Michael Riordan is an historian of early modern Britain, working on mysticism, prophecy and the moral culture of early modern Scotland

Prophecy and mysticism make fascinating subjects. I welcome enquires from the public, other scholars, or the media, about any aspect of my work. Please feel feel to be in touch through the website or Twitter.

I am an independent historian based in the Edinburgh. I work on the weird bits of early modern British history — especially here in Scotland. My particular focus is on traditions of mysticism and prophecy.

I have always been interested in explaining the bits of history that others have found strange or irrational, and worked to find rationality in the oddest places, and to show what influence ideas we now find strange — mysticism, prophecy, for some, religion itself — had on the development of our modern world.


I was born in London, and did my undergraduate training in politics and philosophy. I’ve retained an interest in both. My political theory don, Andrew Vincent, instilled in me an interest in intellectual history. I wrote a BA — in a politics department — on the religious basis of Milton’s republican thought, against the claims of Quentin Skinner that it was Milton was a Roman theorist through and through. I went on to complete a Master’s with Quentin at Queen Mary, University of London. My dissertation examined John Milton’s ‘republican’ view of liberty, which I argued was chiefly based on a novel reading of the Gospel, rather than either Roman republicanism or the Hebrew Bible, as Eric Nelson had recently asserted.

This involved me looking at Milton’s millenarianism — his view that Christ would soon appear to redeem the nations.

Prophecy has been an interest of mine ever since. I worked with Mark Goldie at Cambridge on a thesis examining early modern prophecy. I first visited Edinburgh one August during the Fringe festival. At Cambridge, I started taking an interest in Scottish religion, and I moved to Edinburgh before I completed my PhD studies. My thesis examined traditions of mysticism and prophecy in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Scotland.


Since I was awarded my PhD in 2015, I have worked on the several projects chronicled on this website. I have published a number of articles on Scottish traditions of prophecy and mysticism. My work is still shaped by the approach to intellectual history elaborated by Quentin Skinner — exploring ideas in their short-term context — but I’m also interested at looking at the changing meaning of texts over the longer term.

You can read about my work on Scottish political prophecies

And my work on a group of prophets active in the early eighteenth century

You can even see me talk a bit about mysticism here

I am finishing a book on the thought of the moderate Episcopalians surrounding bishop Robert Leighton, who promoted mysticism as a means to reform the minds and manners of Scottish men and women for a short period of time in the late seventeenth century, and — so I claim — greatly influenced eighteenth-century Anglicanism, European pietism and Scottish Enlightenment philosophy.

Read more about the Moral Reformation in Scotland here

updated 8 August 2020