is to allow participants to present both work in progress and ideas about future research directions, as well as close readings and case studies relevant to the wider topic. Participants may wish to share abstracts and/or material for circulation on the day and on our website. We plan is to use the colloquium as a springboard for further collaborative endeavours, including publication.

Further details of the previous roundtable and suggested topics for presentation can be found on our website: or by contacting the organisers Laura Davies and Emma Salgård Cunha on the email below.

Please submit abstracts by 5th March to

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Writing Religion: Regina Dal Santo

Abstract for the BSECS Conference Panel, “Writing Religion”

Regina Maria Dal Santo, University Ca’ Foscari Venice, on  John Tillotson’s Sermons: A Case Study

Archbishop John Tillotson is considered today as one of the greatest divines and sermon writers in the seventeenth-century. Historically and philosophically speaking, his writings are considered useful in the description of the circumstances which surrounded the creation and development of the latitudinarian movement, in particular after the Glorious Revolution. Publishing his collected works at the turn of the century, with his sermons and style he influenced generations of young scholars and ministers after him, Laurence Sterne to cite one among them. His sermons are the sum of the political propaganda and cultural development of the period. They are unique in their didactic aim, sobriety and moderate tone. His attention to the needs of the public led him to specific choices in the selection of a topic, avoiding thorny matters and promoting tolerance.

However, his simplicity and scientific prose read as “inefficient” today if compared to the great sermon writers of the early seventeenth-century. Some recent studies tend to forget that in the eighteenth-century his “plain style” was reputed the best that a young minister could follow. Concentrating on close reading and quoting some examples from his writings, I hope to show the wise but moderate use of rhetoric that the Archbishop made, creating an unprecedented change in the religious prose style. I also would like to prove that this change was due to the will of the divine to follow the rationalist trend and to meet the needs of the public in order to present them with sermons whose function was to instruct but also to delight with daily language and familiar images.

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Writing Religion: Katarina Stenke

Abstract for the BSECS Conference Panel, “Writing Religion”

Katarina Stenke, University of Cambridge, on Biblical names and classical forms: the eighteenth-century biblical verse paraphrase


Throughout the first half of the eighteenth century a huge range of authors, from celebrated poets like Edward Young to ‘dunces’ like Richard Blackmore and ambitious beginners such as the young James Thomson, produced ‘biblical verse paraphrases’, reworking episodes and passages from the Bible in a modern British verse form now inextricably linked with a distinctly secular genre: the heroic couplet associated with the ‘Augustan’ satire of Swift, Gay and Pope.  Straddling religious (biblical source) and secular (classically-derived metre) traditions, this traditional yet new-fangled genre offers us a paradigmatic instance of how difficult it is to distinguish between the various functions claimed and played by eighteenth-century poetry, whether devotional, didactic or entertaining.

Unlike the contemporary trend for new translations of classical Latin authors, biblical verse paraphrases were usually based on the English text of the Authorized Version rather than on the ‘original’ – whether Hebrew and Greek or Vulgate – sources.  As such, they move beyond translation: most verse paraphrase expands considerably on its sources, and seems to offer the reader some form of ‘supplementary value’, be it a heightened or improved form of religious sublimity or interpolated moral exegesis.  The biblical verse paraphrase may also be distinguished from other varieties of religious verse – the hymn, the private prayer or ‘ejaculation’ – which were also drawn from biblical sources but were designed as aids or props to private or public devotion rather than for consumption within a secular setting.

If traditional literary-critical analysis has led modern critics to reject much biblical verse paraphrase as unoriginal, technically inept, and rhetorically indecorous, it has often seemed too much a part of the realm of polite letters to merit serious attention from historians of religion. How, then, do we, as scholars of religious culture in the eighteenth century, deal with such liminal texts?  Looking at a small selection of examples from the early 1700s to the mid century will allow us to probe the ‘supplementary’ character of such works and to think about how this genre might put the binary of sacred and secular under pressure in ways that reflect the changing place of religion in early eighteenth-century Britain.

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Writing Religion: Tessa Whitehouse

Abstract for the BSECS Conference Panel, “Writing Religion”

Tessa Whitehouse, Queen Mary, University of London, on Religious genres, material forms and the category of the literary

Eighteenth-century readers, writers and listeners did not conceive of religious writing as a single genre: the fact that scholars today often do is the single biggest obstacle to our understanding of such literature. By offering examples of how ‘religious’ writers framed, answered and ignored questions of genre, diction, audience, purpose and textuality, I hope to encourage participants to debate the consequences for scholarship of recapturing a sense of the varieties of religious writing. I’ll introduce texts written a century apart by Protestant dissenters of different denominations – Isaac Watts’s Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707) and Jane Attwater’s personal memorials and a manuscript account of her daughter’s final illness (1809) – in order to consider: what authorial intentions underlie these writings? How might an author’s confessional identity find its way into the structure and content of her writing, and with what literary effect? How do the conventions of different religious genres affect the author-reader relationship, rhetorically figured, of particular texts? By taking an unpublished, long-forgotten narrative as one of my sources, I hope to focus attention on the question: what is gained (and perhaps lost) when we ask ‘questions of central “literary” significance’ of texts that are at the borders of conventional understanding of the ‘literary ’ in more than one respect?

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Writing Religion: Peter Forsaith

Abstract for the BSECS Conference Panel, “Writing Religion”

Peter S Forsaith, Oxford Brookes University, on Writing Religion – John Wesley in Cornwall

From their base in Bristol, Charles and then John Wesley made the first of many visits to Cornwall in 1743, following initial evangelistic forays by some Methodist sailors from Bristol. If the Cornish considered themselves to be distinct from the rest of Britain, Cornwall was, from the outside, often thought of as almost a foreign land, and its inhabitants wild. John Wesley wrote of crossing the ‘great pathless moor beyond Launceston’ and received a rough reception at St. Ives. Half a century previously, Celia Fiennes had encountered similar difficulties: ‘they are very long miles the farther West’. However, Wesley wrote sympathetically about Cornwall and its people in his published Journal. At the end of his last visit in August 1789 he commented, ‘…there is a fair prospect in Cornwall, from Launceston to the Land’s End.’

Cornwall became a stronghold for Methodism, which arguably contributed to the county seeming less isolated from England as the early nineteenth century progressed. Its rugged scenery led to it being viewed as a picturesque landscape, while the coming of the railways increased its development for industry, agriculture and tourism.

This roundtable contribution will sample John Wesley’s writings on Cornwall and suggest that they contributed to changing perceptions of the Cornish from being wild to being a Godly people, both within the county and beyond.

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Writing Religion: Christina Lupton

Abstract for the BSECS Conference Panel, “Writing Religion”

Christina Lupton, University of Warwick, on Time, Manner, Place: Sunday Reading in the Eighteenth-Century

One of the points made by historians of media and the book is that while textual materiality informs the meaning of language it hardly determines it.  Peter Stallybrass asserts, for instance, that the codex book was developed for the purposes of religious reading before being used very differently to house the secular novel, while Michael Warner shows that practices of address used in the eighteenth-century pulpit drew heavily on rhetorical techniques native to the sphere of secular print.  Habermas’s recent work on Liberalism in Europe points in a similar spirit to the fact that cultural institutions once associated with Enlightenment (radio stations, buildings in which to gather, modes of disseminating text) are in fact crucial resources for both religious and secular communities.

The point of this paper is to move these insights into a similarly structured discussion of Sunday as a time that shaped, but did not determine, eighteenth-century reading practices.  In the eighteenth century, Sunday went from being a day almost exclusively reserved for religious worship, to being the single day of the week working people had at their disposal.  While Monday and Tuesday had regularly been considered days of leisure, by the end of the century this was no longer the case.  This put new emphasis on Sunday as a restricted framework in which the competing needs of working people had to be met and reconciled:  time to read, to attend church, to exercise, to leave the city, and to drink all had to be found on Sunday.

My focus here is on Sunday reading as a practice that came into focus under these conditions, and partly because being buried in a book could serve different ends at once:  it could replace church-going and provide pleasure; or, to contribute to self-development while garnering approval from employers and parents.  Here I will focus very briefly on how certain readers – Thomas Turner, Catherine Talbot, William Temple – conceive of reading in this light.  My focus is on how they see reading as sanctioned by there being a time cleared for religious observance, but also on eighteenth-century techniques of granting to books the designation of religious reading less because of virtue of textual content or material form than because Sunday was set off from the rest of the working week and the more instrumental kinds of literacy entailed there.

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