Friday, March 10, 2006

Leicester Remembered

Here follows a brief and overdue recap of the Revisiting Puritanism Conference attended by yours truly and Mr Tweeddale on Saturday 25th of February, at the University of Leicester.

The conference was convened in order to preview some of the contributions to comprise the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Puritanism, edited by John Coffey and Paul Lim. Lectures were grouped into three sections. The first address was delivered by Professor Patrick Collinson, whose fame in the field of early modern (especially Puritan) studies is undisputed. Collinson set Puritanism in relief by discussing the evolution of 'anti-Puritanism' in Elizabethan and early Stuart England, describing how the 'hotter sort' of Protestants got labeled with 'p' words like puritan and precisian. How accurate were these sobriquets, and what do they reveal about those who coined and used them? Read the book to find out! Collinson was characteristically detailed, thorough, insightful, subtle and best of all, entertaining. He set the bar for the other six speakers, and I don't think any of them would be offended to hear me say he was unmatched. The Good Prof was also extremely courteous, and took copious notes during all the other lectures! (I know because he sat next to me. Moral lesson to be gleaned: You can't be a slouch and expect to become a Patrick Collinson, even when you're an octogenarian).

All of the lectures were enlightening, including one on Stuart Puritanism by Edinburgh's own Tom Webster. (John enjoyed a two hour conversation with Dr Webster during our taxi ride home from Newcastle, which we were graciously provided after we missed our last train.) John Spurr challenged us to reconsider whether Puritanism really disappeared after 1662, Ann Hughes addressed Puritanism and gender with refreshing nuance, Paul Lim spoke authoritatively about Puritan ecclesiology, Crawford Gribben delivered an interesting account of the progress of Puritanism in Ireland and Wales (taking time to respond graciously to a colleague who alleged that Puritanism never existed in the former), and John Coffey closed the last session with a sweeping but lucid reflection on Puritanism's enduring legacies.

Given such a foretaste, the Cambridge Companion to Puritanism promises to be an indispensable resource for scholars of the movement. (By the way, if you're ever in Leicester and need a decent place to stay, you can't go wrong with the Best Western Belmont House Hotel. As Tweeddale can confirm, their breakfast is especially good.)

Pictured: A memento of the weekend. It reads, "With best wishes – good to meet you – Patrick Collinson".

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