Theme for 2010-11: The Church and Literature
University of St Andrews, 21-24 July 2010
London, 8 January 2011
It seems to me that the most interesting volumes of Studies in Church History are the widest ranging. In the theme of next year’s EHS conference, The Church and Literature, we have a subject which covers a very large area indeed, if one interprets ‘literature’ as any writing that has an aesthetic and linguistic richness of value in themselves, or even outside that, with a human interest beyond the character of a list or chronicle. This last consideration, human interest, takes the subject beyond productions within the canon of normal literary study, as the theme has a dimension in literature which is popular rather than of high cultural quality, and influential by reason of its popularity alone. I do not wish to impose a definition of literature which might exclude some literary productions as unworthy of consideration.
Christianity and the book are as old as each other, and the Word itself in the form of the sacred Biblical text, the heart of the tradition from the closure of the canon, takes a variety of literary forms. Early Christian apologetic and polemic, Christian sermons and homilies, Christian poetry and hymnography, and Christian philosophical reflection, drawing on the teachings of Plato and Aristotle, have their successors down the centuries. The Grail Legend alone inspired an international tradition of legend and poetry infused by the Christian imagination. In Italy, Dante stands supreme among a succession of writers. In France, Racine, Pascal and Bossuet represent the golden age of Louis XIV. The Russian novel has also explored the Christian inheritance on an epic scale. In the English tradition, we have Christian poetry from Caedmon, embracing Chaucer, Spenser, Milton and Eliot; Christian spiritual autobiography and witness, including Bunyan and Newman; Christian theatre in the miracle and mystery plays; novels from Defoe and Richardson, directly or indirectly treating Christian themes; and more recently, Christian journalism and the Christian literature of children’s books and fantasy, even unto Harry Potter.
At the Reformation, the new translations of the Bible and of prayer books had an enormous influence on the development of the vernacular languages and literatures of the Protestant north, and we are to meet in St Andrews next year as it commemorates the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Scottish Reformation. The following year, 2011, is the fourth centenary of the King James Authorized Version.
The Enlightenment saw the rise of various literary movements opposed to Christianity, which can also be part of our general study, together with the Church’s attempts to impose its own forms of censorship. I do not see any restriction in the kind of Christian or indeed anti-Christian literature which we might consider under our theme, or in the approach which we might take to it. Here is God’s plenty, a wealth of material through which to approach the Christian tradition, through the literary riches of its history.
Main speakers at the Summer Conference and Winter Meeting will include Daniel Anlezark, Thomas Corns, Eamon Duffy, Sheridan Gilley, Crawford Gribben, Salvador Ryan, Andrew Sanders and John Took.
President-elect for 2010-11
We are currently locating the programme of the Summer Conference and will upload it.
For the programme of the Winter Meeting, click here.
The resulting volume was published as Peter Clarke and Tony Claydon, eds, The Church and Literature, SCH48 (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2012)