Past events

Writing Faith and Place in Early Modern Britain

17th–19th April, University of Exeter

Programme available at this link.

This conference will explore literary and religious cultures across the regions of early-modern Britain, the counties and provincial centres, outside of London from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. We are interested in the writing of places, of local communities, and in particular of religious identities. Several key writers of the period are strongly associated with certain localities (e.g. Philip Sidney and Mary Sidney Herbert in Wiltshire, Thomas Browne in Norwich, Robert Herrick in Devon, Lucy Hutchinson in Nottinghamshire, Henry Vaughan in Brecknockshire, John Bunyan in Bedford, William Cowper and John Newton in Olney). A far wider range of lesser-known and sometimes anonymous writers, from a range of social classes, spent writing lives outside of London; their writings imagine their place in local spaces and communities. Faith forms a central theme of much of this work: religion not only motivated the most common and best-preserved records of provincial literary culture, but was also central to shaping community life in the centuries following the Reformation.

Literature of the early-modern localities includes sermons and spiritual autobiographies, but more besides: poetry, pamphlets, journalism, philosophical treatises, manuscript notebooks, and letters. We are interested in how such texts fashion a sense of locality, how they project ideas of community and readership, and how they evoke the shared spaces, networks, histories, and religious values of their neighbourhood. We are also interested in how such texts participate in national controversies at a local level, how they situate their community within the period’s reformations and revolutions, and how this included participating in conflict. And we are keen to trace the networks of patronage, preaching, and publishing that connected local literary production with the capital.

Papers may focus on a broad region, or a single community; may provide a local angle on one key figure; or may trace a nationwide issue through several local case studies. They may include literary analysis, theological or religious study, bibliography, or social or local history, and more. General enquiries and expressions of interest are welcome.

Our interests emerge from the Leverhulme-funded project ReConEx (“Writing Religious Conflict and Community in Exeter, 1500-1750”), which has shed new light on the breadth and vibrancy of writing produced in Exeter and Devon throughout the early-modern period. This has captured the rival community-forming and conflicts between different strands of Anglican conformity and Puritan Dissent throughout the period, but also the region’s contacts with London and with the outside world, including encounters with Islam and Judaism. We are increasingly convinced, however, that this case study needs to be placed in both a regional context, tracing Exeter’s cultural links across the southwest, but also a national context, comparing analogous activities in localities across the country. While the conference will include some focus on Exeter and the southwest, we are keen to receive proposals for case studies on all regions outside of London, with the aim of encouraging cross-comparison across a breadth of contexts. Keynote addresses will be given by Prof. Mark Stoyle (University of Southampton) and Dr Alison Searle (University of Leeds).

Please send a short biography (ca. 100 words) along with a title and brief abstract (250 words) for a 20-minute paper, or for a panel (3 x 20-minute papers) to by 12th January 2024. An edited collection of selected papers from the conference is envisaged for publication.

Friday 21st April 2023 day conference:

Writing Religious Conflict and Community in the Southwest, 1500–1800

Organised by Leverhulme Trust-funded project ‘Writing Religious Conflict and Community in Exeter’ (ReConEx) in association with the International John Bunyan Society with the endorsement of the Ecclesiastical History Society.

You are warmly invited to our day conference at the University of Exeter on religious identity, community and conflict in the southwest of England from 1500-1800, and their representation in written and printed texts. We have attracted papers focusing on various religious groups in the period (including conformists, Puritans, Protestant Nonconformists/Dissenters, Catholics, Jews and Muslims) and the relationships between them, and on various kinds and genres of writing.

Within this religiously plural and contested region, individuals and religious groups expressed their convictions and communal identities as well as their relationships and conflicts with others through a wide variety of written genres. These texts include poems, sermons, prophecies, pamphlets, letters, travel writing, captivity narratives, diaries, memoirs, and spiritual autobiographies. We anticipate our discussions providing unique insights into the construction of shared identities and collective memories, and the ways in which these play out in local histories of community and conflict. An edited collection of selected papers from the conference is also envisaged for publication.

£10 registration fee covers light lunch and refreshments.

For conference programme, please visit this link.

Please register at this link if you wish to attend.

Thursday 30th March 2023

Devon and Exeter Institution evening lecture with supper:

Writing Religious Conflict and Community in Exeter, 1500–1750.

Professor Philip Schwyzer, Dr Niall Allsopp and Dr David Parry 

Devon and Exeter Institution, Cathedral Close, Exeter

6 pm for 6:30 talk followed by supper

Visit to pre-book tickets including drinks and supper.

In a sermon on the eve of Civil War, Exeter Puritan minister John Bond hailed Exeter as ‘a Beacon upon a hill, yea, as the Centre, heart and head of the West’. As an influential regional capital, Exeter was a centre for religious as well as political developments, and played a pivotal role in successive national conflicts, including the Prayerbook Rebellion/Western Rising of 1549, the Civil Wars, the Glorious Revolution, and the ‘Exeter Arian Controversy’ in eighteenth-century Dissent. Through these crises, Exeter’s preachers, poets, and printers expounded, defended, and contested competing visions of faith and fellowship.

The ReConEx project (‘Writing Religious Conflict and Community in Exeter, 1500–1750’) draws on a wealth of literary evidence (including poems, sermons, prophecies, pamphlets, letters, travel writing, captivity narratives, diaries, memoirs, and spiritual autobiographies) to trace how Exeter’s religious identity was written into being and fought over in the generations following the Protestant Reformation. In this event, we will introduce our project findings so far and will explore how the city of Exeter functioned as a sacred space and a site of confessional conflict facilitating encounters between individuals and the divine as well as between a diverse range of competing and co-existing religious communities.

Philip Schwyzer, Niall Allsopp and David Parry are members of the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Exeter. Philip Schwyzer is Professor of Renaissance Literature, with research interests including personal and collective memory, antiquarianism and national identities. Niall Allsopp is Lecturer in Early Modern Literature, with research interests including the literature of the English Civil War, political ideas, and religious and civic ceremonies. David Parry has served in teaching and research roles at Exeter since 2017, with research interests including Puritan writers such as John Milton and John Bunyan and the intersections of rhetoric, religion and intellectual history.

Doors 6pm / Talk 6.30pm / Supper 7.30pm
Tickets £25