Early Modern Ireland and England; Early Modern State Theory; Religious Reformation; Reformed Theology; Resistance Theory; Colonialism
Project: God’s Grace and the State — Toleration in Ireland and England, c. 1558-1625
Broadly speaking, I am interested in the relationship between reformed theology and an emerging notion of ‘the state’, primarily within the context of Elizabethan and Jacobean Ireland, but also within England, Europe and North America.
My current research examines the way in which an emphasis within reformed theology on original sin, God’s grace, and individual conscience, came to challenge renaissance notions about the perfectibility of man, and how these ideas fed into a collapse in received views about the unity of a Christian polity.
The project considers reformed protestant responses to the perceived absence of God’s grace from political life, as well as protestant attempts to resolve the difficulties they faced in judging the internal disposition of individual citizens or subjects. More importantly, the project explores how an emerging notion of ‘the state’ was conditioned by these problems. It explores how a notion of ‘the state’ could be deployed in order to stabilize political relationships, where sovereign authority came to be thought of as something inherent in the apparatus of government and so distinct from the person of the ruler and the wider polity.
Here my research examines how political relationships could be recast as involving the offices and apparatus of ‘the state’, rather than amity or fidelity between the subject and the prince, since the later became problematic if consciences were deemed corrupt. An emphasis on the authority of ‘the state’ could also provide an external locus of unity, despite possible divisions in conscience.
Currently, the project is focused on the case of Elizabethan Ireland and builds on work undertaken as an Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow in History at University College Cork. In particular, in Ireland the vocabulary of ‘the state’ was used with a degree of consistency predating wider developments in Elizabethan England and Europe more generally. Perceived Irish civil disobedience also meant government engaged consistently with questions concerning the common good, grace and state structures, because Irish government was tasked with building a functional polity from the ground up.
It is hoped that this research will form a monograph, provisionally entitled God’s Grace and the State. I also hope to extend my research to include England and Ireland under the reign of James I & VI, alongside developments in North America. In this respect, the project asks why in many cases emerging state structures did not allow for religious plurality, though the initial deployment of statist terminology had been conditioned by attempts to move beyond the model of a unified Christian polity.
- Calvinism, Reform and the Absolutist State in Elizabethan Ireland (Pickering and Chatto: London, 2015).
- “The Emergence of the State in Elizabethan Ireland and England, ca 1575–99”, Sixteenth Century Journal 45:3 (2014), pp. 659–82.
- “An Irish Perspective on Elizabeth’s Religion: Reformation Thought and Henry Sidney’s Irish Deputyship, c. 1560 to 1580”, in Brendan Kane and Valerie McGowan-Doyle, eds., Elizabeth I and Ireland (Cambridge University Press, 2014), S. 142–62.
- “Nicholas Walsh’s Oration to the Irish House of Commons, May 1586”, Analecta Hibernica 45 (2014), pp. 35–52.
- “‘The State’ – Ireland’s Contribution to the History of Political Thought”, Irish Review 48 (2014), pp. 28–34.
- “Reformed Protestantism and the Government of Ireland, c. 1565 to 1580: the Lord Deputyships of Henry Sidney and Arthur Grey”, in Thomas Herron & Willy Maley, eds., Sidney Journal, 29 (2011), pp. 71-104.