Gary Kuchar

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation examines the forms of cultural labour performed by devotional rhetoric in the writings of Robert Southwell, Richard Crashaw, John Donne, and Thomas Traherne. The general hypothesis here is that devotional forms of expression provided seventeenth-century individuals with much more than a means of expressing praise; they offered an imaginative space in which to articulate and mitigate the psychological effects of the de-animation of the sacramental cosmos. More specifically, the dissertation explores how these four writers record and seek to negotiate processes of de-sacramentalization (the separating of divine from mundane orders) by internalizing such processes, by registering them, that is, as an experience that occurs within the self. This staging of political and theological conflict as a division within the self provides devotional writers with a certain symbolic leverage. By situating external forms of conflict as inwardly experienced dramas, seventeenth-century devotional writers presume that the process of individual self-transformation or metanoia , which is the general aim of religious discipline in both Reformation and Counter-Reformation traditions, is also the means for achieving social harmony. In this thesis, I am primarily concerned with how devotional writers use particular rhetorical strategies in an effort to fashion an ideal religious subject, a subject that confronts social and cosmological disorder through acts of devotion and self-discipline. At bottom, then, this thesis examines how the rhetoric of subjection functions in early modern devotional contexts as a means of articulating and mitigating the psychological effects of social and theological crises.

In order to address the forms of cultural work at stake in Counter-Reformational and Anglican acts of praise, particularly the forms of self-transformation towards which devotional practices aim, I situate early modern texts alongside contemporary psychoanalysis. The primary goal of this juxtaposition is to illuminate the way that early modern devotional writers seek to transform readers in and through verbal acts of praise. Cognizant of the potential for anachronism in such an approach, I place devotional writers and psychoanalytic theory in dialogue with one another, rather than applying psychoanalysis to early modern works as such. In particular, I examine how both devotional discourses and psychoanalytic theory are concerned with understanding and transforming processes of subjection.

Through a series of historically and theoretically informed close readings, this thesis addresses the question of why devotion matters both culturally and psychologically. What is at stake in seventeenth-century Anglican and Catholic forms of devotional writing is nothing less than the most intimate dimensions of sacramental life. What is at stake, in other words, is how individuals articulate and experience themselves as images of God. By examining the way that devotional writers structure the experience of subjection to God, the way they give divine subjection concrete form through fantasy, we will better understand the psychic life of power at a moment in Reformation history when traditional forms of devotional and liturgical expression began to lose their authority.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."