Seminar – Mark Lee on ‘Devotional Solitude, Sociability and Insanity in the Nineteenth Century’

In the first paper in our 2019/20 seminar series, Mark Lee from the University of Oxford explores devotional solitude through the lens of 'religious insanity' in the nineteenth century.
ArtsTwo 3.20, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS Map

Perceptions of devotional solitude were mixed in the nineteenth century. Centuries-old Protestant concerns about the psychological perils of spiritual retreat remained entrenched in many minds; yet devotional solitude was also promoted by evangelical ministers as an aid to spiritual growth. And outside the pale of Christian orthodoxy, solitude was being reconfigured as a means of escaping the constraints of ecclesial and creedal authority, and thus attaining true spiritual liberty.

This talk explores this contentious space through the prism of ‘religious insanity’ – a category used by nineteenth-century asylum superintendents to denote seemingly irrational religious beliefs and behaviours. The family members and friends of the ‘religiously insane’ frequently cited a prolonged period of spiritual retreat as the first sign that something had gone psychologically amiss. But how did those deemed insane understand their own solitude? This question will receive particular focus, as the writings of alleged mad-people are mined for the links they draw between solitude, society and spiritual identity.

No registration required for this seminar – all are welcome.