Conjugality and Early Modern Political Thought (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

Sponsored by the Folger Institute Center for the History of British Political Thought

This was a fall 2017 semester seminar led by Sharon Achinstein


How does thinking about conjugality—espousals, marriage, sexuality, polygamy, concubinage, reproduction, and divorce—contribute to political thought in early modernity? This seminar asks how marriage figures in its history: as a founding fiction of Adam and Eve in a state of nature, and as the modern sexual regimes of consigning the family and sexuality to the intimate sphere. Marriage was understood as a primary example of contract, not only one that prevents women from political and economic participation in the polity, but as a locus of inquiry around consent, intention, and the legal bond. There is, further, a story of modern marriage as one of secularization and privatization. The seminar will build upon and query these approaches and develop new questions for understanding how conjugality contributed to a number of developments: Natural Law theories in response to non-European sexual arrangements; the geopolitics of inter-confessional alliance, warfare, and expansion; the "family" concept (normative sexuality, procreation, gendered hierarchy, personhood); and Reformers’ preference for Roman civil law to refresh ancient concepts such as equity. Participants from history, political theory, literature, and related disciplines are welcome.

Director: Sharon Achinstein, Sir William Osler Professor of English at The Johns Hopkins University, is the author of two monographs, Milton and the Revolutionary Reader (1994) and Literature and Dissent in Milton’s England (2003) and two edited collections, Milton and Toleration (2007) and Literature, Gender and the English Revolution (1994). Her edition of Milton's writings on divorce is forthcoming from the Oxford University Press.