The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) have awarded a three-year Insight Grant to Professor Torrance Kirby of McGill University (PI), with Professor Douglas Hedley, Cambridge Divinity Faculty and Director of the Centre for the Study of Platonism and Professor Garth Green, Director of the McGill School of Religious Studies (co-applicants) for research on ‘The Reception of German Mysticism in Early Modern England’. A key structural feature of this international Insight Research Grant is to build upon an already thriving collaboration between scholars in the School of Religious Studies at McGill University and the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University. Professor Kirby was a Visiting Research Fellow at CRASSH (2015) and Professor Hedley was Visiting Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at McGill (2019). The project consists in establishing the fundamental influence of German or Rhenish mysticism on English religious thought, chiefly in the 17th-century. The English reception of such German mystical authors as Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1328), the anonymous author of Theologia Germanica, Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361), Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), Sebastian Franck (c. 1499-1542), Hans Denck (1500-1527), Valentin Weigel (1533-1588), and Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), to mention just the most significant representatives of this tradition, has been hitherto little studied, or not studied at all.
There are some notable exceptions, particularly the research of Douglas Hedley (co-applicant) on the exceptional role of the Cambridge Platonists, especially of Henry More, in the dissemination of German mysticism in England in the seventeenth-century. This project will not only reconstruct for the first time the wide ranging reception of these German thinkers in Early Modern England, but also show that it was through this reception that the influential tradition of ‘German mysticism’ was first created. For instance, while in 17th-century Germany the writings of the main figure of this tradition, Jakob Böhme, went underground because of accusations of heresy, in England they were keenly translated, commented upon, and considered in relation to other German writers who had also been translated at the same time, specifically Sebastian Franck and Valentin Weigel. Through their work, the English readers thus established a lineage that connected these thinkers, and that at the same time created a philosophical bridge between England and Germany. The project will highlight the international legacy of these authors by adopting the perspective of historico-philosophical engagement with the sources, placing them also in the theological milieu of their time.
The Research Team consists of members of the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Divinity, such as Dr Silvianne Asprey, members of the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Platonism, such as Dr James Bryson, Dr Christian Hengstermann, Dr Evan King, Dr Adrian Mihai, and Dr Cecilia Muratori, and others.
This project is funded for three years, totaling $177,000 (CAD), and builds upon both Prof. Hedley’s previous collaboration with Prof. Kirby, when they hosted the Metaphysics of Conversion from Late Antiquity to Early Modernity Research as part of the Early Modern Conversions, and the work undertaken during the AHRC funded project The Cambridge Platonists at the origins of Enlightenment (£833,472).