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New Scholarship on Religion and Literature, 2000-2012 (November 2013): Print Culture

By Miriam Elizabeth Burstein

Print Culture

Orality and textuality were integral to how Protestants and Catholics defined both themselves and each other.  Questions of speech, writing, and the dissemination of theological concepts shaped both religious debate and literary form.  Alison Shell’s Oral Culture and Catholicism in Early Modern England draws on a wide range of printed, manuscript, and visual material to demonstrate how recusant Catholicism was both coded as oral, and perpetuated through popular oral traditions (ballads, mnemonics, and the like).  By contrast, Brian Cummings’s learned and complex The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace analyzes how the Reformation (itself a complicated construct) was produced, circulated, and received “textually.”  In particular, Cummings reads Reformation controversies through “grammar,” by which he means not the narrow modern meaning of the term, but the study of language and all its practices.

More specific questions of genre inform Greg Walker’s Writing under Tyranny: English Literature and the Henrician Reformation, which argues that Henry VIII’s dramatically altered approach to rule during the “Great Matter” (the divorce from Catherine of Aragon and remarriage to Anne Boleyn) made traditional rhetorical modes of counseling the “virtuous” king, such as analogous cases, sententiae, and exempla, increasingly dangerous.  Pivoting off of Erasmus’s belief that human language could adequately convey God’s meaning, James Kearney’s The Incarnate Text: Imagining the Book in Reformation England argues that while Protestants conventionally opposed “image” and “text,” they found that the codex was just as material as the image—and, therefore, potentially just as problematic.

Mary Hampson Patterson takes on a more tightly defined slice of Reformation book history in Domesticating the Reformation: Protestant Best Sellers, Private Devotion, and the Revolution of English Piety, which examines how three core Protestant texts—The Sick Man’s Salve, A Pensive Man’s Practice, and The Dering Catechism—popularized the new theology by speaking to quotidian concerns through prayers and other devotions, while simultaneously inculcating the right way of thinking about the new ideas.  Antoinina Bevan Zlatar’s Reformation Fictions: Polemical Protestant Dialogues in Elizabethan England analyzes one of the most popular sixteenth- and seventeenth-century controversial genres, the dialogue, as both literary form and theological intervention.  Finally, Kathleen Lynch’s Protestant Autobiography in the Seventeenth Century Anglophone World examines not the dominating presence of “interiority” in such spiritual narratives, but rather why readers came to expect such appeals to interiority as proof positive of religious authenticity.  She turns to publishing and scribal networks, showing that who published a book could be just as important as who wrote it, in terms of determining its politico-religious significance.