Repository logo

The politics of the confessional imagination, from Calvin to Hobbes



Change log


Reiter, Barret 


In this dissertation, I consider the nature and application of theories of the imagination by, especially English, Protestants, over the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. I make four significant observations. First, I argue that English Protestant philosophical treatments of the imagination were largely continuous with the earlier mediaeval, scholastic tradition, despite advances in anatomy and the rediscovery of new classical sources. Second, I argue that English Protestants developed a distinctive (but not original) theological discourse reflecting on the effects of the Fall on the human imagination. Third, I argue that despite a robust commitment to predestination, English Protestants by no means repudiated the possibility for specifically human methods of ameliorating the fallen imagination. Finally, I contend that this theological reflection on the fallen imagination was widespread, colouring even non-theological discourses, such as (nominally) secular writing on natural philosophy, ethics and politics.

I explore these arguments over three large sections. First, I consider primarily philosophical reflections on the nature of the imagination, surveying works in the Aristotelian scientia de anima tradition, as well as early modern medicine. I also treat the revival of ancient Stoic theories of the imagination and their early modern promoters. Finally, I close off this section with an examination of the philosophy of Francis Bacon. In the second section, I turn to theological considerations. I first discuss the connection between idolatry and the imagination canvassed in Protestant theology and its sources in scholasticism and parallels in the Counter-Reformation Catholic Church. I then introduce the pessimistic account of the imagination which features prominently within English Protestant discourse. I conclude this section with another discussion of Francis Bacon, this time focussing on the religious dimension of his account of the “idols of the mind.” In the third section, I consider the language of psychological self-government as it focusses on the imagination. I consider the scholastic Aristotelian tradition of moral philosophy before returning to English Protestant theology and a brief excursus back into natural philosophy. The section ends with a detailed engagement with English political writing, focussing particularly on works written in the vernacular. I consider, in turn, Tyndale, Ponet, Goodman, Milton and, finally, the radical Civil War pamphleteer Gerrard Winstanley.





Brett, Annabel


Imagination, Intellectual history, History of political thought, History of philosophy, Early modern philosophy


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge