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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)


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Publication details for Professor Alec Ryrie

Ryrie, Alec (2017). The Nature of Spiritual Experience. In The Oxford Handbook of the Protestant Reformations. Rublack, Ulinka Oxford: Oxford University Press. 47-63.

Author(s) from Durham


This article surveys the question of how early Protestantism was experienced by its practitioners, using the perspective of the history of emotions. It argues that justification by faith derived its power from its emotional impact, and that the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, too, could be emotionally attractive and absorbing as well as, to some, repellent. It considers how Protestant spiritual experience varied during the life course from childhood to old age. It argues that doctrinal controversies, notably those over the Eucharist, were decisively shaped by emotional and experiential factors. It argues that the Protestant encounter with the Bible was itself experiential, based on what Calvin called the “feeling” that the Bible’s authority is self-authenticating. It concludes by suggesting that historians need to attend to devotion in the daily lives of ordinary believers as well as to polemics and controversies.