Earlier this summer, prompted by the inaugural conference of the Jonathan Edwards Centre (UK) and a glance through M. X. Lesser’s Reading Jonathan Edwards, I reflected on similarities and differences between academic approaches to the study of John Owen and Jonathan Edwards. The recent monographs by Martyn Cowan and Ryan McGraw have reinforced our need to pursue readings of Owen that pay attention both to his immediate milieu – personal and family contexts, friendship networks, institutional contexts, developments in print culture, national political contexts, etc – as well as the worlds of ideas, protestant and Catholic, English, Scottish and European, with which he interacted and to which he contributed.

Cowan’s monograph develops a contextual approach that is broadly similar to that pursued by Tim Cooper and myself, but opens up some important new questions about Owen’s political theory, which highlight the gaps in our knowledge as to Owen’s activities in the 1650s. McGraw’s book, which gathers together some of his most important recent chapters and articles on Owen, invites us to consider the extent to which Owen was operating in a European intellectual culture. Owen was certainly reading European authors, from both sides of the Great Schism and both sides of the western reformation, and in religious contexts beyond Christianity, but we have yet to establish the extent to which his work was being read within these European contexts. To what extent was Owen an international figure?

So, while a fuller review of both books is forthcoming in the excellent Journal of the Northern Renaissance, I’ll note a few more ideas for future directions on Owen studies:

  • Owen and republican theory
  • Owen’s role in the regicide
  • Owen and the army “grandees”
  • Owen and university administration in Dublin and Oxford
  • Owen’s career as a Member of Parliament
  • Owen and the Church of Scotland
  • European receptions of Owen
  • Owen, Dante and Chaucer
  • Owen and classical literature

These in addition to the earlier list of ideas:

  • Owen’s networks in Essex in the 1640s
  • Owen’s place in the booming print culture of the revolutionary period, especially in the second-hand market
  • Owen’s relationship with Marvell and Bunyan
  • The ways in which Owen was perceived by his critics, including Milton
  • Owen’s influence on Locke
  • Owen’s late-career political activity
  • Owen’s reception in Scotland and New England
  • Owen’s reception of medieval theology
  • Owen’s habits of exegesis
  • Owen’s view of Scripture and tradition
  • Owen’s view of the Catholic church, especially of the Jansenist movement
  • Owen’s doctrine of baptism
  • Owen and philosophy
  • Owen’s neologisms and their significance

There’s plenty to be getting on with …


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