‘Two Congenial Beings of Another Sphere’: Peter Sterry as a Theological Precursor to William Blake
Prof. Christopher Rowland
My thesis seeks to shed light on the character of and antecedents to the theology of William Blake through an investigation of its affinities with the thought of Peter Sterry (1613-1672). The question at its heart is not simply to assess the extent of their ‘congeniality’, but to determine how effectively Sterry’s writings function as a framework for the interpretation of Blake’s theology. It therefore hopes to validate the claim, first made by Vivian de Sola Pinto in 1929 but never fully substantiated, that Sterry is a theological precursor to Blake. As proving that Sterry influenced Blake is very difficult, this central contention is tested using an ‘analogical’ rather than ‘genealogical’ method. Part I establishes Sterry’s peculiar credentials as a figure for comparative study by situating him in relation to three seventeenth-century contexts for Blake’s theology: the English Revolution, Milton and Boehme, and the Cambridge Platonists. Part II presents sustained interpretations of three key theological topics in Blake—Christ and the Eternal Forms, the Divine Body, and Satanic Selfhood—using Sterry’s writings as a hermeneutical lens. Together these readings show how Sterry’s unusual use of theological language illuminates the way in which apparently dualistic terms and images function similarly in Blake’s work not as ‘negations’ but as what Blake designates ‘contraries’. Sterry’s writings therefore anticipate and clarify the import of Blake’s doctrine of contraries, even if they do not provide a precedent for other equally characteristic features of Blake’s theology, such its ‘dangerous enthusiasm’ and explicit political critique.
Full AHRC scholarship
Conference and seminar papers:
-‘The Divine Body: Blake’s Theology of the Imagination and Sterry’s Cosmic Christology’, Society for the Study of Theology Postgraduate Conference: Images, Icons and Idols, University of Manchester, January 2015.
-‘Blake and Sterry on the Existence of the Forms in Time and Eternity’, Ecclesiastical History Seminar, University of Oxford, November 2014.
-‘Peter Sterry’, sermon delivered as part of the ‘Figures in the Glass’ series exploring the figures in the stained glass windows of Emmanuel College Chapel, Cambridge, May 2013.
-TORCH: University Engagement Programme, delivered a bespoke tour of the ‘William Blake: Apprentice and Master’ exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, January 2015.
-Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, January 2015.
-Student representative, Graduate Joint Consultative Committee, Faculty of Theology and Religion, April 2013-December 2014.