Romanticism and Religion

Religion in the Romantic era was profoundly influenced by the French Revolution, as were most aspects of cultural life. Prophetic and apocalyptic texts from the Bible were used by Anglicans and Dissenters alike to interpret this transformative event within a British context, as older works by Garrett and Oliver and more recent ones by Hole, Bradley, and Burdon demonstrate. Not since the apocalyptic days of the English Civil War (1640s-50s) had Britian seen such an outpouring of prophetic texts, a phenomenon that strongly effected the production of literature and art in the period.

Several important religious movements are covered in scholarship below: millenarianism and "enthusiasm", radicalized by the Revolution, are studied by Harrison and McCalman and related to literary texts by Mee, Paley, and essays in Fulford; methodism and evangelicalism, whose emotional and spiritual emphases influenced Romanticism, are examined by Brantley, Hempton, Prickett (1976), Semmel, and Watts; and the intellectual movement known as the Higher Criticism, in which literary critical methods transformed study of the Bible, is the subject of works by Frei, Roston, and Shaffer, with a selection of primary texts available in Drury.

The studies of Frye and Abrams, immersed in the spiritual and philosophical perspectives of the Romantic era, are still fundamental for understanding the relation
of literature and religion in the period. Their approach has been carried forward by Wittreich, who deftly traces the influence of the book of Revelation and the works of Milton on prophetic writing of the period. The tradition of prophetic authority has been challenged by the post-structural work of Hartman, Reide, Goldsmith and Balfour, but it finds support in the book by Korshin, which examines the uses of biblical typology in a wide variety of literary modes--pastoral, epic, satire, fable, prose narrative, prophecy, sermons, and emblems. More specifically, the studies by Barth explore the religious dimensions of imagination and the interdisciplinary relation of poetry and the arts in the Romantic tradition.


Abrams, M.H. Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolt in Romantic Literature (1971)

Balfour, Ian. The Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy (2002)

Barth J. Robert. Romanticism and Transcendence: Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Religious Imagination (2003)

Barth, J. Robert, ed. Fountain Light: Studies in Romanticism and Religion (2002)

Bradley, James E. Religion, Revolution and English Radicalism: Non-Conformity in Eighteenth-Century Politics and Society (1990)

Brantley, Richard E. Locke, Wesley, and the Method of English Romanticism (1994)

Burdon, Christopher. The Apocalypse in England: Revelation Unravelling, 1700-1834 (1997)

Canuel, Mark. Religion, Toleration, and British Writing, 1790-1830 (2002)

Chadwick, Henry. "Romanticism and Religion," in The Future of the Modern Humanities, ed. J.C. Laidlaw (1969)

Drury, John, ed. Critics of the Bible 1724-1873 (1989)

Frei, Hans W. The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics (1974)

Fulford, Tim, ed. Romanticism and Millenarianism (2002)

Garrett, Clark. Respectable Folly: Millenarians and the French Revolution in France & England (1975)

Gilbert, Alan D. Religion and Society in Industrial England: Church, Chapel, and Social Change, 1740-1914 (1976)

Goldsmith, Steven. Unbuilding Jerusalem: Apocalypse and Romantic Representation (1993)

Harrison, J.F.C. The Second Coming: Popular Millenarianism 1780-1850 (1979)

Hartman, Geoffrey. “The Poetics of Prophecy,” in High Romantic Argument, ed. Lawrence Lipking (1981)

Hempton, David. Methodism and Politics in British Society 1750-1850 (1985)

Hole, Robert. Pulpits, Politics and Public Order in England, 1760-1832 (1989)

Jaspar, David. Sacred and Secular Canon in Romanticism: Preserving the Sacred Truths (1999)

Korshin, Paul J. Typologies in England 1650-1820 (1982)

McCalman, Ian. Radical Underworld: Prophets, Revolutionaries and Pornographers in London, 1795-1840 (1988)

Mee, Jon. “Apocalypse and Ambivalence: the Politics of Millenarianism in the 1790s.” South Atlantic Quarterly 95:3. Summer (1996): 672-97

Morris, David B. The Religious Sublime: Christian Poetry and Critical Tradition in 18th-Century England (1972)

Oliver, W.H. Prophets and Millennialists: The Uses of Biblical Prophecy in England from the 1790s to the 1840s (1978)

Paley, Morton D. Apocalypse and Millenium in English Romantic Poetry (1999)

Piper, H.W. The Active Universe: Pantheism and the Concept of Imagination in the English Romantic Poets (1962)

Prickett, Stephen. Origins of Narrative: The Romantic Appropriation of the Bible (1996)

Prickett, Stephen. Romanticism and Religion: The Tradition of Coleridge and Wordsworth in the Victorian Church (1976)

Reide, David G. Oracles and Hierophants: Constructions of Romantic Authority (1991)

Rosso, G.A. "Newton's Pantocrator and Blake's Recovery of Miltonic Prophecy," in Lisa Low and Anthony John Harding, eds. Milton, the Metaphysicals and Romanticism (1993)

Roston, Murray. Prophet and Poet: The Bible and the Growth of Romanticism (1965)

Rupp, Gordon. Religion in England 1688-1791 (1986)

Ryan, Robert M. The Romantic Reformation: Religious Politics in English Literature, 1789-1824 (1997)

Semmel, Bernard. The Methodist Revolution (1974)

Shaffer, Elinor. ‘Kubla Khan' and the Fall of Jerusalem: The Mythological School in Biblical Criticism and Secular Literature 1770-1880 (1975)

Watts, M.R. The Dissenters: The Expansion of Evangelical Nonconformity (1995)

Wittreich, Joseph A., Jr. "'The Work of Man's Redemption'": Prophecy and Apocalypse in Romantic Poetry," in The Age of William Wordsworth, eds. Kenneth Johnston and Gene W. Ruoff (1987)

Wittreich, Joseph Anthony. “The Poetry of the Rainbow: Milton and Newton among the Prophets,” in Poetic Prophecy in Western Literature, ed. Jan Wojcik (1984)

Wittreich, Joseph Anthony. Angel of Apocalypse: Blake's Idea of Milton (1975)