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Title: The Reformation of Indifference: Adiaphora, Toleration, and English Literature in the Seventeenth Century
Authors: Clayton, James Thomas
Advisors: Smith, Nigel
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: adiaphora
Subjects: English literature
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation presents a new interpretation of imaginative literature’s role in the political and religious controversies that precipitated the institutional embrace of toleration, including in the political philosophy of John Locke, toward the end of the seventeenth century. Within that larger story, it traces an evolution in the conception of religious difference in early modern English culture through its ongoing controversies concerning the status of the liturgical and ceremonial aspects of Protestantism that were designated as “indifferent.” It argues that the interpretive practices at stake in the controversies, which rendered material aspects of religious practice complexly figural and discursive, were shaped by the application and testing of those practices in literary texts. By bringing the period’s religious poetry into conversation with its ecclesiological and political discourses, it shows how authors experimented with the different senses in which things and practices were considered indifferent with respect to salvation, and therefore tolerable. In that way, the argument contributes to the intellectual and cultural histories of religious toleration. At the center of the project is the important but understudied theological concept of adiaphora. In the political-theological imagination of the period, this term was used to address questions of protestant material culture and ritual practice by distinguishing between religion’s circumstantial, negotiable, and “indifferent” practices (adiaphora) and its essential doctrines (fundamenta). The dissertation reads the figurative language of the period where it interacts with this concept. It situates the early modern discourse of adiaphora within recent historical and theoretical scholarship on religious toleration, drawing on methodologies from literary studies, the history of ideas, and the historiography of the English Church to challenge the prevailing notion that the English Church’s policy of “indifference to matters of indifference” was among the preconditions for toleration’s emergence as the central value of Anglophone liberalism. Through readings of works by John Donne, George Herbert, John Milton, and Aphra Behn, it demonstrates the significance of the concept of things indifferent” for the period's cultural representations of religious diversity within the parameters suggested by a national Church committed to religious uniformity. In doing so, finally, the project establishes the basis for a new genealogy of the cultural and political categories through which liberal polities today grapple with differences of religion, race, and gender.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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