Nicholas J. Watson F'08

Nicholas J. Watson
Professor
English and American Literature and Language
Harvard University

ACLS Fellowship Program 2008
Professor
English and American Literature and Language
Harvard University
Balaam's Ass: Vernacular Theology and the Secularization of England, 1050-1550

This is the first synthetic history of vernacular theological writing in England between the Norman Conquest and the Reformation, including works written in Old English, Anglo-Norman French, and Middle English, as well as in Latin. Through close examination of the recurrences of a set of themes, traditions, and texts over a half-millenium, the study tracks aspects of the process by which western Christianity established itself definitively as a secular or lay-oriented religion; a religion that, despite its constant appeal to the transcendent, is fundamentally directed towards the world. In the process, this research offers a synthetic literary history of England’s vernacular religious writing over the nearly 500-year period leading up to the Protestant Reformation.