Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies
Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies

Renaissance Spring Lectures

In Spring 2010 TILTS will present three public lectures on English Renaissance literature and religious conflict by world-famous scholars James Simpson (Harvard), Julia Reinhard Lupton (Irvine), and Nigel Smith (Princeton).

On February 25, 2010, at 7.00 pm in Mezes 1.306, Professor James Simpson (Harvard University) will deliver a public lecture entitled "Learn to Die: Late Medieval English Images Before the Evangelical Law."

Iconoclasm is not “somewhere else.” Instead, it lies buried deep within the Anglo-American tradition, which insistently and violently repudiates idols and images as dangerous carriers of the old regime. In this lecture I focus on the image in the century before the first iconoclastic legislation of 1538, and the twenty-five years after that legislation, up to 1563. Across this period we can observe profound indecision about whether or not images are alive. Precisely because images are the lightning rods of historical consciousness, fifteenth-century images prophesy their fate at the hands of iconoclasts from the 1530s. Fifteenth-century images are, I'll be arguing, practicing a kind of ars moriendi, learning to die. In order to set the stage for the fifteenth-century agonies of the image, we need, however, to look to the sixteenth century death-sentence and burial. 

James SimpsonJames Simpson, Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Professor of English at Harvard University, was previously Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge. In addition to earlier studies of such medieval topics as John Lydgate, Alan of Lille, John Gower, and Piers Plowman, in 2002 he published Images, Idolatry, and Iconoclasm in Late Medieval England (Oxford) and Reform and Cultural Revolution, 1350-1547, a volume in the Oxford English Literary History. This revisionist study sought to re-describe the standard relations between the medieval and the early modern in England, seeing the cultures of late medieval England as highly subdivided and reformist, and the early modern as a period of highly centralized, revolutionary cultures in both politics and religion.

Simpson’s next book, Burning to Read: English Fundamentalism and its Reformation Opponents (Harvard 2007), further explores such revolutionary culture. Here he argues that sixteenth-century English Biblical culture, long championed as the ancestor of the liberal tradition, was actually persecutory (of both non-evangelicals and of the evangelical reader) — exclusivist, schismatic, and paranoid — and is thus to be seen as the progenitor of contemporary fundamentalism.

Simpson is currently finishing a book entitled The Iniquity of the Fathers: Iconoclasm in the Anglo-American Tradition. This book is centered on the century of legislated English iconoclasm directed at sacred images between 1538 and 1641. Focus on that period of visual destruction changes our understanding of both the literary and the visual histories of Anglo-American culture.

Simpson's work presents a much darker picture of English modernity than is customary, as he traverses the boundaries between late medieval and early modern in both directions.


On March 25, 2010 at 7:00 pm in Mezes 1.306, Professor Julia Reinhard Lupton (University of California, Irvine) will give a public lecture entitled "Paul and Shakespeare: From Religious Conflict to Religious Pluralism." 

For Catholics, Paul is with Peter one of the two pillars of the true Church, a flexible thinker who combined faith and works in a fluid relationship that could accommodate and absorb local cults into a truly “catholic” or universal church. For Protestants, Paul was the first reformer, whose absolute elevation of faith over works was buried under dangerous layers of false ritual until his true meaning was recovered by Luther. Meanwhile, contemporary New Testament scholarship has emphasized Paul's birth and education as a Jew, and his continued fidelity to Israel throughout his life. Other contemporary readers of Paul are interested in his existential philosophy, apart from his faith claims. Using medieval and Renaissance images of Paul as well as the plays of Shakespeare, this talk will look at the several faces of Paul during the Reformation and in our own time in order to understand the way in which the Epistles can be taken as both a call to religious arms and a blueprint for pluralist solutions to religious conflict.

Julia Reinhard LuptonJulia Reinhard Lupton is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. In 2007, she was named a Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of California, Irvine, in recognition of her contributions to Shakespeare studies. Her most recent book, Citizen-Saints: Shakespeare and Political Theology, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2005. She is also author of Afterlives of the Saints: Hagiography, Typology and Renaissance Literature (Stanford, 1996) and co-author with Kenneth Reinhard of After Oedipus: Shakespeare in Psychoanalysis (Cornell, 1992). She is completing a book entitled Thinking with Shakespeare, under contract with the University of Chicago Press. Lupton’s next book project, “Shakespearean Designs: An Uncommonplace Book,” aims to explore the dark side of Shakespearean domesticity for a general audience.

A recurrent subject of Lupton’s research is Shakespeare’s encounters with the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, especially in The Merchant of Venice and Othello. The Venice of these plays is inhabited by people of several races and religions. Lupton contends that Shakespeare used the Venetian setting to explore the vision of universalism as well as the problem of divided communities addressed by St. Paul in his Epistles. She is concerned not so much with the historical conditions of Shakespeare’s plays as with how his uses of Biblical allusions and character types, when read in the context of their ongoing reinterpretation and renewal in the present, suggest possibilities for religious pluralism.

Lupton also writes about the everyday life of graphic design with her sister Ellen Lupton. Their most recent book is Design Your Life, published by St. Martin’s Press in 2009. For more about her research, teaching, and design interests, visit her web site, www.thinkingwithShakespeare.org.

On April 29, 2010, at 7:00 pm in Welch 1.316, Professor Nigel Smith (Princeton University) will present a public lecture entitled "Why Heresy Is a Good Thing: Milton and the Remaking of Knowledge in the Early Modern Period." 

In medieval and early modern Europe, heresy was understood as views that departed from and resisted the orthodox teaching of the Roman Catholic Church or Protestant state churches. It was controlled by coercion and punished by death. The poet John Milton took heresy back to its original sense of "choice" in Areopagitica (1644), his attack on press censorship. In doing so he brought together several elements from ancient, Renaissance, and Reformation thought to make a new understanding of religious truth, learning and virtue. He called it "philosophic freedom" and embodied it in Paradise Lost (1667), soon regarded as the most important English poem. This lecture shows how Milton and some of his contemporaries remade the boundaries of knowledge. Milton knew he had thus made poetry "dangerous" and a turning point in the understanding of moral consciousness.

Nigel SmithNigel Smith, Professor of English and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Books and Media at Princeton University, came there from the University of Oxford in 1999, where he had been Reader in English.

Smith's interests include literature, politics and religion, especially the issues of heresy, heterodoxy and radicalism. His work has extended the boundaries of what is considered "literature" in the seventeenth century, and his special focus has been on unorthodox personal interpretations of the Bible. He has addressed in particular the role of writing in times of intense social transformation, and the aspirations of poets to make a difference to the worlds in which they lived.

Smith's major works are Is Milton better than Shakespeare? (Harvard 2008), the Longman Annotated English Poets edition of Andrew Marvell’s Poems — a TLS "Book of the Year" for 2003, Literature and Revolution in England 1640-1660 (Yale 1994) and Perfection Proclaimed: Language and Literature in English Radical Religion 1640-1660 (Oxford 1989). A biography of Marvell is forthcoming from Yale in 2010.

New work includes a study of song from Plato to Bono and a comparative study of literature and state formation in early modern Europe, in which he argues not only for making translingual and transregional comparison, but also for avoiding conventional period boundaries.

Smith is bassist, singer and songwriter in the NJ-based rock band Rackett, co-founded with the poet Paul Muldoon. (See www.rackett.org for details of shows, tours and recordings.)

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