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"Becoming Christian: Race, Reformation, and Early Modern English Romance" (NEH, 2012–2013)
The argument of Becoming Christian: Race, Reformation, and Early Modern English Romance is twofold: firstly, the Church of England’s baptismal theology transformed Christians into a race; and secondly, the concepts of racial difference that emerged from this theology affect the English inheritance of the “infidel conversion motif,” in which Jews, Turks, and Moors are baptized and converted to Christianity. This motif originated in medieval romance, and it has a long and continuous history in literary works written by Roman Catholic writers. Its English literary presence wanes, however, in the wake of the Reformation theology that deemphasized the miraculous power of baptism and often asserted instead that salvation could be assured by race or lineage. The infidel conversion motif’s pervasive presence in literary works written by Catholic writers, its waning in Reformation England, and the presence of race in Protestant understandings of salvation have not received scholarly consideration; thus, Becoming Christian will be the first book to illustrate that English Protestant theology provides a not-yet-recognized context for understanding the conception of race in early modern England, as well as for understanding why authors such as Edmund Spenser, Robert Greene, John Harington, William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, and Philip Massinger reject the infidel conversion motif to varying degrees. This project will detail how race and theology altered the imaginative possibilities of the romance genre, and how tracing the infidel conversion motif uncovers changing ideologies about how individuals were believed to acquire racial and religious identities.