Sons and Daughters of the Church Who Write

        Many of the authors in the English 211 syllabus are devoutly faithful adherents of Christianity, but many of them did not write explicitly about their faith.  Fewer of them wrote about their doubts, fears, and dissatisfactions with Christian teachings and prescribed ways of life.  Some may have examined their spiritual troubles indirectly by projecting them upon other literary personae, characters whose spiritual crises or bad behavior they described in terms suggesting strong interest in the subject.  If faith matters to you, as a positive, constructive social force, a transcendent truth, or a dangerous irrationality, this aspect of authors' work may give you important insights into the uses of literature in this era. 

        For exam studying or for paper brainstorming, gather together a cluster of writers who have addressed spirituality and religious life, and look for points of comparison or lines of historical change.  In some cases, you may even be able to argue for possible literary influence if the earlier author was famous enough, known to have been read by the later author(s), mentioned in the later works, etc.  Don't push your conclusions further than your evidence can support, but do not be afraid to wonder.  Ask me if you are unsure how to determine the strength and utility of your evidence.

        Some obvious authors to consider: the authors of "Wanderer" and "Battle of Maldon"; Chaucer; Margery Kemp; Julian of Norwich; the author of Everyman; Sir Thomas More; Edmund Spenser; Christopher Marlowe; Amelia Lanyer; John Donne; Robert Herrick; George Herbert; Robert Crashaw; John Milton.  Pick your authors and works carefully, paying attention to whether they were writing before, during, or after the Protestant Reformation, and if after, whether they were writing as Protestants, Catholics, or Dissenters (i.e., non-Church-of-England Protestants).  In three cases (the authors of "Wanderer" and "Maldon," and Amelia Lanyer) the authors may have known of and had sympathy for another, non-Christian religious tradition (British paganism and Judaism).  Another was accused of openly favoring atheism (Marlowe), and yet another either playfully or seriously wrote of himself as partly a Classical Roman pagan (Herbert).  Two were mystics (Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich) and two others wrote under the influence of religious meditative practices designed to encourage mystical experiences (Herbert and Crashaw--see Louis Martz' The Paradise Within and The Poetry of Meditation).