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Durham University

Department of History

Staff Profile

Finola Finn

Melancholy in Nonconformist Religious Experience, c. 1640-1700 in the Department of History

(email at

PhD project

My research examines how melancholy was identified, experienced, and dealt with by English Nonconformists across the period 1640-1700. Focusing on spiritual diaries, letters, texts of pastoral divinity and narratives of spiritual experience, I aim to probe the differences in attitudes that existed between Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists towards this complex, protean illness. Faced with accusations of their religious practice being overzealous and merely fuelled by bodily disfunction, how did members of these groups approach their experiences of melancholy, and did their views change in response to these criticisms? In tackling these questions, I explore the relationship between religion and medicine at this time and, in particular, the use of medical language in Nonconformist religious writing. Examining their discussions of the heart and soul-body relationship, I show how the ways Nonconformists thought about these issues interacted with their experiences of melancholy.

Conference and seminar papers

  • 'Melancholy and the Nonconforming Godly in England, c. 1640-1700: Methods and Conclusions', at the Early Modern Seminar, Durham University, 14 November 2018.
  • 'The Uses of Melancholy in Nonconformist Letters, Diaries, and Funeral Sermons c. 1650-1700', at the Dr Williams's Library lecture series, 16 May 2018.
  • '"Under such dredful Aprehensions": Melancholy in a late Seventeenth-Century Diary', at 'Melancholy Visions' workshop, Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University, 15 May 2018.
  • 'Dull Hearts and Trembling Souls: Melancholy in Nonconformist Religious Experience, 1650-1700', at the History of Christianity seminar, Durham University, 26 April 2018.
  • '"A broken and believing heart is the kernell': Inwardness in 'Know thyself' and Transatlantic Encounters', at 'Converting Bodies and Souls: The Heart in the Seventeenth-Century English Atlantic' seminar, Centre for Visual Culture, Durham University, 16 November 2017.
  • ''The principle of life, both for naturall and spirituall actions': The heart in Nonconformist spiritual experience, c. 1646-1678' at the Institute for Historical Research, British History in the 17th Century Seminar, 9 February 2017.
  • '"His faith must be framed by human fancy": John Rogers' Congregation in Ireland', at 'Emotions: Movement, Cultural Contact and Exchange, 1100-1800', Freie Universität Berlin, 1 July 2016.
  • 'Distraction of the Mind and Distemper of the Body: Melancholy and Conversion in Seventeenth-Century England', at the Centre for Medical Humanities PG and Early Career Researcher Discussion Group, 2 December 2015.
  • 'The Elusive Moment: Calvinist Conversion in Early Modern England', at 'Moments of Becoming: Transitions and Transformations in Early Modern Europe', University of Limerick, 20 November 2015.
  • 'The Case of Joan Drake: An Expression of Religious Despair', at 'The Individual and History', Durham Postgraduate History Conference, 2 June 2015.


  • HIST1551: Early Modern England: A Social History (seminar tutor, 2015-2019)
  • Sutton Trust Summer School, Durham University, Youth Culture in Early Modern England (teaching assistant, 2016, 2017, and 2018)

Other projects

Funding and awards

  • Durham Doctoral Scholarship
  • Laurie R. Gardiner Prize for Best Thesis in Early Modern British History
  • Jessie Mary Vasey Prize for Best Women’s History Essay


  • Early Modern Postgraduate Discussion Group convenor, 2015-16
  • Durham History Postgraduate Conference organiser, 2016


  • "America’s Reception of ‘The Cress Theory of Color-Confrontation'", in Australasian Journal of American Studies 33, 1 (2014): 87-103.

Research Interests

  • Religion and medicine in early modern England
  • The embodiment of religious experience
  • Nonconformist identity in seventeenth-century England
  • History of Emotions
  • Visual approaches to the past