1 Sep 2016 - 2 Sep 2016 All day Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT


Registration for the conference is now closed.



James A.T. Lancaster (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Andrew McKenzie-McHarg (University of Cambridge)



Between older forms of anticlericalism which impugned priests for laxity and later forms which questioned their loyalty to the nation, the early modern period witnessed the emergence of its own distinct claim, namely: that priests concocted and peddled fraudulent knowledge. By the seventeenth century this insinuation had found a name: ‘priestcraft.’

This two-day conference will bring together an international group of experts in intellectual history, the history of religion and literary studies in order to consider how the motif of priestcraft offered a means to both understand the history and to undermine the standing of rival confessions and religions. It will represent the first attempt undertaken by scholars to view ‘priestcraft’ from a pan-European perspective. In doing so, participants will examine how the charge of priestcraft drew upon a re-awakening of sceptical philosophy, how the idea resonated with broader interests in simulation and dissimulation and how it was applied as a proto-ethnographic model in attempts to comprehend non-European cultures.



Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), and the Lightfoot Fund.


Administrative assistance: events@crassh.cam.ac.uk


Day One: Thursday 1 September 2016
10.45 - 11.00am


11.00 - 11.15am


11.15am - 12.00pm

Justin Champion (Royal Holloway) 

'“The kingdoms of Elves, hobgoblins and fairies dethroned”: a history of priestcraft from the Reformation to the Enlightenment'

12.00 - 12.45pm

Panel 1: The Longer Tradition and the Broader Context

Chair: Anthony Ossa-Richardson (University of Southampton)


Winfried Schröder (University of Marburg)

'The Theme of Religious Imposture in Late Antique Antichristian Authors and Their Early Modern Readers'

12.45 - 13.45pm


13.45 - 14.30pm

Michael Hunter (Birkbeck, University of London)

'The Deists and the Decline of Magic'

14.30 - 15.15pm

Sascha Salatowsky (Gotha Research Library)

'Dangerous Thoughts? The Figure of the Impostor in Early Modern Theology and Philosophy'

15.15 - 15.45pm


15.45 - 16.30pm

Panel 2: Theology and Epistemology

Chair: Katherine East (Newcastle University)


Diego Lucci (American University in Bulgaria)

'Patristics, Priestcraft, and the Trinity in the Seventeenth Century'

16.30 - 17.15pm

Tim Stuart-Buttle (University of Cambridge)

'Conyers Middleton and Christian Scepticism'

Day Two: Friday 2 September 2016
9.15 - 10.00am

Panel 3: The Political Dimension I

Chair: Joanne Paul (University of Sussex)


Ariel Hessayon (Goldsmiths)

'Anticlericalism during the English Revolution'

10.00 - 10.45am

Ashley Walsh (University of Cambridge)  

'Priestcraft, Kingship, and the Godly Commonwealth in Eighteenth-Century England'

10.45 - 11.15am


11.15am - 12.00pm

Panel 4: The Political Dimension II

Chair: Justin Champion (Royal Holloway)


Mark Goldie (University of Cambridge)

'John Locke and Priestcraft'

12.00 - 12.45pm

John Marshall (Johns Hopkins University)

'Voltaire, Priestcraft and Imposture: Christianity, Judaism and Islam'

12.45 - 13.45pm


13.45 - 14.30pm

Panel 5: Priestcraft and the Old Testament

Chair: Chris Moses (University of Cambridge)


Ruth Smith (University of Cambridge)

'Zadok and other priests in Handel’s biblical oratorios (1732-52)'

14.30 - 15.15pm

Ulrich Groetsch (University of Alabama)

'Hermann Samuel Reimarus, the Jewish Priests of the Old Testament and the Trope of Imposture'

15.15 - 15.45pm


15.45 - 16.30pm

Panel 6: Eighteenth-Century European and Global Variations

Chair: Sujit Sivasundaram (University of Cambridge)


Sundar Henny (University of Bern)

'Destabilizing Authority. Strabo and Priestcraft around 1700'

16.30 - 17.15pm

Alix Chartrand (University of Cambridge)

'The “ignorant and superstitious priests, to whose dictates, this stupid people entirely submit”: British connections between Catholicism and Islam in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ireland and India'

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