Religion and life cycles in early modern England

Religion and life cycles in early modern England examines intersections between religion and all stages of the life course. It considers rites of passage that shaped an individual’s life, such as birth, death, marriage and childbirth. It investigates everyday lived experiences including attending school and church, going to work, praying, writing letters and singing hymns. It sets examples from different contexts alongside each other and traces how different religious confessions were impacted by the religious and political changes that occurred in the two centuries following the Reformation. These approaches demonstrate the existence of multiple and overlapping understandings of the life cycle in early modern England. The collection is structured around three phases: birth, childhood and youth; adulthood and everyday life; and the dying and the dead. Coexisting with the bodily life cycle were experiences which formed the social life cycle such as schooling, joining a profession, embarking on travel abroad, marriage, parenthood and widowhood. Woven through these occurrences, an individual’s religious life cycle can be seen: the occasions when they were welcomed into a particular faith; when they were tempted to convert; when they joined the ministry or a convent. Early modern individuals often reflected on times they personally acknowledged to have transformed their life or events which instigated their spiritual awakening. They did so creatively in diaries, letters, plays, portraits, diagrams, sermons, poetry and hymns. In this interdisciplinary collection, the complex meanings of life-cycle events for early modern people are shown to be shaped by religious belief and experience.

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