The Ghost in Early Modern Protestant Culture:Shifting perceptions of the afterlife, 1450-1700 McKeever, Amanda Jane
PhD Thesis, Philosophy, University of Sussex, September 27, (2010)
My thesis seeks to address the continuity, change and the syncreticism of ideas regarding post-mortem existence in the wake of the Reformation. Prior to reform, the late Medieval world view of the afterlife was very straightforward. One either went to Heaven via Purgatory, or straight to Hell. In the exempla literature of the period, ghosts were seen to provide evidence of the purgatorial system. However, this doctrine was dismantled by reformers who rejected Purgatory wholesale. Reformers then put forth a multiplicity of eschatologies which included various strands of mortalism, none of which allowed for the possibility that the dead could return to the living. In theory therefore, the ghost should have disappeared from the mental landscape, yet it not only survived, but it thrived in Protestant culture.
This raises three key questions which are absolutely central to this thesis. Firstly: by what mechanisms did commitment to ghosts continue in lay and elite discourses in early modern England, when religious authority denied the possibility of their existence? Secondly: what opportunities were there to incorporate ghosts into Anglican or wider Protestant belief? Finally: Why would many Protestant elites want to elide the doctrinal problem of their existence and assert that ghosts existed? The ghost must have served a purpose in a way that nothing else could. It is therefore the purpose of the thesis to examine the shifting role of the ghost in early modern Protestant England.