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The Experience of Listening to Sermons in Late Medieval England



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Campbell, Emma 


Traditional scholarship on medieval sermons has approached them as delivered to the laity, rather than as experienced by them. In the well-trodden field of sermon studies, there has been an underlying assumption that the success or popularity of a sermon was chiefly determined by the rhetorical skill of their author and/or the performative skill of the preacher. Questions of how parishioners experienced the sermons, and how factors interacted with a sermon’s content to influence the reception of it, have been overlooked. The research undertaken for this thesis aimed to address these questions. This dissertation examines sermons alongside the socio-cultural, emotional and environmental contexts in which they were delivered. In doing so, it aims to explore the breadth of potential responses, and the complexity of the factors that might feed into those responses. This thesis, therefore, is an attempt to demonstrate a new way of approaching the huge body of extant sermons from late medieval England. Its methodology involves exploring as full a context – material, sensory, social and cultural – for various thematic aspects of sermons as is possible (as is done in Chapter One); and examining the potential emotive ‘call’ of various sermons, exempla and imagery, again contextualising culturally and socially as much as possible (as is done in Chapter Two, Three and Four). This leads (as in the Conclusion) to reflections on how ‘being Christian’ and ‘Christian belief’ might have been aroused or manifested for the laity. The concluding argument of this thesis is that the late medieval laity could engage with remarkable flexibility with late medieval sermons, and therefore with Christian belief itself.





Arnold, John


sermons, emotions, experience, belief, senses


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge