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Melancholy and the nonconforming godly in England, c. 1640-1700

FINN, FINOLA (2018) Melancholy and the nonconforming godly in England, c. 1640-1700. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis explores representations of melancholy amongst Presbyterians, Independents, and Particular Baptists across the period c. 1640 to 1700. Faced with increasing accusations of melancholy from their Anglican opposition, the nonconforming godly grappled with how this condition should be interpreted and dealt with. In asserting that the histories of neither health nor religion can be understood through ideas alone, the study counters the conformist-focused, top-down, and intellectualised approach of the existing scholarship on melancholy at this time. Rather than focusing on the published views of ministers and physicians, the thesis draws upon a range of printed and manuscript sources to investigate the experience of melancholy from the perspective of laypersons.

In examining the use of health and the passions in godly writing, Chapter One considers the discourses from which attitudes towards melancholy stemmed, demonstrating that an embodied form of piety persisted throughout the period. Taking this stance further, Chapter Two contends that the heart was understood to react physiologically to duties and, ultimately, indicate the state of an individual’s soul. Turning to the issue of melancholy, it is shown that the language of the heart was employed to assert or deny the spiritual significance of this condition. Through a series of case studies that draw upon both published and unpublished writings, Chapters Three, Four, and Five argue that a shift occurred across the latter half of the seventeenth century amongst the nonconforming godly towards a greater willingness to positively incorporate melancholy into accounts of spiritual experience. While other scholars have suggested alternative changes, pointing to a de-spiritualisation and heightened criticism of melancholy, these chapters argue that this condition, in practice, was carefully absorbed into existing frameworks of spiritual language and thinking by the nonconforming godly and, in turn, used to express their politico-religious identity.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > History, Department of
Thesis Date:2018
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:16 Apr 2019 13:54

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