My research concerns the relationship between religion and literature in the eighteenth century. I'm particularly interested in the literature of early methodism and evangelicalism, and the way in which theological writing was integrated into a wider literary culture.
My research tries to uncover the literary purpose and agency of religious writers and readers whose central motivation for their literary activity was pre-eminently soteriological – that is to say, theologically transformative – in nature. My work asks what inspired these writers to create imaginative literature, and what genuinely religious purpose they envisaged for their writings beyond the realms of the moral, educative, and pastoral. It imagines them as active participants in a mainstream intellectual culture which was itself preoccupied with the theological dimensions of literary and social discourse.
A second research interest is the cultural history of drowning, and especially its appearance as a trope associated with mental illness, disordered subjectivity and religious enthusiasm in eighteenth-century literature. My recent work has focussed on the writing of Swedish and English female hymnists and religious poets.
I have published on the Calvinist poet and hymnist William Cowper, and the radical Methodist preacher George Whitefield. My monograph John Wesley, Practical Divinity and the Defence of Literature will appear in 2017. At present I am co-editing a collection of essays entitled Writing Religion, which will appear as the 2017 special edition of the annual pubication Religion in the Age of Enlightenment.
I teach seventeenth and eighteenth-century literature and its contexts, and have a special interest in women's writing and in religious genres: sermons, hymns, devotionals, and Biblical paraphrase. I also teach literary criticism and theory.