Domesticating the Reformation: Protestant Best Sellers, Private Devotion, and the Revolution of English Piety
Mary Hampson Patterson

About the Author: Mary Hampson Patterson was named Charlotte Newcombe Fellow by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and European Civilization Fellow by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. She has held lectureships at Loyola University in Chicago, the University of Virginia, and the College of William Mary. Scholarship and activism merge in Patterson’s involvement with Holocaust survivors and archiving, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for Victims of Torture, and advocacy of dialogue about the need for slavery reparations, and the increasing human-trafficking crisis. She currently lives outside New York City.




People who lived through the English Reformation had the shock of witnessing the dismantling of institutions and relationships they had been taught were permanent. Of course, not all English people welcomed this dismantling; this study, however, focuses on those people who did, and on those forces such people willingly allowed to wrench them from their religious ancestry. One such force came in the form of books.

In an effort to guide popular consciences through the dizzying reform process, Protestant writers and preachers used various media to shape evolving patterns of domestic worship. While many post-revisionist studies focus on the deeply disruptive aspects of the Reformation’s alternative devotional program, Patterson considers some of its more positive articulations. She reveals underexplored expressions of religious dissent by rescuing three key texts—largely ignored despite their being certifiable “best sellers” in their day—Thomas Becon’s The Sick Man’s Slave, John Norden’s A Pensive Man’s Practice, and Edward Dering and John More’s A Brief and Necessary Instruction for Householders. Patterson analyzes how the writers packaged “high” theology for ordinary persons, offering accessible guidelines for an everyday reformist piety to be worked out in the “ideally” Protestant, English household. By drawing portraits of new religious identities, these little-known authors became chief actors in the Reformation theater, as translators and disseminators of a Protestant—and distinctly anti-Catholic—worldview that would come to characterize much of modern, Anglo-centric religious culture.

Patterson asks the following questions: how did these devotional manuals—intended to be read aloud—stream continental theology into the domestic contexts of parish, school, and home? What sorts of individuals or households did the authors envision? How did issues of literacy/illiteracy affect—or not affect—popular absorption of new ideas from books? Finally, how can the occasional incalculability of such data affect debates regarding the so-called “protestantization” of England? What emerges is a kaleidoscope of Protestants’ poignant, not-always-consistent struggles for self-construction within intimate domestic spheres. We explore the specifically reformist interpretation of how prosaic challenges of daily life provided opportunities for experiencing the divine.

By guiding responses to revolution itself, these texts intersected issues of piety, rhetoric, and domestic devotion; hence, Patterson outlines their authors’ attempts at reconfiguring nothing less than whole categories of popular, cultural imagination in early modern England. Thus, she illuminates the vision for what key religious revolutionaries considered an authentic, personal spirituality for a confusing age of inflammatory, politicized religion.

ISBN 0-8386-4109-1, $75.00




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