Spring 2017

Upcoming Conversions Events

  • Tuesday, April 4, 7:30-9 pm – Carpenter Room, Rubenstein Library 249 – Presentation by Grace Hamman, Jessica Hines, and Jessica Ward, Ph.D. Candidates in English at Duke and UNC-Greensboro

“Conversions: Transformations in the Vices and Virtues in Late Medieval England”

This series of short, conference-length talks given by Grace Hamman, Jessica Hines, and Jessica Ward, is interested in exploring one particularly prominent conversion discourse in Late Medieval England—that around the vices and virtues. These talks understand that the processes of developing vices or virtues are inherently processes of conversion. In order for a person to become either vicious or virtuous, some form of transformation of practices, habits, or understanding must occur. Moreover, building on the work of such scholars as Barbara Rosenwein and Siegfried Wenzel, our panel considers 14th and 15th century-Europe (and England in particular) as a time and place in which cultural changes such as the rise of the mercantile economy, clerical reformations, challenges by heretical religious movements, and political instability, transformed the representations and theories of vices and virtues.

By focusing closely on the conversions taking shape in a particular religious discourse over a relatively short time span within a particular culture, the tight focus of our talks allows for a conversation about the minute, but often important, changes taking place within the representation of vices and virtues in this period. How did changes in pastoral manuals shape changes in writing about vices and virtues (and vice versa)?  How did economic changes shape understanding of such vices as avarice or even gluttony? Such a tight focus gives us a lens into the culture of a particular culture as it is undergoing significant culture changes that resonate even into the contemporary era.

While the lens through which we are exploring conversion in the medieval period may be tightly focused, a study of vices and virtues is expansive in the types of questions and concerns that it raises.  A study of vice and virtue is at once concerned with the ethical, historical, social, intellectual, affective, and theological.  To ask what the vices and virtues are, how they may be shaped, developed, or changed, how one can convert from vice to virtue and vice versa, is to look for the significant, if often minute, changes occurring in the moral culture of Late Medieval England.


“Guillaume de Digulleville et Avarice.” Guillaume de Digulleville, Pèlerinage de vie humaine MS. Bibliothèque nationale de France.

  • Wednesday, March 22, 7:30-9 pm – Carpenter Room, Rubenstein Library 249 –  Presentation by Samantha Arten, Ph.D. Candidate in Musicology at Duke

“Music Education for ‘All Sortes of People’: Sixteenth-Century Protestantism’s Push for Musical Literacy”

Among the many theological and liturgical commitments of the various Protestant denominations born in the sixteenth-century Reformations was the belief that all of the laity, rather than just priests and professional choir, should sing in religious services. Congregational singing was enabled and encouraged by printed music books endorsed by Protestant religious authorities, including Lutheran hymnals, the Geneva Psalter, and England’s Whole Booke of Psalmes. However, it was not enough merely to make congregational music available to the common people; in order to use these books, the people had to be taught how to read music. In this talk, I argue that confessional conversion was matched by an educational conversion: Protestants advocated for musical literacy (in addition to their more widely-discussed contribution to general literacy). I will discuss Luther’s push for music education in schools before turning to the music-theoretical prefaces and solmization syllables (solfège: re, mi, fa, and so on) printed in the Geneva Psalter and The Whole Booke of Psalmes. I will also seek your help in grappling with the problem of female voices, which stems from an apparent contradiction in Protestant thought: a priesthood of all believers means that everyone should have a religious voice, but Paul forbade women to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). Did the Protestant push for musical literacy for the common people include women?

  • Tuesday, March 7, 7:30-9 pm. Presentation by Jessica Hines, Ph.D. Candidate in Duke’s English Department

“Geoffrey Chaucer and the Compilation(s) of English Identity”

At the end of the Middle Ages and the start of the Early Modern period, there was an increasing interest in compiling the completed works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Beginning with William Caxton’s early print of the Canterbury Tales in the late 1470’s, throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries printmakers such as Richard Pynson, Wynkyn de Worde, William Thynne, John Kingston, and Thomas Speght combed through medieval manuscripts seeking every poem written by Chaucer. In the process, they not only found many poems by Chaucer himself, they found and attributed to Chaucer many poems not written by him.

This talk considers how and why these poems were attributed to Chaucer. Looking closely at the organizational structures of these early print editions, as well as the editors’ prefaces to the texts, I suggest that we can understand these Early Modern Chaucerian attributions by studying the compilations thematically. A thematic study of the compilations not only shows that Chaucerian texts were identified as Chaucerian by their interest in particular themes such as chivalry, kingship, and mercy, it also shows that these early printmakers were particularly interested in compiling Chaucer’s works because they identified Chaucer as a critical figure in the shaping and formation of English virtues and English identity.

No readings are required, but it would be helpful if everyone had taken a look through at least one or two of the early print editions of Chaucer. I recommend the following in particular (note that the latter two link to EEBO):

William Caxton, ca. 1476. contains only the Canterbury Tales, but greatly influenced later editions: http://www.bl.uk/treasures/caxton/homepage.html

William Thynne, 1532 (with updated editions in 1542 and 1545); first collected edition of of Chaucer’s works: http://gateway.proquest.com.proxy.lib.duke.edu/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&rft_id=xri:eebo:citation:99842377

Thomas Speght, 1602 (2nd edition; note this is from the reprinted 1687 edition); amended version of William Thynne’s addition with additional poems and glossary: http://gateway.proquest.com.proxy.lib.duke.edu/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&rft_id=xri:eebo:citation:99842912

  • Tuesday, Feb. 7, 7:30-9 pm. Conversion and Desire: Discussion of readings led by English PhD students Rob Tate and Joanna Murdoch (Carpenter Room, Rubenstein Library 249, Duke West Campus)

All are welcome to join the Conversions Working Group once again. We’re beginning a new semester with a dialogue on the relationship between conversion and desire. Alasdair MacIntyre’s new book, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity: An Essay on Desire, Practical Reasoning, and Narrative (Cambridge UP, 2016), will serve as our focus. We invite participants, nevertheless, to enfold various exemplary works and disciplinary perspectives into our discussion.

Among other inquiries, we will consider the criteria of desire, its intricate semantic field. How does desire drive or inhibit conversion, broadly conceived? If the developments of conversion constitute a transformation of desire, then in what does this process consist? What are the sources and limits of (re)shaping one’s will? MacIntyre elaborates some fairly definite ideas as to how human beings (fail to) flourish as rational agents over the course of their lives. Moreover, he situates these claims and their objectors within a long intellectual and cultural history. So in addition to attending to MacIntyre’s narrative(s), we will seek to put him in conversation with alternative conceptions of desire and conversion. How might we think through MacIntyre alongside tragic portrayals of such a figure as Phaedra, or the theoretical oeuvre of, say, René Girard?

A note on the reading. We’ll concentrate on chapters 1.1-10, 2.1, 3.1-2, 3.10-11, and 4.11, although a larger selection than this has been scanned for your benefit. Do refer to the table of contents and preface to get a clearer view of the essay’s structure. (Reading attached in two files because of size: MacIntyre – Ethics in Conflicts of Modernity_Part1 and MacIntyre – Ethics in Conflicts of Modernity_Part2.)

  • Do mark your calendars for the rest of our meeting dates this semester, all in Rubenstein 249 from 7:30–9pm.
    • Tuesday, 2/28 Rescheduled to Tuesday, 3/7
    • Wednesday, 3/22
    • Tuesday, 4/4
    • Monday, 4/17

Fall 2016

Upcoming Conversions Events:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 15, 7:30 – 9:00 pm: Translation as/and Conversion: Discussion of readings led by English PhD students Rob Tate and Joanna Murdoch (Breedlove Room, Rubenstein Library 349, Duke West Campus)

    Please join the Conversions: Medieval and Modern working group as we examine the interdependence of translation and conversion. We will discuss brief excerpts from biblical translators spanning the ages, plus recent critical work springing from translation studies within medieval/early modern scholarship (given the breadth and size of the readings, participants are welcome to prioritize whichever selections best suit their interests). We will reflect on the mediatory qualities that acts of translation and conversion etymologically share—movements such as transport, turning, rapture—and we will ask questions about their implications for ethics, politics, theology, and visions of language. Does translation trouble the binary timeframe undergirding conversion narratives? Is either kind of “turning” completable? Reversible? How do acts of translation and conversion create or ease boundaries between individuals and groups, nations, denominations? What kinds of attention do we give to the performance and aesthetic trappings of either act? How might we account for varied intensities of experience in readers or witnesses of translation/conversion, and what role does violence play, throughout? Refreshments provided. Readings available here.

  • Tuesday, Oct. 18, 7:30 – 9:00 pm: St. Margaret Clitherow’s Hand: A Case Study in the Incorruptibility of Modernity”: Reading/discussion led by English PhD students Rob Tate and Joanna Murdoch (Carpenter Room, Rubenstein Library 249, Duke West Campus)

The Conversions Working Group will discuss excerpts from Fr. John Mush’s A True Report of the Life and Martyrdom of St. Margaret Clitherow in anticipation of the 10/21 guest lecture by Ryan McDermott, University of Pittsburgh, “St. Margaret Clitherow’s Hand: A Case Study in the Incorruptibility of Modernity” (Carpenter Room, 249 Rubenstein Library, 4:30 pm). Preparatory reading selections include a 1619 abstract of True Report plus a brief passage from the edition based on a 1586 MS copy, for comparison. The full True Report is also available for those who want to fill in the gaps. The readings are available here and here, as well as on the “Readings” page of the Conversions website at http://sites.duke.edu/conversions/readings.

McDermott abstract:

One odd thing about incorruptible flesh is that it is clearly undergoing some kind of decay. “In the twinkling of an eye,” Paul told the Corinthians, “the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” According to the Glossa ordinaria, the incorruptible body subsists “without diminution of its parts.” But you might not want to shake St. Margaret Clitherow’s incorrupt hand. Her flesh is still moist—preserved, we are told, by her sanctity—yet “diminished” is precisely the word to capture the hand’s wizened defiance of death. Every incorruptible saint is diminished. Yet it could be argued, following Julian of Halicarnassus, that what remains of the diminished hand is St. Margaret’s resurrected “spiritual body,” and what has decayed away is the corruptible flesh of this age. Decay as conversion; conversion as sanctification. These reflections are particularly pertinent to the hand of St. Margaret Clitherow, the young wife and mother of York who was pressed to death under “seven or eight hundredweight” of stone in 1586. An adult convert to Catholicism, St. Margaret steadily refused to cooperate with civil-religious authority and thereby performed a powerful argument for hardline recusancy. Her hand surfaced only in the eighteenth century, when it could safely function as a semi-public sign of the hope of the resurrection. Before that, it was hidden. McDermott’s lecture will meditate on the hidden incorruption of St. Margaret’s hand in order to inquire about the pace and visibility of conversion in early and late modernity.

Refreshments will be provided. Please RSVP to joanna.murdoch@duke.edu so we know how many people to expect. But do come even if you have to decide at the last minute.

  • Tuesday, Sept. 27, 7:30 – 9:00 pm: “Kingdoms of God”: Reading/Discussion led by English PhD Students Joanna Murdoch and Rob Tate (Carpenter Room, Rubenstein Library 249, Duke West Campus)

Return with us to the Christian conversion story par excellence. We will discuss selections from Kevin Hart’s Kingdoms of God (Indiana UP, 2014). The reading is attached here. Refreshments will be provided. Please RSVP to Joanna.murdoch@duke.edu so we know how many people to expect. But do come even if you have to decide at the last minute.

We’re eager to welcome new students and faculty at Duke and elsewhere whose work in the arts and humanities dovetails with conversion in both its broadest and most creatively particular senses.

In the attached selections from Kingdoms of God, Kevin Hart engages with the parable of the prodigal son in an intriguing yet accessible blend of phenomenology, theology, and literary criticism. We will broach questions such as: Are acts of conversion inherently narratological? How might we articulate a phenomenology of conversion? How, in turn, does the phenomenological attitude seek a “conversion of the gaze”? What do these considerations entail for our conception(s) of revelation? Time and interest permitting, we may also bring the parable forward into conversation with medieval and early modern works, such as 14th-century anchorite Julian of Norwich’s parable of the lord and the servant, or Rembrandt van Rijn’s famous portrayal of the moment of return (1660s). 


Spring 2016

Upcoming Conversions Events:

  • Friday, April 1: David Como, Stanford University, “Occult Mysticism and Religious Transformation in Seventeenth-Century England,” Carpenter Room, 249 Rubenstein Library, 4:30pm. In 1637, the London cutler Giles Creech approached the authorities with detailed information regarding the sectarian underworld seething below the surface of the city.  Claiming to have been a professor of “fourteen severall religions” during his youth, Creech’s lurid story at one level appears as a case of conversion run amok, a tribute to the farcical nature of sectarian enthusiasm, in which a young spiritual wanderer flitted giddily from error to error.  Later historians have accordingly been skeptical of Creech’s tale of Familist and antinomian cells buried in the alleys and shops of the city.  This paper examines Creech’s allegations, excavating new manuscript evidence that corroborates, and considerably amplifies, the specific details of his information.  More broadly, the paper seeks to use the case of Giles Creech to explore the process through which the small, secretive religious underworld of pre-civil–war London mutated, under the pressures of war and political crisis, into the celebrated world of revolutionary sectarian puritanism, made familiar in Christopher Hill’s World Turned Upside Down.  It thus uses one of the early Stuart period’s stranger and more implausible stories of conversion as a vehicle for thinking about broad religio-cultural changes and transformations in seventeenth-century England.
  • Readings for David Como’s visit provided here

Meetings (all 7:30-9:00pm in the English Department Lounge – 328 Allen):

  • Tuesday, January 26 – “How to Sing Like a Protestant: Musical Prefaces in Sixteenth-Century Books of Congregational Song,” workshop led by Samantha Arten, Musicology.  In the Protestant Reformation, both the Lutherans and the Calvinists became defined in part by their particular style of congregational singing. Their hymnals and psalters allowed the distribution of denominationally-distinctive musical and textual content. The letters to the reader found in these printed books also offered the opportunity for the reformers themselves to share their understanding of the role of music in worship and advocate for their own theologically-informed ideology of music. Reformation England too was marked by a specific printed book of congregational song: first published in 1562, The Whole Booke of Psalmeswas reissued at least once every year, with perhaps a million copies produced by 1640. Rapidly and enthusiastically adopted by the English people for both public worship and private devotion, these English metrical psalms proved to be a critical means of teaching and enabling Protestant (Church of England) practice and belief. However, unlike continental Protestants’ printed books of congregational song, the WBP contains no letter to the reader from a prominent English reformer; it contains prefatory material of a very different sort. How do the prefaces of these three hymnals and psalters reflect and guide confessional identity and musical reform? According to these three books, what does it mean to sing like a Protestant? Find readings for Samantha’s workshop here.
  • Tuesday, February 23 – Preparing for Luke Bretherton’s Lecture Find readings here
  • Tuesday, March 29 – Preparing for David Como’s Visit and Lecture
  • Tuesday, April 12, 7:30-9 – Hannah VanderHart (Ph.D student in English), “Fit Conversation”: Conversion and Remarriage in John Milton’s Work 
  • Fall 2015

Tuesday, Sept. 29, 7:30-9:30 pm  (Rubenstein Library Breedlove Room 349)

“Versions of Conversion”: Intro Discussion led by Samantha Arten, Musicology, and Hannah VanderHart, English

Refreshments will be served

Wednesday, Oct. 14, 7:30-9:30 pm (Allen 328, Graduate English Lounge)

Shakespeare’s Conversions of the Tragic – Workshop with Robert Tate

please email hannah.vanderhart@duke.edu to RSVP and acquire a non-circulating copy of Robert’s article that we will be workshopping together this evening

Tuesday, Oct. 27, 7:30-9:30 pm (Perkins 218)

“Relics and Re-Conversion,” Carole Baker, Duke Divinity School

Photo by Paul Koudounaris

Photo by Paul Koudounaris

Carole Baker will share about her summer research trip to Munich to visit a number of religious sites that possess a genre of relics collectively known asKatakombenheiligen or ‘catacomb saints.’ These relics were discovered in the sixteenth century (1578) in the Roman catacombs and translated into Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. By the nineteenth century most of the remaining relics were concentrated in Bavaria and most remain there today. Carole will speak about the significance of these relics for her dissertation project which seeks to develop a more thorough account of Christian iconodulia as constitutive of orthodoxy in both the Catholic West and Orthodox East. Whereas historically iconodulia has been associated with the Christian East as it is there that we find the development of an iconographic canon and icon theology, this project shows how iconodulia is equally constitutive of the Catholic West although there its concrete manifestation is predominantly found in the cult of relics. Focusing on the Katakombenheiligen will help to support her thesis as the Catholic Church took their discovery to be the Lord’s response to the iconoclasm of the Reformation. Responding to the Reformation’s conversion of Europe and its de-materialization of the faith, the Catholic Church attempted to re-convert the European imagination via its (the Church’s) material witness of the saints.

Tuesday, Nov. 17, 7:30-9:30 pm (Perkins 218)

“Robert Holcot’s Commentary on the Book of Wisdom,” Jack Bell, Ph.D candidate in English

In this meeting, Jack Bell will be workshopping his ongoing book project – see below for details.

Refreshments will be served.

Please RSVP to hannah.vanderhart@duke.edu or samantha.arten@duke.edu to receive the readings.

Jack’s description of the workshop:

The texts I am sending out are part of a book project I have been working on with John Slotemaker (Prof., Fairfield University) and Erin Walsh (Ph.D. Candidate, Religion, Duke U.). The book is an introduction, diplomatic edition, and translation of Robert Holcot’s commentary on the book of Wisdom (Postilla super librum sapientiae, c. 1340-43). Outside of William of Ockham, Holcot is perhaps the most infamous of the late medieval English theologians known as the moderni. His Wisdom commentary was the most popular single-book biblical commentary of the later Middle Ages. For example, it survives in over 170 manuscript copies–an astonishing number, especially when compared to the 83 manuscripts of, for instance, the Canterbury Tales. It also underwent multiple early modern printings at Basel, Hagenau, and London. This summer, I used a Conversions grant to travel to Oxford to (1) present a paper on Holcot’s political theology in the commentary and (2) to examine with John and Erin the earliest manuscript copy of the Wisdom commentary (Balliol College MS 27; Anna Saunders, the Balliol archivist, has made images of the manuscript available on the web here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/balliolarchivist/sets/72157641118102464/).

The documents I am sending out are currently under review as a book project with Dallas Medieval Texts in Translation series. Please do not circulate any part of the introduction or the translated sermons. If you would like a reference, a translation, or the Latin text, I will be happy to provide them.

If you have the time, please read pp. 1-20 of the introduction and the first four sermons (including the commentary’s prologue) which will be provided via email to those who RSVP.

This will be our last meeting in Fall 2015. Keep an eye on our website, http://sites.duke.edu/conversions/ for information about our spring semester events.

Sponsored by the Duke English Department and Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, the Franklin Humanities Institute, and the Early Modern Conversions Project based at McGill .  

Working group facilitated by Samantha Arten, PhD candidate in Musicology (samantha.arten@duke.edu) and Hannah VanderHart, PhD candidate in English (hannah.vanderhart@duke.edu).

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