Democracy and the Public Virtue of Religious Nonconformity
288 pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in, 5 b&w illus.
- ISBN: 9781481306881
- Published: August 2017
On the north end of London lies an old nonconformist burial ground named Bunhill Fields. Bunhill became the final resting place for some of the most honored names of English Protestantism. Burial outside the city walls symbolized that those interred at Bunhill lived and died outside the English body politic. Bunhill, its location declares, is the proper home for undomesticated dissenters.
Among more than 120,000 graves, three monuments stand in the central courtyard: one for John Bunyan (1628–1688), a second for Daniel Defoe (1660?–1731), and a third for William Blake (1757–1827). Undomesticated Dissent asks, "why these three monuments?" The answer, as Curtis Freeman leads readers to discover, is an idea as vital and transformative for public life today as it was unsettling and revolutionary then.
To tell the untold tale of the Bunhill graves, Freeman focuses on the three classic texts by Bunyan, Defoe, and Blake— The Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and Jerusalem—as testaments of dissent. Their enduring literary power, as Freeman shows, derives from their original political and religious contexts. But Freeman also traces the abiding prophetic influence of these texts, revealing the confluence of great literature and principled religious nonconformity in the checkered story of democratic political arrangements.
Undomesticated Dissent provides a sweeping intellectual history of the public virtue of religiously motivated dissent from the seventeenth century to the present, by carefully comparing, contrasting, and then weighing the various types of dissent—evangelical and spiritual dissent (Bunyan), economic and social dissent (Defoe), radical and apocalyptic dissent (Blake).
Freeman offers dissenting imagination as a generative source for democracy, as well as a force for resistance to the coercive powers of domestication. By placing Bunyan, Defoe, and Blake within an extended argument about the nature and ends of democracy, Undomesticated Dissent reveals how these three men transmitted their democratic ideas across the globe, hidden within the text of their stories.
Freeman concludes that dissent, so crucial to the establishing of democracy, remains equally essential for its flourishing. Buried deep in their full narrative of religion and resistance, the three monuments at Bunhill together declare that dissent is not disloyalty, and that democracy depends on dissent.
1. Domesticating Dissent
2. Slumbering Dissent: John Bunyan
3. Prosperous Dissent: Daniel Defoe
4. Apocalyptic Dissent: William Blake
5. Postapocalyptic Dissent
Curtis Freeman's Undomesticated Dissent is a timely read for Christians of all stripes, not just Baptists and their kin, who are its main audience. It raises fundamental questions about the role of opposition in how we conceive of Christianity, and that is exactly the reason you should read it and discuss it with your friends who care about the unity of the church.~Lori Branch, Commentary Magazine
A lively and captivating study of seventeenth-century nonconformity and its afterlives, Undomesticated Dissent attends foremost to the creative power of dissent in theology, politics, and fiction, as well as its import to communities of resistance across the globe. Refusing to surrender diverse nonconformist projects to the past, Freeman looks forward to their postapocalyptic future, urging readers to reconsider the history as well as the ongoing work of dissent. This is an ambitious and important book that offers a vital alternative political imaginary.~Russ Leo, Assistant Professor of English, Princeton University
When one chooses a topic that is centered around nonconformity, anarchism, resistance, symbolism, and subversion, one runs the risk of a disordered narrative, but also gains the possibility of breaking new ground, of taking the reader into new lands, or new depths. This is the cost-benefit dilemma that Curtis W. Freeman embraces in Undomesticated Dissent, as he presses the tradition of religious dissent in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (and beyond), and offers his provocative and passionate reading of several provocative and passionate writers.~Michael R. Stevens, Journal of Markets & Morality
Illuminating and thought provoking in its sweeping view of the nonconformist tradition.~Ian Birch, Baptist Union of Scotland
Notwithstanding the thorough scholarship that undergirds this book the text is unfailingly accessible and engaging—perhaps one of my most enjoyable reads this year.~John E. Colwell, Regent's Reviews
Curtis Freeman has written a book as unexpected as it is timely...This book is creative and constructive, instructive and inspiring. It is a book that cannot be merely read but lived.~Spencer Boersma, Reading Religion
Freeman’s compelling narrative bears out the complexity of a religious phenomenon characterized more by existential fortitude and a willingness to challenge authority than a set of fixed principles or doctrines.~J. Scott Jackson, The Christian Century
In this eloquent and timely book, Curtis Freeman reminds us that protecting the right to dissent is both a civic and sacred duty. Freeman traces the roots of certain traditions of dissent, with a particular focus on the work and witness of John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and William Blake. He rightly argues that commitments to protect the right to protest against prevailing secular and religious orders have not only admirably respected liberty of conscience, they have also strengthened the institutions of church and state. All who care about the health of nations and the integrity of faith will want to read this important book.~Melissa Rogers, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
Protestant Dissent has been a powerful countercurrent within English-speaking culture, but it is often poorly understood. Curtis Freeman illuminates the tradition through absorbing case studies of three iconic writers: John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, and William Blake. Each study explores their sources, their most famous text— Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and Jerusalem—and their reception. Weaving together history, literature, and theology, this book offers a rich account of an important subject. It makes a compelling case for rediscovering dissent as a living tradition.~John Coffey, Professor of Early Modern History, University of Leicester
This is a groundbreaking book in Baptist studies, bringing new perspectives as the author sets Baptist life in the wider context of dissent, both past and present. He admirably succeeds in distilling a great deal of learned commentary on traditions of dissent into a flowing argument which grips the reader’s interest and provokes thought about Baptist dissenting identity in the modern world. The book itself, like its subject matter, has the character of a prophetic word.~Paul S. Fiddes, Professor of Systematic Theology, University of Oxford