Book contract

Over the last few months, I’ve been locked up in libraries across this island gathering source material for my book, The Moral Reformation in Scotland, which will examine the ideas and influence of the moderate Episcopalians surrounding Archbishop Robert Leighton. I’m delighted to announce that I have just signed a book contract with Oxford University Press in the US for publication in the next few years.

The Moral Reformation argues that, after the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, Leighton and his friends developed a new, more practical piety for Scotland in response to what they saw as the failure of the established Presbyterian church to develop a divinity which met the pastoral needs of ordinary people. In their view, the Reformation had remodelled the Christian Church, but not the lives of Christians. This failure to encourage Christian practice produced divisions within society, which had caused the civil wars that ravished Britain and Ireland in the mid-seventeenth century. Leighton and his colleagues were die-hard Protestants but — intriguingly — they looked to Catholic mysticism to find a way to heal Britain’s religious disharmony. Factionalism resulted from disputes over externals. If we instead turned inwards, as the Catholic mystics taught, we would find the truths of Christianity within ourselves. Doing this would reveal the core messages of the Gospel: the importance of loving God and acting charitably towards our neignours. If we focused on these essentials, rather than the external shows of religion, we could live in peace. Leighton’s followers attempted to effect what they called this ‘personal reformation’ by reshaping ministerial training, giving spiritual counsel to Scottish nobility, and through a novel style of sermon oratory. My book will examine these efforts in detail. It aims to demonstrate the influence of the Scottish theology of moral reform on languages of religion in Britain and across Europe between 1660 and 1730.

My book will join Oxford’s ‘Studies in Historical Theology’ series, which has recently got a new editor, Richard A. Muller of Calvin Theological Seminary. I was encouraged by my friend Alex Campbell to submit my work to the Studies. What attracted were the many stellar titles which combine first-rate primary research with a sympathy to the complexities of theological analysis. I am pleased my work will sit alongside books on early modern British and Irish religion, such as Crawford Gribben’s exemplary biography of John Owen, and Paul Lim’s discussion of debates over the trinity in early modern England. I wrote about the heterodox Christology of John Milton as a Masters student a few years before Lim’s work appeared, and wish I’d had his work to fall back on.

Oxford accepted my own book on the basis of an extensive proposal, which has been considerably refined since I first approached the Press back in March. Some of the early content on this website doesn’t reflect those changes, and I’ll be updating other pages across the site over the next few days.

‘The last revelation that shall be putt in print’: mystics and prophets in Scotland

What does this crystal-ball have in common with this collection of books?…

crystal ball






… both have been described as ‘mystic’.

Spiritual writing, like we see here in Waterstones, was, until the 1960s, commonly referred to as ‘mystical theology’, while Meg’s ability to prophesy from the stars has earned the Sun great profits.

It was not always the case that mystics were so kind on prophets. This post examines one example of how the mystic’s claims to divine inspiration and the prophet’s claim to receive divine communication came into conflict. This happened in 1709, when several mystics in Scotland converted to a group of prophets who had first emerged on London’s streets three years earlier.

This is quite a long post, reflecting its origins in a paper delivered to friends and colleagues at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, when I was myself in a rather ecstatic state since sitting my viva the previous day on no sleep. I’ve used it, despite (or because of…) the bad night, as I think it is still one of my best pieces. Even if my ideas have changed a bit in the time since, I still think this is a good introduction to people with no idea about early modern mysticism and prophecy. Continue reading

Hello world


My name is Michael Riordan and I have fairly recently graduated from Cambridge with a PhD which explored mystics and prophets in Scotland during what we historians like refer to as the long eighteenth century, the period running from the Revolution of 1688 to the Great Reform Act of 1832 (or something like that).

After living in libraries and archives for the last few years, I have finally decided to get out into the open, and embrace the electronic age. This is not my first blog post (I wrote one yonks ago while an intern at Index on Censorship), but I really haven’t embraced this digital humanities thing with the same relish as some of my colleagues, who will have to forgive the fact that I forgot to purchase blogroll prior to writing this.

On this site, and elsewhere, I have used my middle initial ‘B.’ (for ‘Benjamin’) to distinguish myself from a colleague at Oxford who works in a similar area.

I intend to use this place as a route in to the strange new world of cyberspace, to engage with both my fellow scholars and the general public. Hopefully we’ll all find something new and useful in the exercise. Continue reading