Catholic Record Society Conference 2014

CRS logo

Over at East Anglian Catholic History Centre I have been blogging the 2014 Catholic Record Society Conference, which ran from Monday to Wednesday this week. Rather than repeating myself here, I will just say that the Conference, at Downing College, Cambridge, was an excellent one. It was especially encouraging to see more and more younger speakers and more and more younger members (and Council Members) of the CRS, which certainly won’t survive unless a new generation replaces the present stalwarts of the Society. When I first attended a CRS Conference in 2005 I was one of only a handful of delegates under 60 (never mind under 30) and the only one who was a member; luckily times have changed.

Highlights of the conference included papers by Dr Victoria van Hyning, Dr Emilie Murphy and Katie McKeogh, as well as Dr Anne Dillon’s announcement that Recusant History (now British Catholic History) is going to be published by Cambridge University Press. This is a striking endorsement of the study of post-Reformation English Catholicism as a mainstream and exciting area of academic study by the most prestigious press in the world.

The Conference concluded with a visit to Ely led by me, at which I showed members the Bishop’s Palace and explained the building’s history as a prison for recusants in the sixteenth century. I enjoyed meeting with scholars I have not previously encountered including Giada Pizzoni, Dr Susan Royal and Dr Jolanta Rzegocka. Hannah Thomas, Conference Director and Dr Liesbeth Corens, Conference Secretary, are to be congratulated on their excellent organisation of the event.

Here is a picture of me (purloined from Victoria van Hyning’s Twitter feed) showing the Palace at Ely to Katie McKeogh.




England’s Catholic Genius: Thomas White, 1592-1676

NPG D26882; Thomas White by George Vertue, after  Unknown artist

Yesterday I travelled down to Brentwood in order to deliver a paper to the Essex Recusant Society on one of Essex’s great Catholic sons, the philosopher and theologian Thomas White. White was probably the single most controversial figure in the seventeenth-century English Catholic community, but my paper argued that we ought to look beyond White’s support for Oliver Cromwell (much as we need to look beyond Martin Heidegger’s support for Hitler), and judge his ideas by their own merits. I argued that White was a visionary thinker who saw through the shortcomings of the ‘modern’ philosophy touted by the likes of Descartes and realised the continuing importance of the intellectual framework inherited from Aristotle.

I have uploaded the full text of my paper here.

I am grateful to Isobel Parks for inviting me to speak to the Essex Recusants again, and I was especially privileged to meet and talk with Sr. Gabriel O’Driscoll, who is the last surviving founder member of the Society. The South Eastern Catholic History Society was the first local Catholic history society founded in Britain, in 1958. I was also pleased to hear that the Society’s journal, which has had a lull in publication for the last couple of years, is due to start up again.


The Roman Catholic Church and Spiritualism in World War One


The latest issue of the magazine of the Society for Psychical Research, Paranormal Review, is dedicated to the subject of World War One and the paranormal. Every historian seems to be making some sort of contribution to the centenary of the start of the Great War, but as an early modern historian this can be difficult – however, my contribution does appear in this month’s Paranormal Review as an article entitled ‘The Dangers of Spiritualism: The Roman Catholic Church’s Campaign against Spiritualism during and after the First World War’. The article concentrates specifically on Britain and America, outlining the church’s slow reaction to the phenomenon of Spiritualism and the differences of opinion that existed within the church, both on the nature (demonic or otherwise) of claimed Spiritualistic phenomena and the strategy that should be adopted in dissuading people from involvement with the occult. It contrasts, for instance, the rather hysterical response of Montague Summers and the measured, sceptical approach of the Jesuit Herbert Thurston, who happened to have been at school at Stonyhurst with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the leading light of British Spiritualism. I conclude that anti-Spiritualist Catholics probably did more to draw attention to and promote Spiritualism than they did to diminish its influence – a noted example being John Godfrey Raupert, a British anti-Spiritualist who went on a lecture tour of America to warn about the dangers of the Ouija board, and seems to have ended up by introducing the American public to the planchette!

The article can be found in Paranormal Review 71 (2014), pp. 18-20.


Review of Private and Domestic Devotion in Early Modern Britain

Ryrie and Martin cover

My review of Private and Domestic Devotion in Early Modern Britain, a volume of essays edited by Jessica Martin and Alec Ryrie, has just appeared in the latest issue of Anaphora, the journal of the Society for Liturgical Study. The book is part of Ashgate’s St Andrew’s Studies in Reformation History series, and is one of the first to be dedicated to the theme of domestic, as opposed to public prayer in the Reformation period.

The review can be found in Anaphora 8.1, pp. 74-77.


Book reviewed in The Sixteenth Century Journal

SCJ logo

English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829 has recently been reviewed in The Sixteenth Century Journal by Dr Ted Booth of Lincoln Memorial University. Dr Booth observes that my conclusions ‘add to the body of academic work on the distinctive nature of the religious reformations that occurred in England, both Catholic and Protestant’. He describes the book as a ‘much needed correction’ of the previous reliance on Protestant polemical sources for information on Catholic beliefs about the supernatural, and concludes that English Catholics and the Supernatural is ‘a nice addition to the literature of English Catholic belief during this time period’.

The review can be found in The Sixteenth Century Journal 45 (2014), pp. 134-35.