Enthusiasm, from the Greek enthousiasmos, means to be possessed by a god. An enthusiast is a person who claims to be possessed by the spirit of God, or better, ‘engodded’. Many prophets have claimed that they merely provided empty vessels that God entered when he wished to communicate to humanity. Christian enthusiasm has its origins in the earliest communities who followed Christ, but it was condemned by the Church over the claims of the ‘New Prophets’, Montanus, Priscilla and Maximillia. The Montanists’ enthusiasm was revived in the eighteenth century, and was instrumental in the growth of modern charismatic and Pentecostal movements.

I have worked on one group of enthusiasts, the so-called ‘French Prophets’, who defended enthusiasm against Protestant and Catholic opposition. In the early eighteenth century, they travelled the length and breath of Britain delivering ecstatic prophecies.


Discerning Spirits in the Early Enlightenment: The Case of the French Prophets’, in Michelle D. Brock, Richard Raiswell and David R. Winter (eds), Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits in the Early Modern Period (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), pp. 265-290. View Online | Find in Library

This article explores interactions between enthusiasm and mysticism through Scottish mystics’ debates about whether to accept the ‘French Prophets’.

Mysticism and Prophecy in Early Eighteenth-Century Scotland’, Scottish Historical Review, vol 98, supplement (October 2019), pp. 333-360. View Online | Find in Library

In this article, I argue that the concept of ‘spiritual discernment’ allows us to find logic in apparently illogical beliefs. I place the mystics and prophets in their wider Scottish context and show how the debate between mystical prophets and mystics sceptical of enthusiasm influenced debates over religion across the eighteenth century.

The French Prophets and the Scottish Mystics: Prophecies and Letters’, in Ariel Hessayon and Lionel Laborie (eds), Early Modern Prophecies in Transnational, National and Regional Contexts, 3 vols. (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming, December 2020), volume 3: The British Isles, pp. 165-206. View Online | Find in Library

A collection of prophecies and letters that reveal this debate.

Elsewhere on this website

Text of a lecture on the prophets