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Elizabeth Cullingford, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

"Why Heresy Is a Good Thing: Milton and the Remaking of Knowledge in the Early Modern Period"

Thu, April 29, 2010 • 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM • Welch 1.316

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A Renaissance Institute lecture with Nigel Smith, Princeton University

The Renaissance Institute of the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies presents a lecture with Nigel Smith, Professor of English and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Books and Media at Princeton University.  The lecture, entitled "Why Heresy Is a Good Thing: Milton and the Remaking of Knowledge in the Early Modern Period," is open to the public as part of the TILTS Spring Lecture Series:

  "In medieval and early modern Europe, heresy was understood as views that departed from and resisted the orthodox teaching of the Roman Catholic Church or Protestant state churches. It was controlled by coercion and punished by death. The poet John Milton took heresy back to its original sense of "choice" in Areopagitica (1644), his attack on press censorship. In doing so he brought together several elements from ancient, Renaissance, and Reformation thought to make a new understanding of religious truth, learning and virtue. He called it "philosophic freedom" and embodied it in Paradise Lost (1667), soon regarded as the most important English poem. This lecture shows how Milton and some of his contemporaries remade the boundaries of knowledge. Milton knew he had thus made poetry "dangerous" and a turning point in the understanding of moral consciousness."

Nigel Smith, Professor of English and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Books and Media at Princeton University, came there from the University of Oxford in 1999, where he had been Reader in English.

Smith's interests include literature, politics and religion, especially the issues of heresy, heterodoxy and radicalism. His work has extended the boundaries of what is considered "literature" in the seventeenth century, and his special focus has been on unorthodox personal interpretations of the Bible. He has addressed in particular the role of writing in times of intense social transformation, and the aspirations of poets to make a difference to the worlds in which they lived.

Smith's major works are Is Milton better than Shakespeare? (Harvard 2008), the Longman Annotated English Poets edition of Andrew Marvell’s Poems — a TLS "Book of the Year" for 2003, Literature and Revolution in England 1640-1660 (Yale 1994) and Perfection Proclaimed: Language and Literature in English Radical Religion 1640-1660 (Oxford 1989). A biography of Marvell is forthcoming from Yale in 2010.

New work includes a study of song from Plato to Bono and a comparative study of literature and state formation in early modern Europe, in which he argues not only for making translingual and transregional comparison, but also for avoiding conventional period boundaries.

Sponsored by: Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies


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