Yesterday evening I spoke briefly at the annual Catholic Record Society Conference at Liverpool Hope University to introduce my book English Catholics and the Supernatural. I described the book as a revisionist approach that confronts three problems that have troubled and still trouble Catholic historiography:
1) The tendency of some historians to view English Catholicism through the lense of anti-Catholic literature, assuming that all or some of the allegations made against Catholics in that literature were true. This is most evident in the assumption that Catholics were superstitious and politically and culturally conservative.
2) The temptation to view post-Reformation English Catholicism through the lense of late mediaeval religion, assuming that Catholics in the 1580s and after thought in much the same way as the Catholics of Eamon Duffy’s Stripping of the Altars
3) The temptation to accept Victorian romantic fictions about English Catholicism as fact
In relation to the question of how ‘superstitious’ Catholics were in early modern England, the anti-Catholic voices have been allowed to drown out what Catholics themselves actually thought, and this book seeks to set the record straight. The key aims of the book can be summarised as follows:
1) To demonstrate that Catholics were no more or less ‘superstitious’ than anyone else in early modern England
2) To demonstrate that the association between Catholicism and ghosts is a combination of anti-Catholic fiction and Victorian invention
3) To demonstrate that the idea Catholics were persecuted as witches is a historical fiction
4) To give a complete account of Catholic exorcism in early modern England, arguing that exorcism was an inherent and important part of the missionary agenda, for which priests were prepared to exploit people’s fears, including fears of witchcraft
There were some interesting comments on the presentation from conference delegates and Ashgate helpfully included a summary of the book’s contents in the booklet they printed for the Conference.