Professor John Coffey

Professor of Early Modern History

John Coffey

  • Office: Attenborough 713
  • Tel: +44 (0)116 252 3941

Personal details

  • PhD Early Modern History

I am Professor of Early Modern History, with a particular interest in the rich and complex history of Protestantism in Britain and America.

I read History at Cambridge and did my PhD (on the Scottish Covenanter, Samuel Rutherford) at Churchill College, where I became a Junior Research Fellow in 1994. 

After a year as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at University College London in (1998-99), I moved to the School of Historical Studies.

Since coming to Leicester, I have published on various aspects of early modern Protestant culture:

  • toleration debates
  • the English Revolution
  • Puritanism
  • evangelicalism
  • antislavery

My most recent book is Exodus and Liberation: Deliverance Politics from John Calvin to Martin Luther King Jr. (2013). It surveys the political use of the Exodus story and the idea of Jubilee from the Reformation and early modern revolutions to abolitionism and the African American freedom struggle.

I am also part of a team working on a five-volume critical edition of a major seventeenth-century memoir, Richard Baxter’s Reliquiae Baxterianae (1696).


I have taught a wide range of undergraduate courses:

  • Early Modern Europe
  • The Stuart Age
  • The English Revolution
  • Anglo-American Puritanism
  • Persecution and Toleration from Reformation to Enlightenment
  • Indians and English in Seventeenth-Century New England
  • London in the Age of Pepys
  • Church and State in Early America
  • Abolitionist Icons: Wilberforce and Equiano
  • Religion in America 1600-2000



  1. Exodus and Liberation: Deliverance Politics from John Calvin to Martin Luther King Jr. (Oxford University Press, 2013)
  2. (co- editor with A. Chapman and B. Gregory) Seeing Things their Way: Intellectual History and the Return of Religion (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009)
  3. (co-editor with P. C. H. Lim) The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism (Cambridge University Press, 2008)
  4. John Goodwin and the Puritan Revolution: Religion and Intellectual Change in 17th-Century England (Boydell and Brewer, 2006)
  5. Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England, 1558–1689 (Longman, 2000)
  6. Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford (Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Chapters in books

  1. ‘The Language of Liberty in Calvinist Political Thought’, in Q. Skinner and M. van Gelderen, eds, Freedom and the Construction of Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2013)
  2. ‘Church and State, 1550-1750: The Emergence of Dissent’, in R. Pope, ed., The T&T Clark Companion to Nonconformity (T&T Clark, 2013)
  3. ‘Between Reformation and Enlightenment: Presbyterian Clergy, Religious Liberty and Intellectual Change, 1647 to 1788’, in R. Armstrong and T. O’Hannrachain, eds, Alternative Establishments in Early Modern Britain and Ireland: Catholic and Presbyterian (Manchester University Press, forthcoming)
  4. ‘Religion’, in Laura L. Knoppers, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Literature of the English Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  5. ‘John Owen on toleration in the Puritan Revolution’, in K. Kapic and M. Jones, eds, The Ashgate Research Companion to John Owen’s Theology (Ashgate, 2012)
  6. ‘George Buchanan and the Scottish Covenanters’, in R. Mason and Caroline Erskine, eds, George Buchanan: Political Thought in Early Modern Britain and Europe (Ashgate, 2012)
  7. ‘Lloyd-Jones and the Protestant Past’, in A. Atherstone and D.C. Jones, eds, Engaging Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Inter-Varsity Press, 2011)
  8. ‘England’s Exodus: The Civil War as a War of Deliverance’, in C. Prior and G. Burgess, eds, England’s Wars of Religion Revisited (Palgrave, 2011)
  9. ‘European Multiconfessionalism and the English Toleration Controversy, 1640-1660’, in T.M. Safley, ed, A Companion to Multiconfessionalism in the Early Modern World (Brill, 2011)
  10. 'Quentin Skinner and the religious dimension of early modern political thought', in A. Chapman, J. Coffey and B. Gregory (eds), Seeing Things their Way: Intellectual History and the Return of Religion (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009)
  11. 'Evangelicals, Slavery & the Slave Trade : From Whitefield to Wilberforce' in S. Finding (ed), L'abolition de l'esclavage au Royaume-Uni (1787-1840): Debats et dissensions/ The Abolition of Slavery in Britain (1787-1840): Debate and Dissension (Armand Collin, 2009)
  12. 'Puritan Legacies', in J. Coffey and P. C. H. Lim (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism (Cambridge University Press, 2008)
  13. 'Puritanism, Evangelicalism and the evangelical Protestant tradition', in M. Haykin and K. Stewart, (eds), The Emergence of Evangelicalism (Inter- Varsity Press, 2007)
  14. 'The martyrdom of Sir Henry Vane' in T. Freeman and T. Mayer (eds), Martyrs and Martyrdom in England, 1400- 1700 (Boydell and Brewer, 2007)
  15. 'Defining heresy and orthodoxy in the Puritan Revolution' in D. Loewenstein and J. Marshall (eds), Heresy, Literature and Politics in Early Modern English Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2006)
  16. 'The toleration controversy' in C. Durston and J. Maltby (eds), Religion in Revolutionary England (Manchester University Press, 2006)
  17. 'Scepticism, dogmatism and toleration in seventeenth- century England', in R. Bonney and D.J.B. Trim (eds), Persecution and Pluralism: Calvinists and Religious Minorities in Early Modern Europe, 1550- 1700 (Peter Lang, 2006)
  18. 'The problem of Scottish puritanism', in E. Boran and C. Gribben (eds), Enforcing Reformation in Ireland and Scotland, 1550-1700 (Ashgate, 2006)
  19. 'Pacifist, quietist or patient militant? John Milton and the Restoration', Milton Studies, 42: 'Paradise Regained' in Context, A. Labriola and D. Loewenstein (eds), (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003).
  20. ‘From Helwys to Leland: Baptists and religious toleration in England and America, 1612-1791’, in D. Bebbington, ed., The Gospel in the World: International Baptist Studies (Paternoster Press, 2002).
  21. ‘Democracy and popular religion: Moody and Sankey’s mission to Britain, 1873-75’, in E. F. Biagini, ed., Citizenship and Community: Liberals, Radicals and Collective Identities in the British Isles 1865-1931 (Cambridge University Press, 1996).

Reference work

Eleven articles for The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), mainly on leading Scottish Covenanters.

Journal articles

  1. ‘Against Gentilism: Milton’s Jesus and the Augustinian critique of pagan politics, 1649-1671’, Milton Quarterly, forthcoming
  2. ‘“Tremble Britannia”: The fear of God and the abolition of the slave trade’, English Historical Review, 127 (2012).
  3. 'Milton, Locke and the new history of toleration', Modern Intellectual History, 5 (2008)
  4. 'Evangelicals, slavery and slave trade: from Whitefield to Wilberforce', Anvil, 24 (2007)
  5. 'The impact of apocalypticism during the Puritan Revolutions', Perichoresis, 4 (2006)
  6. ‘Puritanism and liberty revisited: the radical Protestant case for the toleration of all religions in the English Revolution’, Historical Journal, 41 (1998).


My research focuses on various facets of Anglophone Protestant culture. I have particular expertise in seventeenth-century Puritanism and the English Revolution, though I am increasingly drawn to the study of eighteenth-century Evangelicalism. While much of my research is on England, I believe strongly in the value of comparative history and maintain a keen interest in Scottish and American Protestantism.

I have worked intensively on the history of ideas, though my first scholarly publication was on popular revivalism in Victorian Britain. I have spent a great deal of time reading the texts of clerical intellectuals like Samuel Rutherford, John Goodwin and Richard Baxter, but have also written on radical lay puritans like John Milton and Sir Henry Vane Jr. In exploring the major theme of toleration, I have tried to do justice to its critics alongside its champions.

More recently, I have become very interested in the political use of the Bible; the religious dimensions of British and American abolitionism; and the relationship between Protestants and the Enlightenment.

What ties these disparate themes together is ongoing desire to understand the transformations of English-speaking Protestantism:

  • why did it become so fragmented?
  • when and why did Protestants embrace principles of toleration or religious liberty?
  • what was involved in ‘the decline of Calvinism’?
  • how did seventeenth-century Puritanism feed into eighteenth-century Evangelicalism?
  • why did devout Protestants embrace abolitionism in the second half of the eighteenth-century?
  • how was Protestantism changed by the Enlightenment?

Current projects

I am currently completing a monograph on the political reading of the Exodus story from Calvin to Martin Luther King. This moves well beyond my previous research in its chronological sweep, though it focuses on particular moments and movements in Anglo-American history. It explores the use of the liberation narrative of the Exodus in the revolutions of 1649, 1688 and 1776, and among abolitionists and African-Americans. The book will argue that contextual re-reading of the Bible generated ‘deliverance politics’, as Protestants came to believe that Providence was on the side of Liberation.

I am also beginning work on a critical edition of Richard Baxter’s influential seventeenth-century memoir, the Reliquiae Baxterianae (1696). This will be co-edited with Professor Neil Keeble and Dr Tim Cooper and is due to be published in five volumes by Oxford University Press. It will be the first complete edition based on a transcription and close analysis of the surviving manuscript, held at the Dr Williams’ Library in London. Further details can be found at the Library’s Centre for Dissenting Studies.

In future, I hope to do further work on

  • the religious history of the English Revolution
  • the tangled relationship between evangelicalism, slavery, race and abolitionism
  • the Protestant reception of Enlightenment texts in the eighteenth century.


I am willing to supervise dissertations on politics, religion and ideas in early modern Britain and America.

I am especially interested in

  • the English Revolution
  • Puritanism and dissent
  • toleration debates
  • evangelicalism and enlightenment
  • the religious dimension of British and American antislavery

I welcome enquiries from anyone keen to do research in these fields.

My past and present PhD students have worked on

  • Scottish Covenanters
  • English Puritans
  • Restoration Dissent
  • theology in the Scottish Enlightenment
  • the political use of the Bible

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