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Journal > Volumes > 47 (2016) / 1 (Spring)
Slippery Listening: Anxious Clergy and Lay Listeners’ Power in Early Modern England
Laura Feitzinger Brown
Converse College

This article explores several texts from what Arnold Hunt dubs “art-of-hearing literature,” works that informed early modern readers how to listen to sermons. Written by clergy, these texts stress that listeners can be spiritually transformed by listening properly to a sermon and thus opening their souls to grace. This article argues, however, that these works not only suggest that lay listeners affect the preacher but also depict construction of a sermon’s meaning as a cooperative endeavor where laypeople wield significant power. Lay listeners’ power over meaning suggests some instability in preached texts, a fluidity of meaning which resembles similar fluidity attributed to printed texts in research on early modern reading. Sometimes these accounts of lay listeners’ power over meaning betray deep fear.  Poor listening, these texts imply, endangers not only the hearers’ souls but also the preacher’s ministry, his living, and, in extreme cases, even his life.

Pages: 3 - 23