The Affective Communities of Protestantism in North West England, c.1660-c.1740

  • Michael Smith

Student thesis: Phd


This dissertation explores how feeling was of central importance to the religiosity of Protestants in the north west of England between 1660 and 1740. It demonstrates how in their personal, familial, public and voluntary religious practices these Protestants understood the cultivation of emotions, or more precisely 'affections', as indispensable for the fulfilment of their devotional exercises. Each of these practices was constructive of communities that were linked by feeling and within which different forms of affective norms were expected. These communities preserved much of that godly culture which had otherwise characterised English Protestantism in the earlier seventeenth century. Moreover, by doing so they frequently minimised in part the importance of conformity to the Church of England. Friendships were maintained between conformists and nonconformists and they shared in a culture of religious feeling, which drew on the same topoi in their religious activities.This thesis will make original contributions to a number of debates. It challenges the prevailing narratives of a 'reaction against enthusiasm' dominating the religious discourse of the period. In contrast, it suggests that through the cultivation of feeling, Protestants in the period between the re-establishment of the Church of England and the Evangelical Revival continued to experience a vital religiosity. It thus also questions the suitability of describing some religious movements as inherently more 'emotional' than others. A more viable exploration can be found in differing forms of emotionality in different religious cultures. By examining the north west of England the thesis also revises the notion that the region was spiritually impoverished before the rise of Methodism, or that the religion provided by the Church of England and Protestant nonconformity failed to engage its attendants. The thesis is divided into five chapters which explore the affective communities to which English Protestants of the period and region belonged. These communities were concentric and sequential, in that the individual Protestant might pass between all of them depending upon their devotional practice. Chapter One examines personal religious devotion, conducted mostly alone. It demonstrates the unity between feeling and reason in personal experience of God. Chapter Two examines family religion and how it was defined by a meditative affect and engaged in by a broad spectrum of Protestant affiliation. Chapter Three explores public worship and its central role within the devotional economy; being both the affective crescendo of devotional practice and being a source of pious affections. Chapter Four looks at voluntary religious practices, showing how friendship was defined by its devotional nature and how the various religious societies of the period continued to promote an affective religiosity. Chapter Five considers clerical communities and how these were maintained across lines of conformity and also provided significant spiritual succour to the ministers of conformity and nonconformity in the region.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSasha Handley (Supervisor), William Gregory (Supervisor) & Andrew Crome (Supervisor)


  • eighteenth-century history
  • seventeenth-century history
  • cultural history
  • religious history
  • ecclesiastical history
  • history of emotions

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