Is there a history of lived religion ?

Writing various chapters and introductions recently made me realise how difficult it is to determine what historians in general, and early modern historians in particular, mean by ‘lived’ religion. While French sociologists would immediately recognize contributions such as Gabriel Le Bras’s enquête devoted to Catholic France, his work has not necessarily percolated down through studies of lived religion in le monde anglo-saxon, let alone through historical studies, with notable exceptions such as the work of David Hall and Robert Orsi. They both reminded us, almost twenty years ago, that the term ‘lived religion’ was still ‘an awkward neologism’ in the United States. Has the concept therefore simply ceased to be useful in early modern historiography, as written by anglophone scholars, or was it never so ? More broadly, is there no such thing as l’histoire du vécu religieux and no scholar wishing to be seen as a ‘historian of lived religion’? Partly, one imagines, the complex relationship between lived and popular religion is to blame.

Anglophone scholars have nonetheless found inspiration in French writing, but not necessarily in those emanating from the French school of sociology. Meredith McGuire, for instance, refers to Merleau-Ponty, while Robert Orsi explains that his fondness for the term ‘lived religion’ derives from Sartre’s ‘lived experience’ (le vécu) (Hall, ed. 1997). That allowed Orsi to emphasize a number of things, including the multiplicity of lived experience places, not only ‘churches, temples, shrines, class meetings’, but also ‘workplaces, homes, and streets’. He was also able to underline the similarities between religious experiences and profane experiences, for ‘religion comes into being in an ongoing, dynamic relationship with the realities of everyday life’. Finally, he was able to avoid the vexing issue of ‘popular’ religion and its nagging oppositions between rich/poor, emotional/rational, institutionalised/domestic, illiterate/lettered… Orsi, of course, is a historian of the Italian Catholic community, but with the exception of David Hall it is far more difficult to find early modern historians entirely at ease with the phrase ‘lived religion’, and especially not British historians. They have embraced ‘lived experience’ instead, especially in the wake of developments in the history of emotions during the last decade. A case in point is Alec Ryrie’s Being Protestant in Reformation England (2013). However, it should be noted that historians of early modern France and Northern Europe have recently begun to use the term ‘lived religion’ in the titles of edited collections, which often examine the question of lay vs. clerical engagement, but without necessarily defining the term. Perhaps more historical studies in the future will find a home in the new Palgrave MacMillan series on Lived Religion.

Let us hope so, for the relationship between ‘lived religion’ and ‘lived experiences of religion’ could be further investigated. Can the ‘experiences’ (and which experiences ?) of early modern believers be retrieved, and through which sources ? In which contexts ? How are we to incorporate recent historiography on everyday life, material studies, architecture, devotional practices, history of the book (to name only a few), and how can we give lived religion a firmer methodological basis, drawing from theology, sociology and anthropology but also literary studies? These issues are increasingly well covered in studies of post-industral and secularised societies but not in historical scholarship.

With that in mind, we have set up in Aix-en-Provence a research programme which will explore these issues in the next few years, in league with the Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English (Queen Mary University of London). There will be a series of events centered on lived religion, with particular but not exclusive reference to the early modern period. We began with a couple of study days in 2017 that examined lived religion across borders and times and we will continue by focusing more precisely on methodology and practice (2018), lived religion and the book (2019) then lived religion and the arts (2020). We hope a final conference will be held in 2021 in London to tie all these threads together and show how lived religion could be successfully (re)claimed for the religious history of Britain.

A few titles/reviews that I’ve found particularly useful:

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Queen Mary University of London, 11 October 2018

The Centre for Studies of Home invites 20-minute paper proposals for a one-day, interdisciplinary conference on ‘Home and Religion: Space, Practice and Community from the 17th Century to the Present’. We interpret the terms ‘Religion’ and ‘Home’ broadly, and welcome papers from those working on a broad range of disciplines, including literature, history and geography, as well as practitioners working in relevant areas, e.g. curatorial or educational roles.

Home and Religion

This conference is part of the AHRC CDA programme ‘Home and religion: space, practice and community from the 17th century to the present’, which includes four research projects based at the Centre for Studies of Home: Religious life in the urban home, 1600-1800; New spiritualities and domestic life c.1855-1939; Judaism in the suburban home 1945-1979 and Interfaith connections at home in London today.

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

The place of the home and the ritual year Religious belief, practice and material culture at home Spirituality and the supernatural within the home Perceptions and literary or artistic depictions of domestic religion Interfaith connections within home and neighbourhood The challenges of ‘making home’ for displaced religious communities Connections between home, places of worship and the city The presentation of domestic religion in museum and educational contexts

Proposals for papers should be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by 12 September 2018

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Edited Diaries

For my period (1640-1715) and geographical area (England and Wales), I have found editions of diaries published for ten different Puritan ministers:

Minister Place Diary dates Edition
Archer, Isaac Mildenhall, Suffolk 1659-1700 1994
Bilby, William Nottingham 1714-1717 1953
Chandler, Francis Theydon Garnon, Essex 1661-1666 1916
Henry, Philip Broad Oak, Flintshire 1647-1684 1882
Heywood, Oliver Halifax 1666-1673 1881, 1882, 1885
Jolly, Thomas Altham, Lancs 1671-1693 1894
Josselin, Ralph East Colne, Essex 1640-1683 1908
Josselin, Ralph East Colne, Essex 1640-1683 1976
Larkham, Thomas Tavistock, Devon 1650-1669 2011
Newcome, Henry Manchester 1661-1663 1849
Trench, Edmund Hackney, London 1670-1689 1693

I have quite a good distribution of dates, but as with my MS, there is nothing for the first decade of the 18th century. Geographically, most are concentrated in two regions: in the South-East (Essex, Suffolk and London) and in the North-West (Lancashire, West Yorkshire, and Flintshire).

The oldest edition, that of Edmund Trench, was published in 1693. This early date suggests that 17th-century diarists might have been aware that their intimate confessions could one day be exposed to a wider readership. In these editions, we therefore have two layers of mediation: the original event presented by the diarist and then what the editor considered appropriate for his readers. Of course, edited diaries provide more readable text for us, but the introduction of the editors’ selections has to be taken into consideration. Although my thesis is focused on the diaries, it would seem appropriate to be aware of the editors’ selection criteria wherever possible. With different priorities, modern editors tend to be less selective, aware that what earlier publishers edited out, may be what 21st-century readers wish to discover.

Returning to the 1693 edition of Edmund Trench’s diary, and conscious of a third level of mediation (mine), here is a short anecdote from 22 April 1672:

Trying Enfield-Air, for removing my Ague, I rode into the Chase, and being among the Trees thoughtful and careless, my Horse by a great and sudden start, turn’d me first on his Crupper, and ere-long on the ground ; yet only tore my Clothes among the Trees and Bushes. I was forc’d to walk back to Coz. Farrington’s, in the heat, which turn’d my expected Cold into a violent Sweat. I desired thankfully to remember that Preservation in such apparent danger, and to be sensible of God’s good Providence, as oft I ride, and no such danger appears ; and to be still as careful to perform, as I was ready to resolve and vow.

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MS Diaries Found

I have located the manuscripts of diaries written by fifteen Puritan Ministers spanning the periods indicated:

Archer, Isaac of Mildenhall, Suffolk, 1659-1700

Bilby, William of Nottingham, 1714-1717

Chandler, Francis of Theydon Garnon, Essex, 1661-1666

Henry, Philip of Worthenbury, Clwyd, 1673, 1674-1687

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Maddock Research Fellowships at the Marsh’s Library, Dublin

About Dissenting Experience

Dissenting Experience is a research group devoted to investigating the history  of religious nonconformity in Britain, c.1500-1800. We share a particular interest in the historical and literary study of church books, registers, and related records from Baptist, Congregational and Presbyterian churches, c.1640-1714.


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Original author: Anne Page

Vanity Fait and the Celestial City

We’re delighted to announce that Isabel Rivers’s new book:

Vanity Fair and the Celestial City: Dissenting, Methodist, and Evangelical Literary Culture in England 1720-1800

has just been published by Oxford University Press.

You can order the book from the OUP website:

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Seeking Diaries

I am seeking the diaries of Puritan ministers from 1640 to 1715.

Here is an extract from the diary of the preacher, John Westley of Whitchurch, Dorset, recorded as an ejected minister in Edmund Calamy’s A Continuation of the Account of the Ministers … Ejected and Silenced (vol I, p 440) copied into Samuel Palmer’s The Nonconformist’s Memorial (vol I, p 478). Having been criticised by some parishioners for not using the Book of Common Prayer, he has a long conversation with the Bishop of Bristol which includes the following exchange.

B [Bishop]. In what Manner did the Church you spake of send you to preach ? At this Rate every body might preach !
W [Westley]. Not every one. Every body has not preaching Gifts and peaching Graces. Besides, that is not all I have to offer your Lordship to justify my Preaching.
B. If you preach, it must be according to Order, the Order of the Church of England, upon an Ordination.
W. What does your Lordship mean by Ordination ?
B. Do not you know what I mean ?
W. If you mean that sending spoken of, Rom. x; I had it.
B. I mean that : What Mission had you ?
W. I had a Mission from God and Man.
B. You must have it according to Law, and the Order of the Church of England.
W. I am not satisfied in my Spirit therein.
B. Not satisfied in your Spirit ! You have more new-coined Phrases than ever were heard of !.

This small section illustrates not only the difference in opinion between the establishment and the dissenters, but also the contrast in thinking and language. The end of this conversation ends with the Bishop agreeing not to “meddle” with Westley and bidding him “Farewell, good Mr. Westley”.

Although heavy in meaning and consequence, it appears that Westley chose to record this passage in a relatively light tone, but why and for whom? To show the human side of Bishops, to emphasise how God took care of potentially perilous situations or perhaps unconsciously to express a feeling of relief? Even in a private diary, there are choices of style, selection of material and unconscious ways of remembering and interpreting recent events, and this analysis of the text will fuel part of my research.

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Richard Baxter’s Treatises

We are very pleased to announce the publication of The Richard Baxter Treatises: A Catalogue and Guide by Alan Argent with Boydell & Brewer.

To order:


catalogueRichard Baxtertreatises
Original author: Anne Page

The Oxford Handbook of John Bunyan is out!

We’re delighted to let you know that The Oxford Handbook of John Bunyan, edited by W. R. Owens and Michael Davies is now out.

With 736 pages and 23 illustrations, this is a maginificent achievement, and a wonderful contribution to Bunyan studies that will be useful to students, academics, as well as Bunyan lovers for years to come.

Check it out and order on the OUP website:

ISBN: 9780199581306

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CFP 2019: International John Bunyan conference in Alberta (closing date 3rd Oct. 2018)


Founded at the University of Alberta, the IJBS returns to Edmonton for its 9th Triennial Meeting in 2019. Our conference theme is Networks of Dissent: Connecting and Communicating Across the Long Reformation. We invite proposals for 20-minute individual papers and full-session panels on our theme or any topic relating to the literature, culture and history of the Long Reformation, especially touching on the life, works, and legacy of John Bunyan and other dissenting voices of the seventeenth century.

Papers in all disciplines are welcome.


Social, economic, political, and ecumenical networks Dissenting Academies and educational networks Networks of book production and distribution; news networks Epistolary networks; the circulation of dissenting culture; dissenting readers Transhistorical networks (the long 18th century, the Victorians, and beyond) Travel and trade related to dissent; itinerant preaching Transnational networks of dissent; global Bunyan


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Études Épistémè and religious studies

The French journal Études Épistémè, dédicated to early-modern European culture, has recently published several issues on religious studies with contain articles on various forms of dissent:

1517, and all that: dating the beginning of the Reformation in Early Modern Britain and France, edited by Aude De Mézérac-Zanetti:

Dissenting Languages. Religious Performances and Disputes in Early Modern Europe, edited by Sophie Houdard, Adelisa Malena and Xenia von Tippelskirch:

MELANCHOLIA/Æ. The religious experience of the “disease of the soul” and its definitions, edited by Sophie Houdard, Adelisa Malena, Lisa Roscioni and Xenia von Tippelskirch:

In the autumn of 2019, it will publish The World of Seventeenth-Century English Dissenters: Philosophy, Theology and Worship, edited by Paula Barros, Anne Dunan-Page, and Laurence Lux-Sterritt, a selection of papers from the 8th Triennnial Conference of the International John Bunyan Society, with contributions by Laurent Curelly, Cyril Selzner, David Parry, N. H. Keeble, Bill Sheils and Elspeth Graham.

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2019 Renaissance Society Association Conference : call for papers

Please find hereafter two CfP for the next Renaissance Society Association Conference (to be held in Toronto 17-19 March 2019).

The deadline for the submission of proposals is 10 August 2018.

Early Modern Anticlericalisms
Call for papers for seminar RSA Toronto, 17-19 March 2019

For the first time, the RSA Annual Meeting in Toronto (17-19 March 2019) will include seminar sessions. Seminars will consist of discussion of three-to-six pre-circulated essays of approximately 4,000 words. The essays will be circulated among the seminar participants well in advance of the meeting in Toronto.

Please consider submitting a proposal for the following seminar on Early Modern Anticlericalisms organized by Tobias Gregory, (English, Catholic University of America)  and Stefano Villani (History, University of Maryland, College Park) :

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Society for Renaissance Studies 8th Biennial Conference

University of Sheffield


Detail from Enea Vico, after Parmigianino,

Venus and Mars Embracing as Vulcan Works at his Forge, 1543


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Transcribed Early American Manuscript Church Records Now Online

New England’s Hidden Histories (NEHH), of the Congregational Library & Archives in Boston, locates, digitizes, and publishes rare seventeenth- and eighteenth-century manuscript church records online. We are pleased to announce that over 4,000 pages in our free archive have now been transcribed, making them readily accessible to all users. Among these materials are church records from Barnstable, Franklin, Georgetown, Marblehead, and Stoneham, Massachusetts, from Brunswick and Sanford, Maine, and from other colonial-era communities.

Also newly available at are over 1,100 transcribed pages of autobiographical and spiritual testimony from hundreds of members of the first church of Middleboro, Massachusetts. This collection of lay faith relations, the largest ever published, offers an unparalleled glimpse into the inner lives of ordinary people from a half century before the Revolution until the Civil War.

Additional transcriptions are forthcoming, including more church records, hundreds of additional lay relations of faith, the New World’s first systematic theological treatise (1656); an early draft of the Cambridge Platform and a response to lay objections about it (c. 1650), and portions of a deacon’s notebook (1638–46).  All of these materials are appearing in print for the first time.

About New England’s Hidden Histories.—Our New England forbears enshrined the most intimate details of their lives and their communities in their manuscript church records. Therein can be found minutes of spirited church debates and disciplinary hearings, personal narratives, lay and clerical faith explorations, ministerial pronouncements, and a full complement of vital statistics (church membership lists, baptisms, marriages, and deaths), which together reveal the texture of early New England society. New England’s Hidden Histories has produced tens of thousands of digital images of these documents, and now myriad transcriptions, in its ongoing effort to freely share this incomparable historical resource with scholars, teachers, students, genealogists, church historians, and all interested members of the public.

We welcome volunteers interested in assisting us with transcriptions.  Please send inquiries to Helen Gelinas, our Director of Transcription, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. James Cooper, the Director of New England’s Hidden Histories, can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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New Journal: Studies in Puritanism

Studies in Puritanism, a new,  open access journal, has just been launched,

About the journal:

“The results of twentieth-century scholarship on Puritanism are diverse and deficient. In fact, it can be argued the diversity is a result of different interpretative frameworks and different aims of the research. The varying frameworks can be characterized as either focused theologically or interdisciplinary with the respective aims of edifying the church or contributing to the field of humanities. Arguably, both are deficient as they lack a broader interpretive framework and aim of research. This proposal advocates for a research framework that is meaningful to both the academy and the church. The Studies in Puritanism Journal is an open-access worldwide interdisciplinary and professionally refereed digital publication that will invite graduate students, scholars, clergy, seminarians, and other readers of Puritanism to submit their articles, book reviews, notes, and documents to the editors for review and online publication. Comments on the reviewed articles will be sent to the author. Once each spring and fall, the editors will select appropriate items for online publication in Studies in Puritanism Journal.

Founding Members

Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (USA), Theological University Apeldoorn (Netherlands), and Queen’s University Belfast (UK)

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CFP International Society for Heresy Studies

Dissenting Experience is a research group devoted to investigating the history of religious nonconformity in Britain, c.1500–c.1800. We have particular interests in the historical and literary study of church books, registers, and related records from Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches, 1640–1714. Dissenting Experience is a collaboration between Rachel Adcock (Keele), Michael Davies (Liverpool), Anne Dunan-Page (Aix-Marseille), Joel Halcomb (UEA), with research assistance from Mark Burden (2015-2016).

Original author: Anne Page

Early Modern Religious Dissents and Radicalism Series

This is a new series edited by Routledge:

“Titles in the Early Modern Religious Dissents and Radicalism Series address the discursive constructions of religious dissent and the practices of radical movements in the early modern world. The series transcends traditional national and confessional historiographies to examine early modern religious culture as a dynamic system that was essential in forging complex identities and encouraging dialogue among them. The editors seek manuscripts that consider questions of dissent, radicalism, dissidence, libertinism, heresy, and heterodoxy, and examine these themes historically as socio-cultural constructions”, see

Series Editors

Federico Barbierato

Hannah Marcus

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EMODIR research blog

Dissenting Experience is a research group devoted to investigating the history of religious nonconformity in Britain, c.1500–c.1800. We have particular interests in the historical and literary study of church books, registers, and related records from Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches, 1640–1714. Dissenting Experience is a collaboration between Rachel Adcock (Keele), Michael Davies (Liverpool), Anne Dunan-Page (Aix-Marseille), Joel Halcomb (UEA), with research assistance from Mark Burden (2015-2016).

Original author: Anne Page

Remembrance and Re-appropriation: Shaping Dissenting Identities

The IJBS Regional Day conference entitled ‘Remembrance and Re-appropriation: Shaping Dissenting Identities’ will take place this year Friday 13 April 2018 at Keel University (Staffordshire).

Plenary Speakers: Johanna Harris (Exeter) and John Coffey (Leicester).

For the conference programme and registration please click here.

Original author: Anne Page

Francisco Prado-Vilar (Harvard): "Nostos: The Poetics of Matter and the Transfiguration of Myth in Medieval Sculpture"

February 13, 2018 - 5:30pm to 7:00pm


“It is nostos that you seek, O radiant Odysseus,” said the prophet Tiresias to the Greek hero in Homer's  epic poem of return. Taking nostos as both a theme and a critical concept for the study of Nachleben der Antike (Afterlife of Antiquity) this lecture proposes a journey punctuated by a series of encounters with a selected group of masterpieces of medieval sculpture that have remained until recently inscrutable in their meaning, and largely overlooked despite their brilliant plastic execution. In the course of an analysis that involves critical engagements with the thought of authors as varied as Fulgentius the Mythographer and Aby Warburg, Dante and James Joyce, these works will reveal themselves as essential case studies to delve into the complexities of the processes of survival and reawakening of classical literary and figural imagery in the Middle Ages, including iconographic transformations, and the poiesis of their embodiment through gesture, memory and the material imagination. This trans-historical nostos culminates in the Portal of Glory of the Cathedral of Santiago, which will be here analyzed in light of the new discoveries produced during the ongoing restoration project.

Francisco Prado-Vilar is Scientific Director of the Andrew W. Mellon Program for the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and Director of Art and Culture at Harvard’s Real Colegio Complutense (RCC). His research and publications focus on diverse aspects of the arts of medieval and early Modern Europe, covering topics of wide chronological, thematic, and methodological range, including the afterlife of Antiquity from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance; Romanesque and Gothic monumental programs; intercultural relations among Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Gothic period; the interface of private suffering, devotional painting, and national trauma in Hispano-Flemish painting; or the interconnections between medievalism and modernity. Among his most recent publications is the edited volume The Portal of Glory: Architecture, Matter, and Vision.

Original author: Mae Lyons-Penner
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