Brian Cummings



Brian Cummings came to York in October 2012 as one of sixteen Anniversary Professors appointed across the arts and sciences to promote the University’s international research profile in its 50th year. Before moving to York he was Professor of English at the University of Sussex, where he co-founded the Centre for Early Modern Studies in 2004. In Spring 2014 he was Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Toronto, based at the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies. He has also held Visiting Fellowships in Los Angeles, Munich, and Oxford, and he was previously Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Among a number of academic honours he has given the Shakespeare Birthday Lecture in Washington D.C. in 2014, the Clarendon Lectures in Oxford in 2012-13, and the British Academy Shakespeare Lecture in 2012. From 2009-2012 he held a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship, and in 2007 he was a British Academy Exchange Fellow. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, one of the oldest learned societies in the world.

As well as his academic work, he was guest curator for the Diamond Jubilee Exhibition at Lambeth Palace Library from May to July 2012, which was opened by the Prince of Wales and Archbishop Rowan Williams; the exhibition was called Royal Devotion: the Monarchy and the Book of Common Prayer. He has also talked on BBC Radio 3 and BBC South East TV.

He is known for his research in a number of fields, including Shakespeare and Renaissance literature; Erasmus, humanism and the history of philosophy; religion and secularity; the history of the book; the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer; poetry and poetics (including modern poetry and literary theory). He has given lectures on these subjects at universities all over the world, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Western Australia, the University of Oslo, Freie Universität in Berlin, LMU in Munich, the European University Institute in Florence, and the Royal Dutch Academy of Science in Amsterdam.




Professor Cummings has written widely on sixteenth-century religion and literature, including an edition of The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662. His book The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace has profoundly influenced scholarly thinking about the poetics of religion. His latest book, Mortal Thoughts: Religion, Secularity and Identity in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture, appeared in 2013, and considers the debate around secular and post-secular concepts of culture. In 2012 he gave the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford University on the subject of ‘Bibliophobia: Power and Fear in the History of the Book’, the title of his next book. He has also published widely in journals such as Shakespeare Survey, English Literary Renaissance and Studies in Church History, and is a contributor to The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature (1999), The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) and The Oxford Companion to the Book (2010).

He has co-organized international conferences on the boundary between Medieval and Renaissance literature (at Harvard); on the relation between science and literature (a Royal Society conference on Newton and Milton); and most recently on Shakespeare and the current state of literary biography (at the Folger Library in Washington D.C.). In July 2007 he co-directed the 32nd International Summer School for Doctoral Students at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel. He has been involved in research projects funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft in Munich in Germany; the The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in Amsterdam; and the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

For the MA programme at York he teaches courses on Shakespeare; and on Religion and the Book: the latter course involves specialist training in bibliography and book history and is taught at York Minster Library using early printed materials. He has supervised doctoral dissertations on Sidney and Renaissance poetics; civil war literature and politics; early bilingual dictionaries; ruins in post-Reformation England; the Geneva Bible; concepts of space in early modern science; Milton and the passions; and also on topics in modern literary theory and philosophy (truth in literature; the idea of the canon) and modern prose and poetry (Beckett; Geoffrey Hill; Ted Hughes). He welcomes proposals for doctoral work in these and related areas.


His current projects include an iconoclastic study of Shakespearean biography called an ‘anti-biography’; a wide-ranging history of the book as a physical artefact (both as a cult object and an object of fear and anxiety); and an edition of the philosophical poems of Fulke Greville (in the Oxford Edition of the Works of Fulke Greville, edited with Freya Sierhuis).




Selected publications

Brian Cummings is the author or co-author of 6 books and over 40 scholarly articles, including the following:

Single-authored books

Mortal Thoughts: Religion, Secularity and Identity in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture (Oxford University Press, 2013).

The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662 (Oxford University Press, 2011; Oxford World’s Classics edition 2013): Runner-Up, Atlantic Book of the Year 2012.

The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace (Oxford University Press, 2002; paperback 2007): Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year for 2003.

Co-authored books

Passions and Subjectivity in Early Modern Culture (Ashgate, 2013), edited with Freya Sierhuis.

Cultural Reformations: Medieval and Renaissance in Literary History (Oxford University Press, 2010), edited with James Simpson.

The Spirit of England: Selected Essays of Stephen Medcalf (Legenda, 2010), edited with Gabriel Josipovici.

Recent articles in refereed scholarly journals

‘Encyclopaedic Erasmus’, The Copious Text: Encyclopaedic Books in Early Modern England, Special Issue, edited by Abigail and Angus Vine, Renaissance Studies, 28, No. 2 (April, 2014), 183-205.

‘Erasmus and the Invention of Literature: Twenty-fifth Annual Margaret Mann Phillips Lecture’, Erasmus of Rotterdam Society Yearbook, 33 (2013), 22-54.

 ‘The Problem of Protestant Culture: Biblical Literalism and Literary Biblicism’, Patrick Collinson Memorial Volume, Reformation, 17 (2012), 177-98.

‘“Dead March”: Liturgy and Mimesis in Shakespeare’s Funerals’, Medieval Shakespeare, Special Issue, edited by Christina Wald, Shakespeare, 8: 4 (2012), 368-85.

‘Shakespeare and the Inquisition’, Shakespeare Survey, 65 (2012), 306-22.

‘Erasmus and the End of Grammar: Humanism, Scholasticism, and Literary Language’, Medieval Grammar and the Literary Arts, Special Issue, edited by Christopher Cannon, Rita Copeland, and Nicolette Zeeman, New Medieval Literatures, 11 (2009), 249-70.

‘Conscience and the Law in Thomas More’, The Renaissance Conscience, Special Issue, edited by Harald E. Braun and Edward Vallance, Renaissance Studies, 23, No. 4 (September, 2009), 463-85 [Society for Renaissance Studies Annual Essay Prize, 2010].

Selected articles in edited books

‘Print, Popularity, and the Book of Common Prayer’, The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England, edited by Andy Kesson and Emma Smith, Material Readings in Early Modern Culture (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Press, 2013), pp. 135-44.

‘Donne’s Passions: Emotions, Agency and Language’, Passions and Subjectivity in Early Modern Culture, ed. Brian Cummings and Freya Sierhuis (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Press, 2013), pp. 51-71. 

‘Recusant Hill’, Geoffrey Hill: Essays on his Later Work, edited by John Lyon and Peter McDonald (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 32-54.

‘Religion’, The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare, edited by Arthur F. Kinney (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 657-73. 

‘Autobiography and the History of Reading’, Cultural Reformations: Medieval and Renaissance in Literary History, edited by Brian Cummings and James Simpson, Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 635-57. 

‘Protestant Allegory’, The Cambridge Companion to Allegory, edited by Rita Copeland and Peter T. Struck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 177-90.

‘Metalepsis: The Boundaries of Metaphor’, Renaissance Figures of Speech, edited by Sylvia Adamson, Gavin Alexander and Katrin Ettenhuber, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 215-33 and pp. 284-87. 

‘Pliny’s Literate Elephant and the Idea of Animal Language in Renaissance Thought’, Renaissance Beasts: Of Animals, Humans, and Other Wonderful Creatures, edited by Erica Fudge (Urbana, IL, and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004), pp. 164-85.

‘Iconoclasm and Bibliophobia in the English Reformations, 1521-1558’, Images, Idolatry, and Iconoclasm in Late Medieval England: Textuality and the Visual Image, edited by Jeremy Dimmick, James Simpson, and Nicolette Zeeman (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 185-206. 

‘Reformed Literature and Literature Reformed’, The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, edited by David Wallace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 821-51.




Contact details

Prof. Brian Cummings
English and Related Literature
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: 44 1904 323068