Gillespie, FBA
Senior Research Fellow
vincent.gillespie's picture

Since 2004 I have been J.R.R. Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language at the University of Oxford. I am Honorary Director of the Early English Text Society, and Series Editor of Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies. Recent publications include The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Mysticism (2011); After Arundel: Religious Writing in Fifteenth-Century England (2011); Looking in Holy Books: Essays on Late-Medieval Religious Writing in England (2012); Probable Truth: Editing Medieval Texts from Britain in the Twenty-First Century (2013); A Companion to the Early Printed Book in Britain, 1476-1558 (2014). I am a Fellow of the British Academy, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, Royal Historical Society and the English Association. I am a Professorial Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, and an Honorary Fellow of Keble and St Anne’s Colleges.

At the core of most of what I do is a curiosity about the psychology of literary response: the ways in which writers struggle to express experiences and acts of imagination, the strategies they use to articulate their understanding of these experiences and imaginative acts, and the codes and conventions that develop between texts and readers to allow communication and understanding to develop and to be manipulated. My long standing interest in contemplative writing fits very precisely into this category of exploration. Religious texts always seek to make an impact within a recoverable target range of acceptable responses, and the techniques they use offer fascinating fields for analysis, not least because those impacts are rarely sufficient in themselves and so always gesture to their own effacement as part of an ongoing and continuous process of cognitive and emotional understanding.  These texts are songs from the threshold of lived experience, struggling to articulate and communicate ineffable showings or transcendent encounters. Hence my continuing fascination with Julian of Norwich, and her highly sophisticated and playfully manipulative relationship with the broad spectrum of religious writing in her period. This interest has linked back towards my original researches into medieval catechetic and pastoral literature to give me an unusually broad view of, and sharp perspective on the field of ‘vernacular theology’ as it is now constituted. It also fuels my growing desire to explore the (as yet largely unarticulated) linguistic and semantic theory and (very substantial) praxis lying behind the extensive vernacular translation of orthodox religious texts in the fifteenth  century.

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