"'Nor thou nor thy religion dost controule, The amorousnesse of an harmonious Soule': Rethinking Devotional Works and Practices in the British Isles (16th-18th c.)"

Published on June 23, 2023 Updated on July 5, 2024

A one-day preparatory seminar will take place on 5 April 2024 at Clermont to enable scholars to present their research. The conference will then take place at Université Paris Nanterre on 3-4 April 2025.


from April 3, 2025 to April 4, 2025

Call for papers

When John Donne published Devotions upon Emergent Occasions in 1624, he followed in the footsteps of a long tradition of devotional publications. Four hundred years later, the concerns voiced by the English poet still resonate and invite one to think about the evolution and legacy of devotional works which have never ceased to appeal to both devout practitioners and lay readers alike. Such works convey the strong and complex nature of the relationship that the believer has with God. Indeed, devotion implies a series of religious observances, duties and actions, as well as a more inward-looking life, with a focus on keeping the soul in a disposition of piety and fervour.  

The project will focus on a better understanding of how devotion lies at the intersection between expression, externalization and internalization. It can be mediated through physical actions, but also through the work of the soul, thus placing it at once in the spheres of the visible and the invisible. One is also led to think about how devotion can be displayed and grasped in texts, since verbal communication or silent worship can be echoed by gestures or visual representations through emblems or illuminations.  
When focusing on the historical evolution of devotion through its textual expression, various approaches for further analysis emerge. First, the circulation of devotional publications was evidenced by Richard Whitford (c.1470-1543?), a monk who found success in the 1530s following his Werke for Housholders and Werke of Preparacion or of Ordinaunce unto Comunion or Howselyng, which focused on lay people's deeds within their households. 1631 saw the publication of The Christians Daily Walk with God by Anglican author Henry Scudder (?-1652), and later editions included texts from nonconformist figures like John Davenport (1597-1670), John Owen (1616-1683) and Richard Baxter (1615-1691). These texts circulated extensively. Indeed, a German translation by Theodore Haak surfaced in Frankfurt five years after Scudder's book had first been published in English. Several decades later, John Scott's The Christian life from its beginning to its consummation in glory: together with the several means and instruments of Christianity conducing thereunto, with directions for private devotion and forms of prayer, fitted to the several states of Christians was first issued in 1681 before an expanded second edition was printed in 1683–87. These two instances raise some questions: what role did emendations play? What made some texts run through multiple editions compared to other devotional treatises? Secondly, such texts also draw attention to the changes in one's life or historical events which could prevent devotion from being put into practice, or alter how it was defined or considered: the transformations introduced by the Reformation, the time of crisis during the Civil War, or the development of religious nonconformity, to name but a few examples. A third consideration which stands out are the specific allusions which can be encountered in some devotional manuals, such as Catholic figures – when reading Motives to Holy Living (Oxford, 1688), references to the Abecedaries composed by Spanish Franciscan friar Francisco de Osuna (1492-c.1540), and to St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), can be found. What purpose did references to those names and sources serve? Furthermore, some books contained special prayers, for instance "A Prayer to be said by Merchants, Tradesmen, and Handicrafts men" in The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living (1650) by Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667). Similarly, emphasis can be put on primers – including  George Joye's Ortulus Animae (1530), the first to be published in English, or William Marshall's Goodly Primer (1535) – or other Protestant testimonies in use or circulation from the 1530s onwards. 
This project seeks to analyse the devotional works which circulated from the early modern era to the end of the 18th century in terms of materiality, reception, and argumentation in the British Isles, with a possible extension to colonial America. Different types of formats will be considered: manuscripts, letters, diaries, printed texts. Scholars working on topics related to religious and social history, the history of ideas, textual studies, are invited to submit proposals. 
With the objective of understanding these issues, suggested topics include, but are not limited to: 
  • the reception of devotional texts in the public and private spheres, including the description of the effects of devotional practices (conformist and non-conformist testimonies, conversion narratives... ) 
  • the argumentative structure of devotional texts, among other aspects, the role played by intertextual references (Scriptures, patristic and/or medieval texts, books of hours, primers...) 
  • the circulation of devotional texts (manuscripts, personal correspondence, prayer books, girdle books...) 
  • the materiality of devotional works (the role of printing and printers, how they could affect the layout of texts in books, the place of devotional texts and collections within the circulation of works in printed form, the addition of hand-written notes and emendations in printed books...) 
  • comparisons between publications  from different denominations 
  • the connection between devotional texts and political pamphlets and/or scientific documents.  
The languages of the conference are English and French. 
Participants are invited to submit a title, a 300-to-500-word abstract (25 minutes) and a short biographical notice jointly to Nicolas Bourgès : nbourges@parisnanterre.fr   and Julie VanParys-Rotondi : julie.vanparys_rotondi@uca.fr  before September, 30 2023. 

Selected bibliography
  • CLARKE Elizabeth, DANIEL Robert W. (eds.), People and Piety: Protestant Devotional Identities in Early Modern England, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020.
  •  COFFEY, John (ed.), Heart Religion: Evangelical Piety in England & Ireland, 1690–1850, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 
  •  COLES, Kimberly Anne, Religion, Reform and Women’s Writings in Early Modern England, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2008. 
  •  DUFFY, Eamon, Marking the Hours, English People and their Prayers, 1240-1570, New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2006. 
  •  DUFFY, Eamon, The Stripping of the Altars, Traditional Religion in England c. 1400 - c.1580. New Haven and London : Yale University Press, Second edition, 2005. 
  •  FANOUS, Samuel, GILLESPIE, Vincent (editors), The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Mysticism (Cambridge Companions to Literature), Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2011. 
  •  FELCH, Susan M., « English Women’s Devotional Writing: Surveying the Scene », ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, Vol. 24, n° 1-2, 2011, p. 118-130.. 
  •  FORCLAZ Bertrand, MARTIN Philippe (éds.), Religion et piété au défi de la guerre de Trente ans, Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015 : (troisième partie : “Piété et dévotion”) 
  •  GINN Richard, The Politics of Prayer in Early Modern Britain: Church and State in Seventeenth-Century England, London, New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 2007. 
  •  HANNAY, Margaret P. ed., Silent but for the Word: Tudor Women as Patrons, Translators, and Writers of Religious Works, Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1985. 
  •  MARTIN Jessica, RYRIE Alec (eds.), Private and Domestic Devotion in Early Modern Britain [2012], London, New York: Routledge, 2016.
  •  NARVESON, Kate, Material Readings in Early Modern Culture : Bible Readers and Lay Writers in Early Modern England : Gender and Self-Definition in an Emergent Writing Culture, Abingdon : Ashgate Publishing Group, 2012.  
  •  ROBERTSON Elizabeth, Early English Devotional Prose and the Female Audience, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990. 
  •  RYRIE Alec, Being Protestant in Reformation Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 
  •  WABUDA, Susan, LITZENBERGER, Caroline, eds., Beliefs and practice in Reformation England, Aldershot: Ashridge, 1998  
  •  WHITE, Micheline ed., English Women, Religion, and Textual Production, 1500-1625, Farnham, Surrey : Ashgate, 2011. 
  • YAMAMOTO-WILSON John R., “The Protestant Reception of Catholic Devotional Literature in England to 1700”, British Catholic History, volume 32, issue 1, May 2014, p. 67-90. 
Partners :
  • CREA, Université Paris Nanterre
  • Institut d'Histoire des Représentations et des Idées dans les Modernités (IHRIM, UMR 5317), l'Université Clermont Auvergne

Updated on 05 juillet 2024