My research explores the nature of religious, social and cultural change during the period of the Reformation, both in the lofty realm of doctrines and ideas, and also in terms of the effects of religious change on the lives, values and beliefs of the great majority of the people; who lived and died without ever reading, much less writing, a work of sophisticated theology. On the most fundamental level, I am concerned with questions of belief and identity, the relationship between the two, and in the cultural history of theology.
My doctoral research looked at the relationship between church music and Protestant religious identity formation in England during the reign of Elizabeth I. This involved considering the philosophical and theological origins of ideas about music, as well as a detailed exploration of the practice of music-making in key religious sites, the parish and cathedral church. I also explored the ways in which music was used as a tool of religious instruction, propaganda and devotion, as well as its ability to foment both harmony and discord in a range of different communities. I have published a monograph and a number of essays and articles stemming from this research, and this is an area in which I retain an active interest.
My last major research project, for which I was awarded a three-year Early Career Fellowship from 2010-2013 by the Leverhulme Trust, was on the Ten Commandments and the English Reformation. The Commandments were a vitally important text, little known for most of the middle ages due to the pre-eminence of the Seven Deadly (or Cardinal) Sins. All that changed around the time of the Reformation. In England especially, the Decalogue rapidly became ubiquitous: a staple of religious education, church decoration, liturgical invocation, theological speculation and moral instruction. Taken separately, the commandments speak to some issues of enormous significance for early modern belief and society – iconoclasm, violence, criminality, gender relations – but, taken together, the Law of God also assumed a central role in determining the new Protestant interpretation of key theological concepts such as faith, good works, justification and sanctification.
My current project involves recovering some 'lost voices of the Elizabethan age' by examining a collection of virtually unknown letters in the English State Papers. I am interested in recovering the religious, cultural, social, political and economic views, values and identities of a group of 'ordinary' people, whose voices would not ordinarily have been preserved by the historical record. As part of this, I am also interested in exploring the cultures of counsel and complaint in Elizabethan England, by which ordinary people felt that they could legitimately seek redress for their personal troubles and grievances by writing to the Queen herself and her chief representatives.