Becoming ChristianRace, Reformation, and Early Modern English Romance

Becoming ChristianRace, Reformation, and Early Modern English Romance

Dennis Austin Britton

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780823257140

Publisher: Fordham University Press


The infidel-conversion motif—in which Jews and Muslims convert to Christianity—is a staple of romance narratives by Roman Catholic writers in medieval and early modern Europe. Baptisms and conversions of infidels lead to an important telos of the romance genre: Despite their narrative wanderings and deferrals, romances often contain transformations of identity that lead to the incorporation of the other into Christian community. Uses of the infidel-conversion motif wane in post-Reformation England, however, in the wake of a Protestant theology that deemphasized the power of baptism to create Christian identity. Whereas Catholic theology had asserted that Christian identity begins with baptism, numerous theologians in the Church of England denied the necessity of baptism for salvation and instead treated Christian identity as a racial characteristic passed from parents to their children. The Church of England’s baptismal theology transformed Christians and “infidels” into distinctive races. This book examines English translations of Calvin, treatises on the sacraments, catechisms, and sermons alongside works by Edmund Spenser, John Harington, William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, and Phillip Massinger. Through charting the intersections of race, Protestant theology, and literary form, this book intervenes in critical debates about the relationship between racial and religious identity in early modern England, as well as in discussions of the social implications of romance.