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Kevin Killeen



Kevin Killeen has research interests in early-modern science and intellectual history, poetics and rhetoric, and in the uses of the Bible in the seventeenth century. His most recent book, The Unknowable in Early Modern Thought: Natural Philosophy and the Poetics of the Ineffable (Stanford University Press, 2023), is a study of the apophatic and the theopoetics of early modern thought, and considers how science, theology and literature were intermeshed in the era.

Kevin came to York with a Leverhulme fellowship, out of which emerged The Political Bible in Early Modern England (Cambridge University Press, 2017), which looks at the cultural uses of the biblical kings and the Old Testament in the Renaissance, and the ways in which it was used as a vibrant and combative political language. He is co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Early Modern England (Oxford University Press, 2015)

Earlier work addressed the religious, philosophical and political landscape of mid-century England, including a monograph and edition of Thomas Browne, a scholar and scientist with a bewildering range of interests that come together in his encyclopaedia of error, Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646). Kevin is currently editing this as a two-volume work for Oxford Works of Sir Thomas Browne and his first monograph was on Browne’s place in early modern intellectual culture. More recently, he has written on seventeenth-century poetry, including essays on Anne Southwell, Anna Trapnel, Phineas Fletcher and John Donne.

Kevin is the editor of the international journal, Renaissance Studiesand is a member of the the council of the Society for Renaissance Studies. He is the organiser of the Thomas Browne Seminar, an annual symposium which examines the seventeenth-century history of science and scholarship, religious and antiquarian thought, natural history and the history of trivia. Previous meetings have been held at Birkbeck and Leeds. He has organised conferences on Poetics and Prose theory, on Time in Early Modern thought, Technology and Invention in the seventeenth century, Biblical Exegesis and a large scale event on The Bible in the Seventeenth Century.

Kevin received his PhD. from Birkbeck, University of London and, before coming to York, he lectured at Birkbeck and the University of Leeds.



Kevin’s research looks at English Renaissance literature and the intellectual climate of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It focuses on the religious and scientific cultures of the period, the centrality of the Bible in early modern thought, and the political language of the era. He is currently working on a book, The Unknowable in Early Modern Thought: apophatic and scientific poetics, which looks at how early modern writers, including Jacob Boehme, Anna Trapnel and John Milton, respond to the incoherence and unfathomable character of the fallen world. Alongside this, it shows how early-modern scientific writing borrows from the same apophatic inheritance, a stock of rhetorical and poetic strategies for grappling at the edge of what can and cannot be said, responding to what seemed the impenetrable and paradoxical nature of the world.

Kevin’s most recent book, The Political Bible in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2017), looked at the political uses of the biblical kings and the Old Testament in the renaissance, and he published work on this topic in The Journal of the History of Ideas and The Huntington Library Quarterly, as well as editing, with Helen Smith and Rachel Willie, The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Early Modern England, c. 1530-1700 (Oxford, 2015) which won the Roland H Bainton Prize, 2016. 

He is the author of Biblical Scholarship, Science and Politics in Early Modern England: Thomas Browne and the Thorny Place of Knowledge (Ashgate, 2009), which won the CCUE Book Prize and which was shortlisted for the US History of Science Society Watson Davis Prize. With Liz Oakley-Brown, he edited a volume of The Journal of the Northern Renaissance 2017, Scrutinizing Surfaces, writing on Margaret Cavendish, Robert Boyle and the Roman epic poet, Lucretius. Together with Peter Forshaw, he edited Biblical Exegesis and the Emergence of Science in the Early Modern Era (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

He has edited a one-volume edition of Sir Thomas Browne: Oxford 21st Century Authors (Oxford, 2014) and is one of the editors of the new eight-volume Complete Works of Sir Thomas Browne, commissioned by Oxford University Press and supported by an AHRC grant, under the general editorship of Claire Preston (Queen Mary). This involves a full scholarly editing of Browne’s labyrinthine and encyclopaedic Pseudodoxia Epidemica, together with Jessica Wolfe (North Carolina) and Harriet Phillips (Queen Mary).


He would be happy to supervise PhD research on:

  • Early-modern Intellectual History, broadly imagined
  • Early-modern science and religion
  • The Bible and its reception history
  • Early modern prose - Thomas Browne in particular
  • Renaissance poetry - Milton, Donne and seventeenth-century women’s poetry

Contact details

Professor Kevin Killeen
Department of English and Related Literature
University of York
Y010 5DD

Tel: +44 (0)1904 323363



Kevin teaches undergraduate courses in Renaissance and Restoration Literature, and has taught courses on Milton, on Poetry and Poetics, and the Bible and Literature in the contemporary novel. He also teaches on first-year introductions to literature, on postcolonial literature and theory and Marxist literary theory. He has convened courses on Derek Walcott and postcolonial epic, on contemporary Poetry and on Shakespeare. 

At postgraduate level, he teaches on the Renaissance Literature MA, and the CREMS MA in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies. On these, he runs classes on early modern Humanism, Shakespeare, and an MA module of intellectual history, ‘Theories of Everything in Early Modern England’, which addresses science and religion, encyclopaedism, the diffusion of the classical philosophy in early modern thought and poetry, particularly Milton’s Paradise Lost and John Donne.