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Response to Review of Anglican Enlightenment: Orientalism, Religion and Politics in England and its Empire, 1648–1715

I am extremely grateful to Dr Magliocco for carefully grappling with my book and generously evaluating its significance. My remarks here should be taken not as criticisms of his painstaking work, but as a series of testimonies to how seriously he has taken the reviewer’s task, and as prompts for further discussion.

As Magliocco observes, Anglican Enlightenment is a complex, compressed, and (as one reader for Cambridge University Press put it) methodologically experimental work that operates within multiple subfields of historical inquiry. It is to be expected that even attentive readers may not fully appreciate everything the book is trying to do or say. For this reason, I want to begin by briefly noting a few ways in which the argument and content of Anglican Enlightenment might be more precisely appreciated.

First, while the review gives the impression that the coverage and evidential base of the book is biographical, I hope that by consulting both the main text and the footnotes readers will be able to see that it is based on a far wider range of primary source material. Anglican Enlightenment is indeed organized around the major events in Lancelot Addison’s life, but for specific practical, stylistic, and methodological reasons, which I set out on pp. 9–10. Second, my understanding of Enlightenment, which I succinctly describe in the preface to the book, is not quite accurately conveyed in the review. My position is that two of the defining conditions under which Enlightenment occurred – elite secularity and a widespread commitment to severing the link between religious zeal and civil disorder – were the products of over a century of religious violence and cultural encounter. Finally, the review contains some other subtle but important misstatements of my argument. For instance, I do not write that the study of history became ‘the torch of enlightenment’, but rather that ‘historiographical innovation became a torch of Enlightenment’ (p. 114, emphasis added).                

What I mostly want to do by way of response, however, is to continue an important and productive discussion that Magliocco has initiated at the end of the review, where he identifies three possible ‘faults’ in the book. I will only briefly treat Magliocco’s first suggestion, mostly because I am not sure exactly what he means when he introduces the possibility that ‘invocations of toleration’ often took on a ‘normative meaning’ in this period, whatever their sincerity. I am fairly certain that the content of the book is consistent with that statement. Tolerationist arguments and experiments were certainly evaluated in terms of their normative dimensions (see, e.g., Anglican Enlightenment, p. 224). What is worth clarifying here, perhaps, is that my book makes no universal claims about the nature of tolerationist argument in this period. I do not, for instance, argue ‘that invocations of toleration were merely tactical, and essentially insincere’ without exception, nor do I draw Namierite conclusions from the extent to which tolerationist arguments were tactical, provisional, and insincere. Instead I offer a nuanced argument about the multifaceted relationship between the discourse and practice of toleration and the central political dynamics of the period.

For much the same reasons, I will not address the third of Magliocco’s contentions at any length, because I entirely agree (and make clear in the book, for instance on p. 8) that the church’s engagement in persecutory practices should indeed play a considerable role in historians’ characterization of it. My intervention on this front, again, is a nuanced but fundamentally distinctive argument about the place that persecution should occupy in that characterization.

I do want to devote more considerable attention, though, to Magliocco’s second suggestion: that the discourse and practice of catechizing was itself a form of coercion or persecution. This contention implicitly raises some issues that may prove to be very important for future work in the field. On the most basic level, of course, Magliocco’s query about catechizing is evidence of how reluctant most later Stuart historians will be to refrain from seeing persecution and coercion as essential to the mission of the later Stuart Church of England, whatever the evidence at hand, and however sympathetic they might be to other aspects of my argument. More interestingly, though, Magliocco’s query reveals in yet another way how liberalism has become deeply embedded within this historiography. The problem with the liberal bent of scholarship on later Stuart England is not simply that it leads to side-taking and whiggery. It also has deeper analytical implications. By asking whether catechizing is all that different from persecution and coercion, Magliocco exposes the way in which the exclusively juridical understanding of power so characteristic of liberalism continues to dominate later Stuart political historians’ analytical vision. I directly address this problem only briefly in the book (on p. 199), but it is of course one of the deeper causes of historians’ perennial tendency to describe the religious politics of this period as a struggle for and against increased freedoms.

As Magliocco points out, I certainly want to argue that catechizing was understood and deployed as a technology of power, and I am well aware that its status as such did not escape the notice of dissenters (see, e.g., Anglican Enlightenment, p. 160, n. 54). But it would certainly be clumsy to describe this practice as either coercion or persecution. (Imagine if we described all standardized, state-sanctioned forms of education this way.) Doing so only serves as a crutch for a historiography that remains dependent upon conceiving of power and force in terms of law and physical violence.

To take the point to a more general level of discussion, let me add that there is no necessary relationship between exercises in ‘seeing things their way’ and exercises in apologetics. Let us assume for the sake of argument that my analysis should be understood in some way as a judgment on the Church of England in this period (I in fact offer no such judgment, since it is beyond my task in the book to do so). Given what I take to be the prevalent values of my readership, that judgment would probably be understood to be a rather critical one. Magliocco seems to confirm this when he cites my ‘chilling’ commentary on Anglican understandings of catechesis. Indeed, it would be a judgment that would extend well beyond the early modern period, and perhaps to the present day (unlike most liberal critiques), precisely because it is not based upon a narrowly juridical conception of power. And that judgment is one that emerges only from the sustained practice of historical empathy.

In fact, this is one of many places where I think my book joins forces with the attempts of more obviously anti-clerical historians (Justin Champion comes to mind) to draw attention to the non-juridical technologies of power wielded by Anglican priests, technologies which these priests’ cleverest enemies (the focal points of Champion’s scholarship) understood nearly as well as they did. To take up only the most obvious non-liberal theoretical vantage point on these Christian forms of governance, it is remarkable that there has been hardly any commentary by historians (as far as I am aware) on the relevance of Michel Foucault’s discussion of pastoral power for our understanding of this period, aside from comments in the past few months by Champion, Brent Sirota, and myself, in both published and forthcoming work. Such a line of inquiry – just one small part of the broader ‘practical turn’ to which Magliocco refers – might prove immensely rewarding as scholarship in this area moves forward.