Research Interests

Research Themes

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 Research 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 Prof 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: http://www.english.qmul.ac.uk/drwilliams/research/bax%20pro.html

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; and the Protestant reception of Enlightenment texts in the eighteenth century.



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