Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Kenneth S. Jackson

Second Advisor

Arthur F. Marotti


This dissertation examines the ways in which the encounter with God is figured in post-Reformation English writing between the years 1550 and 1704. The introduction contextualizes the ways in which individuals might encounter God within cultural and historical circumstances of the period: the gradual disappearance of the tradition of spiritual direction that accompanied the suppression of Catholicism in England during the period and the growing influence of more purely "scientific" modes of inquiry, especially after Descartes. Because of these changes, the ways the encounter with God could be experienced were also changing. The introduction also shows how developments in religious studies deriving from Continental philosophy can offer a fresh perspective when considering the phenomena of religious experience. Chapter one, "John Dee: Mysticism, Technology, Idolatry," considers the career of early modern polymath John Dee and his conversations with angels as a kind of "mysticism" compromised by the technology of magic and early modern science. In chapter two, "A Glass Darkly: John Donne's Negative Approach to God," I explore the Anglican priest and preacher John Donne's reimagination of negative and mystical theologies as both his way of approaching God and as a tool for the cura animarum, the care of souls. Chapter three, "Love's Alchemist: Science and Resurrection in the Writing of Sir Kenelm Digby," considers Digby's scientific researches into palingenesis, the attempt to raise a plant or animal phoenix-like from its ashes, as a kind of unconscious religious experience. In chapter four, "The Rosicrucian Mysticism of Henry and Thomas Vaughan," I trace the influence of Rosicrucianism in the writing of the poet Henry Vaughan and his twin brother, the alchemist and priest Thomas Vaughan, as a symbiosis disclosing a kind of mysticism more consciously informed by scientific inquiry. Chapter five, "The Pauline Mission of Jane Lead," argues that the seventeenth-century mystic Jane Lead, founder of the Philadelphian Society, deliberately modeled her career on that of St. Paul. It explores the way she follows Paul as one remaining true to the religious experience that initiated his conversion while she deviates when necessary from some traditional and Pauline teachings that do not cohere with her religious vision, much as Paul did in his own historical context.