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Rituals of Spontaneity
Sentiment and Secularism from Free Prayer to Wordsworth

By Lori Branch

Rituals of Spontaneity
Hardback, 362 pages $29.95
Published: 30th September 2006
ISBN: 9781932792119
Format: 9in x 6in

Paperback, 370 pages $29.95
Published: 1st November 2010
ISBN: 9781602583429
Format: 9in x 6in

Subjects: All History, All Literature, All Practical Theology, Church History, Religion & Literature, Worship and Ritual

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a new-found love of spontaneity transformed Christian worship and revolutionized the Enlightenment's "culture of sensibility." Rituals of Spontaneity tells the story of how and why spontaneity came to be so revered. Using archival material and works of Bunyan, Shaftesbury, Goldsmith, Smart and Wordsworth, Branch shows that the rise of spontaneity was intimately connected to the forces of commerce and science at the dawn of the Enlightenment. By focusing on the language in which spontaneity was defended and on its psychological repercussions, Rituals of Spontaneity challenges previous understanding of secularization and demonstrates the deep, often troubling connections between religion and secularism in modernity.

Winner of the Book of the Year Award for the Conference on Christianity and Literature.

List of Illustrations

1 The Rejection of Liturgy, the Rise of Free Prayer, and Modern Religious Subjectivity
2 "As Blood Is Forced out of Flesh": Spontaneity and the Wounds of Exchange in Grace Abounding and The Pilgrim's Progress
3 "True Enthusiasm": Moral Sense Philosophy and Fissures of the Secular Self in Shaftesbury' Private Writings
Coda to Chapter 3: "Divide Youself, Be Two"-Images of the Modern Subject
4 At the Sign of the Bible and Sun: John Newbery, The Vicar of Wakefield, and the Ghost of Christopher Smart
5 Wordsworth's "Spontaneous Overflow" and the "High Service Within": From Lyrical Ballads to Ecclesiastical Sonnets
Conclusion: On the Religiousness of Criticism

Works Cited

Rich, well-argued, and frequently fascinating... The book yields particularly useful insights about anxieties over commercialized religious culture... and the paradoxically regimented nature of much early-modern "spontaneity." ... Recommended.


"Branch offers an essential reconsideration of the importance of religious identity in England in the eighteenth century. Branch's study challenges our blind spots and raises timely questions about our implication, as late moderns, in habits of thought that limit our understanding of the period."

—Misty G. Anderson, University of Tennessee

"This superbly researched and dazzlingly original book calls on us to re-examine a familiar feature of our literary histories and of the landscape of Western modernity more generally: namely, the manner in which modern religion and modern literary composition alike have come to center on a rejection of liturgy's ritual repetitions and a celebration of spontaneity and sudden inspiration. Branch models an innovative and powerful alliance between literary history and religious studies."

—Deidre Lynch, Indiana University



"Branch is an archaeologist intent on uncovering the history of the notion of spontaneity. From Bunyan's spirit-prompted prayers to Wordsworth's natural expression, this is the story of how a culture invented spontaneity and made its performance the chief measure of sincerity in matters religious, poetic, economic and political."

—Thomas H. Luxon, Dartmouth College



Lori Branch (Ph. D. Indiana University) is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Iowa.

Publication Details:

 Hardback , 362 pages
 9in x 6in

 Paperback , 370 pages
 9in x 6in

  REL055020, REL108020
 Baylor University Press

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