Call for Papers: Sin and Salvation in Reformation England

Jonathan Willis

As the tightly-sprung chaos of another academic term starts to unwind, and thoughts turn to the endless possibilities of a month of peaceful and unbroken research time (oh yes, and Christmas), my gift to you, Monster reader, is a call for papers.  But this isn’t just any call for papers!  Firstly, the vital statistics: Sin and Salvation in Reformation England is a major three-day conference taking place 26-28 June 2013 at the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.  I am organising the conference under the auspices of CREMS, the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies, with generous support from the Leverhulme Trust.  Contributions are invited from established scholars and postgraduate students alike, and it is my hope that the conference will give rise to an edited volume of essays. Themes for papers may include (but are not limited to): visual, literary, political, theological, historical, material, musical, polemical or any other treatments of the topics of sin and salvation in the context of reformation-era England. Please send abstracts of 250 words for 20-minute papers to me by 31 March 2013, and visit the CREMS website for more information.

Secondly, keynotes.  Every conference needs at least one keynote, and I’m delighted to say that we have managed to arrange an exceptional lineup of three of the most interesting and engaging scholars in the field.  Dr Arnold Hunt, has written on communion and extensively on preaching, and is currently involved with editing the parochial sermons of John Donne.  Professor Alec Ryrie has written extensively on the English reformation: his long-awaited monograph on Being Protestant in Reformation Britain is due out early next year, and he has already embarked on a new global history of Protestantism.  Professor Alexandra Walsham has written a series of ground-breaking books on the English reformation, on topics ranging from church papistry to providence and intolerance.  Her most recent work is a breathtaking account of the Reformation of the Landscape, and she is currently working on the impact of ageing and generational change on the English Reformation.

Thirdly, the conference blurb: Sin and Salvation were the two central religious preoccupations of men and women in sixteenth century England, and yet the reformation fundamentally reconfigured the theological, intellectual, social and cultural landscape in which these two conceptual landmarks were sited. The abolition of purgatory, the ending of intercessory prayer, the rejection of works of supererogation and the collapse of the medieval economy of salvation meant that it was impossible for attitudes, hopes, fears and expectations about sin and salvation to survive the reformation unchanged. This conference will explore some of the transformations and permutations which the concepts of sin and salvation underwent over the course of the reformation in England, as well as the practical consequences of these changes as lived.

Fourthly, every call for papers needs a picture, so here is mine: part of the frontispiece from Lewis Bayly, The Practise of Pietie (1613).

Bayly[A pious man, kneeling upon a foundation of faith, hope and charity, turns from his study of the scriptures to pray: ‘A broken heart o Lord despise not’!]

Fifthly, finally, and as this is a blog entry rather than a traditional call for papers, I wanted to take a little more time to explain why I want to put this conference on, and what I hope to achieve.  I’m currently enjoying the third year of a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, working on ‘The Ten Commandments and the English Reformation’, and it was always my plan to host a conference during the final year of research.  Initially this was going to be a conference on the Ten Commandments, then it became one on the concept of God’s law, then on the use of the Old Testament during the reformation more broadly, then more generally on the bible.  Each successive iteration felt like I was getting closer, but I am not a biblical scholar, and so I kept putting it off and off as it didn’t quite feel right.  Finally it clicked: in a nutshell, the commandments were all about listing the things that you mustn’t do (i.e. sin), and enumerating the sort of deeds performance of which could be taken as a sign that an individual had been predestined to election (i.e. salvation).  One of many roles of the commandments in reformation England, therefore, was to help shape these fundamental concepts of sin and salvation as they slowly came to be understood by the great majority of people, through continual exposure through preaching, catechesis, the liturgy, and visual, musical, and other media.  Hopefully then, ‘Sin and Salvation in Reformation England’ will open up for exploration not only those vital concepts themselves, but also how they came to shape religious belief, practice and identity amongst the laity, and how they themselves were moulded by the experience.  A worthwhile enterprise, I’m sure you’ll agree: so, please take some time out from the sherry and mince pies, send those abstracts through to me now, and keep your eyes peeled for information about registration in the spring!

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