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Mysticism in Early Modern England traces how mysticism featured in polemical and religious discourse in seventeenth-century England and explores how it came to be viewed as a source of sectarianism, radicalism, and, most significantly, religious enthusiasm.
Focusing on England as a case study, the book traces how mysticism featured in polemical and religious discourse in the seventeenth century. It traces the mounting criticism leveled at mysticism, exploring how it came to be viewed as a source of sectarianism, radicalism, and most significantly, as a source of religious enthusiasm. Both Protestant and Catholic mysticism was increasingly criticized as enthusiastic, with critics drawing on prevalent medical theories to discredit mystical experience as irrational and melancholic. At the dawn of the eighteenth century, it is argued here, mysticism was discredited by thinkers like John Locke as part of an early enlightenment emphasis on rationality, natural religion and politeness. The book also traces the positive reception of mysticism in many Protestants groups, including radical antinomian Puritans, Quakers, Ranters, Cambridge Platonists and Philadelphians, as well as discussions concerning mysticism among the members of the English Benedictine Congregation. All of these groups faced harsh criticism for adhering to mystical doctrines and reveal the mounting scepticism levelled at intense and ecstatic religious experience.
The book offers a number of correctives to the existing historiography. It suggests that there was a strong vein of mysticism running through various shades of English Protestantism after the Reformation, rejecting the idea that mysticism was a uniquely Catholic phenomenon. As a result, it argues that Protestants and Catholics shared much common ground in terms of devotional and spiritual tastes, as well as a shared interest in mystical experience. It also suggests that the seventeenth century should be acknowledged as the period in which spirituality became a wholly private concern, divorced from any influence in public institutional religion. It will be of interest to historians and theologians interested in Civil War radicalism, tolerance and intolerance towards Catholics and non-conformists, the transmission of ideas between Protestants and Catholics, and the impact of the early Enlightenment in England.