Kirsten Macfarlane

The Divinity School is pleased to announce a public lecture by Kirsten Macfarlane: "Amateur Divines? Lay Learning and the Bible in the Seventeenth-Century Atlantic World"

Thursday, January 12, 5:00pm, Common Room

Early modernity has long been seen as a crucial period in the history of biblical scholarship, witnessing rapid advances in studies of Hebrew, Greek, and the ancient Jewish past. Historians have devoted much attention to how these developments were received by the academic and clerical elite, and yet there is little research on their reception beyond such exclusive circles. Some have even argued that ordinary believers had no interest in the demanding, esoteric world of biblical criticism. According to current narratives, the Protestant laity were preoccupied by practical piety, scripture-reading, and devotional exercises, all of which were far removed from the dazzling polyglot erudition of the scholar.

This lecture offers an alternative account of popular religion in early modernity by reconstructing a striking and unstudied community of puritan immigrants to North America. Composed of tradespeople without a university education, this community offers unprecedented evidence for lay engagement with even the most abstruse and challenging concerns of contemporary biblical scholarship. By recovering the lives and interests of this group, this talk presents a new vision of lay puritanism in the Atlantic world, one marked by far greater ambition, critical thought, and intellectual boldness than ever before suspected. 

Kirsten Macfarlane is an Associate Professor in Early Modern Christianities at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Keble College. Prior to this, she held a Junior Research Fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge University. Her first book, Biblical Scholarship in an Age of Controversy: The Polemical World of Hugh Broughton (1549–1612) was published with Oxford University Press in 2021, and her coedited volume with Joanna Weinberg and Piet van Boxel, The Mishnaic Moment: Jewish Law among Jews and Christians in Early Modern Europe, was published in the Oxford-Warburg Studies series in 2022.