Did The Conceit of the Imaginary Society Allow Early Modern Utopian Authors Unparalleled Freedom for Daring Religious Speculation?

By Anna Lively

In the early modern period the conception of “utopia” was intimately bound up with the question of religion and of the possibility of realising Paradise. By envisaging an ‘ideal’ form of society, utopian writers are necessarily engaging with questions of morality and the optimum form of social and religious organisation. Intense scholarly debate continues over how far the utopian project is compatible with ‘orthodox’ forms of Christianity, or whether the writing of Utopia is an act of heresy, searching for something novel that overreaches the boundaries of established religion. Scholars like Paul Christianson and J. C. Davis have contextualised utopianism within the framework of the religious theology of the Reformation period; they showed how it responded to currents of Millenarianism and apocalyptic sentiments following the English Civil War.[1] On the other side of the coin, Thomas Molnar in Utopia: the Perennial Heresy (1971) described utopian writings as attacking rather than engaging with contemporary debates and beliefs. Molnar categorised ‘utopians’ as historicists, enthusiasts or heretics, the latter two of which Molnar sees as challenging the established church institutions radically in order to return to an ‘unspoiled beginning’.[2] Krishan Kumar argued that the ‘Christian utopia’ is a contradiction in terms and that Thomas More ‘invented a new thing, a new literary form with a new social content capable of expressing different possibilities from traditional religious ideology’.[3]

More’s Utopia (1516) remains a logical and necessary starting point for any evaluation of the relationship between religion and the ‘utopia’. Not only did his work pioneer a new form of utopian fiction, but it was written by man who became a martyr and saint in connection with his religious views. His work demonstrates the powerful relationship between religion and the imagining of an ideal society, and shows the ways in which utopian fiction allowed exploratory and potentially ‘unorthodox’ religious imaginings. This essay traces the legacy of More in examples of utopian fiction from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to assess how the utopian genre was adapted to allow different forms of religious speculation. Terms like ‘radical’ and ‘unorthodox’ can be unhelpful and imprecise if used alone; utopian texts must be contextualised within a religious and political framework and compared with other contemporary writings in order to try and gauge just how ‘daring’ they would have seemed to the contemporary audience. Section two looks particularly at Bishop Joseph Hall’s Another World and Yet the Same (1605) in relation to the rise of Protestantism. Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1626) and Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun (1602) provides the focus for section three, illustrating how the conceit of the imaginary society allowed the consideration of other faiths. Finally, Francis Lodwick’s A Country not named (c.1655/c.1680) indicates, in section four, how the utopian framework could be used to re-evaluate some of the commonly-assumed foundations of practised Christianity.

A Critical Start: Thomas More (1478-1535)

The complex layers of satire, fiction and ambiguous characterisations in More’s Utopia have made it a difficult text to interpret, particularly in religious terms. The imagining of a ‘utopia’ that exists before the revelation of Christ may seem at odds with the life of a man known for his religious convictions. Edward Surtz, in The Praise of Wisdom, denies that More wished to use ‘Utopia’ as an ‘exemplar for Christian Europe’, arguing that ‘Utopia’ is a ‘pagan’ society intended to help remind Christians of their true ‘religious principles’.[4] Sanford Kessler, however, argues that More was putting forward a more radical agenda of religious toleration, advocating religious reform.[5]  J. M. Wands suggests that “Utopia exists as a foil to Europe”[6]. This opposition crucially allows More to encourage a critical attitude towards the Catholic Church.

The pre-revelation state of ‘Utopia’ enables More to speculate on what could be possible in religious terms outside contemporary religious assumptions.  The Utopian people gradually united ‘in that one religion that seems more reasonable than any of the others’, rather than living according to Catholic tradition.[7] This movement away from familiar liturgical practices and Biblical understandings means that Utopia stands in marked contrast to More’s other writings such as The Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer (1532, 1533), Responsio Ad Lutherum (1523) and A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation (1534), in which he adopts a more polemical style and responds to the perceived dangers of Luther and the ‘heretics’. More’s disassociation from Utopian practices, both through the unstable narrative voice of Hythloday (whose name means ‘idle gossiper’) in Book II and the character of More’s reservations that ‘I can hardly agree with everything he had said’ at the end of Book II, means that he can contemplate religious practices deemed highly subversive in his day without the danger of direct accountability.[8] More dares to envisage a society where ‘Women are not debarred from the priesthood’[9], an idea which he dismisses elsewhere as an ‘unprobable case’.[10] Utopians also believe a form of Euthanasia could be a ‘pious and holy act’ in some circumstances, contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church and More’s own condemnation of suicide as a ‘wicked temptation’ in A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation (1534).[11] These ideas destabilise the reader’s position and could encourage subversive readings, with humanist Guillaume Budé describing Utopians as representing ‘truly Christian customs’.[12]

More structures Utopia to allow powerful critiques of society and the Church.  By positing condemnations of sixteenth-century society in Book I alongside descriptions of Utopian religion in Book 2, More creates a powerful analytical framework to assess contemporary religious life. By the early sixteenth century anticlericalism was rife within the Church and even friars were condemning parish priests for their ignorance and idleness.[13] Hythloday’s criticism that ‘the only real thing that [preachers] accomplish…is to make people feel more secure about doing evil’ is therefore not uniquely daring for its time.[14] Crucially, More makes a broader survey of the relationship between religion and social structure and questions whether religious values are being implemented by the ‘Christian’ community. From Book I it seems that the answer is resoundingly that they are not; Hythloday points out the inadequacy of the English punitive system, of enclosure of pasture land and of the dangers of allowing ‘young folk to be abominably brought up and their characters corrupted’.[15] In contrast, the ‘Utopia’ of Book 2, while not an unproblematic idyll, seems to have a more efficient system of social control and organization. At the beginning of Book 2 we hear how Utopus conquered the country and ‘brought its… inhabitants to such a highly level of culture and humanity that they now surpass almost every other people’. [16] Later we see how Utopians operate according to a system of communal ownership, which (while unknown to the Utopians) harks back to Biblical ideas. More raises a problematic contradiction: why, given the benefit of revelation, is Christian civilisation not represented as markedly socially and morally superior to ‘Utopia’?[17] Karl Kautsy sees More as a clear advocate of socialism, but it is more ambivalent than this[18]. More points to a disjuncture between religious ideals and contemporary reality, but leaves it up to the reader to contemplate what kind of reform could heal this breach.

More’s Utopia considers the potentially radical question of religious toleration and implies the need for continuing change within the Church. Some, like Kumar, see More’s Utopia as a form of rational enquiry that breaks away from Christianity in order to seek man’s self-advancement; Kumar argues that ‘More, in inventing Utopia, broke with the religious world view of medieval Europe’.[19]  However, this notion that Utopia is essentially secular remains over-simplistic and at odds with the life of a man noted by contemporary biographers like Stapleton for his religious stricture, known to have spent time at Charterhouse (a Carthusian house).[20] Moreover, the fact that religion receives specific treatment towards the end of Book II, as well as references throughout, could imply its underlying centrality to the whole Utopian project. Rather than dismissing Christianity, More encourages consideration of what defines Christianity from other religions and how much tolerance there should be within the church structure. It is striking how different forms of piety coexist within Utopia; while most agree ‘in a single main head, that there is one supreme power’, Utopians ‘define this supreme power in various ways’ rather than following universalised systems of worship.[21] Kessler deduces from this that More was promoting religious tolerance as a way of encouraging ‘civic peace in Christendom’ in response to division within the Church.[22] This perhaps does not go far enough, as More specifically writes how Utopus allowed religious freedom not just ‘for the sake of peace’ but ‘because he was uncertain whether God likes diverse and manifold forms of worship’.[23] This raises the radical possibility that God did not intend one form of religion to triumph above all others. While the Utopians’ grateful reception of Christianity to some extent corrects this radicalism, instating the overall superiority of Christianity, More sows uncertainty which encourages Christians to look sceptically at the Church rather than be blind followers. Like other humanist scholars, such as Erasmus, who emphasised the importance of individual contemplation and inner transformation in his Enchiridion militis Christiani (1503) and published his own edition of the Greek New Testament, More suggests that tradition and precedent alone do not offer conclusive religious truths[24].

More pioneered a new way of considering religion outside a conventional doctrinal framework. Defying rules of space and time, More’s ‘no place’ did not offer a concrete religious reform agenda for Western Christendom. Instead, the strangeness of Utopia created new angles from which to view contemporary reality. By encouraging the reader to look at Christendom from the perspective of a pre-revelation society, More forces the reader to confront the divergence between Christian practice and Christian ideal and remain open to the need for change within the Church.

Apocalyptic Visions and Imagined Reform 

Some commentators like Kumar suggest that the model of the exploratory utopia created by More was gradually abandoned during the Reformation period. As doctrinal divisions increased, the potential for utopian writers to be innovative regarding religion is seen to have declined; Kumar suggests that the secularisation of utopianism was the inevitable outcome of the rise of Protestantism because of Luther and Calvin’s opposition to the idea of perfectibility.[25] James Holstun notes that ‘the puritan utopia’ is generally seen as oxymoronic within the history of ideas and as confusing the ‘Age of Faith and the Age of Reason’.[26] However, the extent of religious conflict during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries made questions about the future of Christianity increasingly urgent, giving the utopian genre a continued role. While differing in style to More’s Utopia, Bishop Hall’s Another World and Yet the Same (1605) and Thomas Lupton’s Too Good to be True (1580) show the resilience of the genre as a way of discussing religious questions.

During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the conceit of the imaginary society became a potent vehicle for the expression of apocalyptic fears about the Church. Although Millenarianism was prevalent during More’s lifetime, particularly in the lead up to the half millennium of 1500, Utopia seems to offer some hope of man’s ability to progress and become like a ‘single family’.[27] In contrast, Bishop Hall’s dystopian Another World and Yet the Same lays bare his worst fears regarding the future of the human race, with even the place names like ‘Drink-Allia’, ‘Fooliana’ and ‘Wine-cester’ creating an image of apocalyptic decline and human degradation. The book starts by discussing familiar vices such as greed in the ‘Land of Gluttons’ and drunkenness.[28] It ends with cannibalism and atavistic creatures who ‘know no God except the person to whom they have sentenced themselves in servitude’.[29] Like Hall’s work, the title of Thomas Lupton’s Too Good to be True conveys a scepticism about the promises made by the Church and the possibility of redemption. Reminders of the final judgement and the ‘howling, gnawing and gnashing of teeth prepared in hell’ for ministers who help advance ungodly men in the Church acts as a warning of the need for religious reform. [30] Such criticism of the Church lies beneath layers of ambiguity, rhetoric and fiction, allowing the writers to become more extreme and impassioned.  Hall’s utopia contrasts sharply with his other works, such as A Recollection of Treatises (1615) in which he flatters James I by declaring how ‘the Church of God upon earth rests her selfe principally…upon Your Majestie’s royall supportation’.[31] Like More, Hall’s utopia was written in his early career; as he rose to ecclesiastical prominence, serving as Archdeacon of Nottingham 1611-26 and Dean of Worcester 1616-27, his works became more conservative and devotional. Unlike More, Hall was reluctant to admit authorship of his utopia, which reveals just how daring the genre continued to be.[32]

The question of how society should be organised in order to rectify religion and morality in time for the coming of the end of the world is a fundamental element of these protestant utopias. Lupton’s description of how .as soone as a sermon is ended with us, all the hearers practise it by and by’ suggests a society of almost total religious obedience and unity.[33] Holstun argues on these grounds that the ‘Puritan’ utopia sought to take the displaced peoples of early modern Europe into the millennium by creating a ‘rationally compartmentalized and administered universe’.[34] Themes of control and rational order, which diverge from the relative theological freedom in More’s Utopia, figure throughout the works of Lupton, Hall and James Harrington’s (1611-77) The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656), contemplating how best to re-engineer the relationship between God and Man. Harrington visualises structural reform of ecclesiastical and civil governance and education to ensure the commonwealth has ‘performed her duty towards God as a rational creature’.[35] This imagining of perfect human order was a response to contemporary disarray; Harrington writes during the political and religious turbulence of the interregnum period and Lupton reacts to the perceived excesses and irregularities of Popery, which he condemned in A Persuasion from Papistrie (1581).[36] Hall’s work also involves mocking jibes at Catholic pilgrimages, fasting and superstition, which he believes are hypocritical and immoral display.[37] The English politician Samuel Gott (1614-1671), in Nova Solyma- The Ideal City or Jerusalem regained (1649) similarly emphasises religious stricture and how ‘we try to restrain the violent desires of our nature in the bonds of temperance and chastity’.[38]  While such emphasis on discipline might seem polemical or restrictive, it too was daring as it formed part of an attempt to return to a purer form of the church, comparable to More’s emphasis on Christian communality. This involved discarding contemporary attachments and sources of pride; Lupton reminds us how God gave ‘our father Adam’ only a leather belt to ‘cover his nakednesse’ and ‘God thought it good enough for him’.[39] Goals of simplicity and harmony thus had a radical essence at their core; they involved the recognition that many of the contemporary trappings of religion and civilisation were superfluous, that they had distracted man rather than brought him closer to God, and that society and religious life must be drastically restructured.

Protestant utopias of the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries moved away from More’s legacy. The urgency of tone, violent imagery and powerful rhetoric of Hall’s Another World and Yet the Same is a clear contrast to the more playful, ambiguous satire deployed by More in Utopia.  While More’s pre-revelation society set him at a distance from contemporary doctrinal disputes, references to divergences between Catholics and branches of Protestantism are rife in the works of Hall and Lupton. Nevertheless, the critical potential of the conceit of the imaginary society was maintained; Hall’s dystopia expresses fears not just for Catholics but for the whole of Christendom and warns of the pressing need for change.

Questions of Religious Universalism and Unity in Faith

The conceit of the imaginary society also provided a vehicle through which to consider the relationship between Christianity and other faiths, responding to the breaches within Christianity that had emerged by the early seventeenth century. The concept of religious universalism is important in the work of Tommaso Campanella, born in Stilo in 1568, who constructs a religion of the universe in his The City of the Sun rather than remaining within a Christian framework. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is often assumed to be advocating science and learning over religious piety; his New Atlantis is sometimes seen as a ‘scientific’ as opposed to a religious utopia and viewed in relation to works like the The Advancement of Learning (1605) rather than his religious writings.[40] As John Channing Briggs emphasises, this is a false distinction and ignores the religious debates central to New Atlantis.[41]

Bacon and Campanella use the conceit of the imaginary society to escape from the religious schism of their times, speculating on religious universalism and the potential for unification. While Hall’s utopia advances a specifically puritanical agenda, Campanella dreamed higher in The City of the Sun.  Descriptions of how ‘Nothing rests on the altar but a huge celestial globe, upon which the heavens are described’ conjure up a sense of all-encompassing faith in which the whole of God’s creation is embodied in worship.[42] This dream of religious universalism may have had particular significance for Campanella, who was first arrested by the Roman inquisition in 1594 and so knew the effects of religious dogmatism. Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis similarly posits hopes for greater religious cohesion in response to his anxieties, expressed in ‘Certaine considerations touching the better pacification and edification of the church of England’ (1604), about religious factionalism. At a time when Puritans were calling on James I to rid the Church of the Papist ‘whore of Babylon’ in their assertive Millenary Petition of 1603,  Bacon urged James I to reduce ‘the very face of Europe, to a more peaceable and amiable countenance’.[43] Bacon’s utopia is the ultimate realisation of ideals of Christian brotherhood, as demonstrated in the opening scene when the islanders ask the lost travellers ‘Are ye Christians?’ and show deep Christian empathy.[44] Bacon reminds Christians of what they have in common; ‘a Man…with a loud voice in Spanish, asked Are ye Christians? We answered We were, fearing the lesse’ because the travellers had seen the cross on a piece of parchment, reminding them that they were unified in the knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice and the promised salvation.[45] Johann Valentin Andreae in Christianopolis (1619) likewise dreams of ‘one Holy Universal church’ which is ‘scattered across the world but held together by the unity of faith’.[46] Andreae’s vision, however, is conditioned by his standpoint as a champion of ‘that invincible hero, our Doctor Luther’[47]. His universal church is defined by Lutheran ideals regarding religious leadership and knowledge, making it less innovative than the works of Bacon or Campanella.

The conceit of the imaginary society allowed greater contemplation of non-Christian traditions and theologies. Kumar suggests that voyages of discovery during the early modern period revealed Western Christianity to be something ‘particular’ rather than universal; utopian writers reacted to this by looking at religion from a more expansive perspective.[48] This is certainly true of Campanella who, as Malcolm emphasises, incorporates Islamic elements into his utopia. For instance, ‘After waking and washing everyone turns to the east and recites a short prayer similar to our Pater noster’, which seems to combine both Catholic and Islamic practices. Malcolm maintains that the Solarians’ meritocratic system, communal raising of children and rules against gambling demonstrate the influence of the Ottoman Empire, which at that time was expanding and threatening the frontiers of Western Christendom. Rather than seeing Campanella as a committed radical or an orthodox figure, as suggested by Frajese and Giovanni di Napoli retrospectively, it can be argued that his utopia proposes strengthening Christianity by incorporating elements of Islam.[49] This paradoxically helped Christendom reverse a situation whereby approximately one million western European Christians were enslaved by Islamic raiders between 1530 and 1640. [50] Malcolm’s emphasis on Islamic practices may be too specific, as Campanella also considers the Hindu concept of ‘transmigration of the souls’ and has the Solarians ‘sing about the deeds of the Christian, Hebrew and Gentile heroes of every nation’.[51] The utopian genre thus allowed writers to locate Christianity within a global framework and to consider the relevance of other faiths. Bacon, responding to the calls of some contemporary theologians for Christians and Jews to unite in time for the Second Coming, proposes toleration for Jews who do not ‘hate the Name of Christ’.[52] This kind of discussion strongly contrasts with certain eighteenth-century utopias such as Ambrose Phillips’ A Description of New Athens (1720), which praised the triumph of ‘enlightened’ Christian superiority against ‘barbarian’ forces.[53] It is also in sharp contrast to other, more orthodox, writings of Bacon like ‘Certaine considerations’ and demonstrates the greater flexibility allowed by the utopian genre.

The works of Campanella and Bacon  follow the pattern laid out by More, casting aside a clear doctrinal framework in order to consider what it means to be ‘Christian’ on a broader and even global level. Campanella’s emphasis on religious universalism and his willingness to recognise the values of other faiths differs from the calls for puritanical stricture and discipline in Hall’s Another World and Yet the Same. Rather than moralistic polemic and warning about the church, Campanella and Bacon imagine man existing in perfect harmony with creation and consider more peaceful interaction with peoples of other faiths.

Biblical Scepticism and the ‘Minimum Religion’

During the later seventeenth century the religious situation in England remained tense and contested. After the prominent and divisive role religion had played in public and political life during the English Civil War and interregnum period, Charles II imposed a largely conservative Church Settlement after his Restoration in 1660 and harsh punitive measures against minority religious groups like the Quakers. Francis Lodwick (1619-1694) was an important figure in the London Dutch Protestant Church and his A Country not named (c.1655/c1680) shows how the utopian framework continued to be used to channel subversive religious ideas within a literary format. As in More, the question of Biblical truth and interpretation remains central to Lodwick’s exploration of an ‘ideal’ religious society.

The utopian genre could provide a unique framework for speculation on the metaphysical and theological essence of religion. Leland Miles sees More’s Utopia as proposing a system of religious toleration based on a ‘minimal religion’ similar to that in Plato’s The Republic, emphasising the immortality of the soul, that ‘God is not the author of all things, but good only’ and the concept of divine providence.[54] This idea of a ‘minimum religion’ can be helpfully applied to Lodwick’s work, which suggests the limits to what we can be certain about in religious terms. In A Country Not Named God reveals himself as a cloud and announces ‘I am The Supreme God who have no beginning nor end, my being and the manner thereof is and shall remain unvisible to man,’.[55] As Henderson and Poole comment, the representation of God as a cloud is symbolic of ‘our Ignorance of the manner of his being’ and reflects Lodwick’s scepticism about doctrines like the Trinity and original sin.[56] Campanella’s Solarians maintain a semblance of the Trinity through their beliefs in a supreme power, supreme wisdom and supreme love.[57] Lodwick’s opening offers a decisive blow to a cornerstone of Christian theology; by writing that ‘their Account of Time is of a far elder date then ours’, Lodwick undercuts the assumption that Adam was the first human and sheds doubt on the whole concept of man’s fall from grace.[58] Such subversive views and pre-Adamism connected Lodwick to what Poole names ‘The Genesis circle’, comprising others in the Royal Society like the natural philosopher Robert Hooke (1635-1703) and Abraham Hill (1633-1721), who met to discuss radical views about creation. This search for the ‘essence’ of religion and the origins of human life involved a reworking of Genesis, making their views highly seditious.[59]

The writing of a utopia allowed writers like Lodwick to show their frustration with the religious preaching and writings of their time. Thomas Molnar’s idea that utopia could be a ‘perennial heresy’ is over-simplistic, and his categorisations of ‘utopians’ remain problematic in relation to the ambiguity of More or the Lutheran orthodoxy of Andreae.[60] Nevertheless the notion of a ‘heretical’ search for an alternative religious framework can usefully apply to Lodwick, who seeks to articulate religion in ‘plain termes’ and learning in a way ‘clear of ambiguity’. This is demonstrated in the way the words used by his utopians in Baptism are altered to remove any associations with specific Biblical interpretations. [61] Lodwick’s frustration with doctrinal division connects him back to More who described the “payne and labour” of writing of doctrinal works against heresy, which he nonetheless saw as his duty in later life.[62] Gerrard Winstanley, writing during the political and religious turbulence of the interregnum period, also condemned how “this Divinity is always speaking words to deceive the simple…he is a monster who is all tongue and no hand”. Such anticlericalism is manifested in the institutional structures of Winstanley’s utopia, and his proposals for an open preaching system and an end to the preaching on “ungrounded doctrines” that are incomprehensible to the people.[63]

This utopian disregard for polemical commentaries on scripture continues in works of the eighteenth century such as Phillips’ A Description of New Athens (1720) and William Smith’s A General Idea of the College of Mirania (1753), in which Smith suggests such works lead to the “Disgrace of Christian meekness and Charity”[64].  Likewise, it is believed in ‘New Athens’ that “when our Saviour comes to Judgment he does not condemn or reward any man for his speculative opinions” and so such works can distract us from the essential religious goals.[65]

New approaches to the Bible are common across these early modern utopias, harking back to More’s support for new humanist translations of the Bible. The dramatic narrative of revelation in Bacon’s New Atlantis, the idealised ‘house of Israel’ in Winstanley’s The Law of Freedom and the idea of ‘Jerusalem regained’ in Nova Solyma, all illustrate the readiness of utopian authors to interpret the Bible in original ways. By using the Bible, however, all the above writers accept its fundamental validity. Lodwick, on the other hand, proposes a utopia in which scripture is banned in churches. The way in which the people of A Country not named “have besides many writings of other Apostles unknowne to you” reveals the influence of Richard Simon’s Histoire Critique du Vieux Testament (1678). This work, which Lodwick owned two copies of, radically challenged the authenticity and the completeness of contemporary versions of the Bible and was deemed so heretical that Cardinal Bousset attempted to burn it.[66] Lodwick goes one step further than Simon and suggests that even if the Bible existed in a complete form, it may only be relevant to Jews.[67] It is little wonder, given the implications of this, that there is little evidence of A Country not named being widely circulated by Lodwick. The utopian genre may have allowed Lodwick to explore his most radical ideas but, as Poole notes, the “the thin guise of fiction” could not and was not intended to mask them.[68]


Overall, the work of Lodwick acts as the final indication of how the conceit of the imaginary society could allow the articulation of daring religious ideas. In the case of Lodwick this included a refutation of fundamental assumptions about creation and the role of scripture, which undercut some of the foundations of contemporary theology and the liturgy. On the one hand, Lodwick’s direct association with underground religious movements and organisations sets him apart from figures like More, Bishop Hall and Francis Bacon, who had had direct visibility and influence within the Church of England. Perhaps for this reason, Lodwick’s opinions regarding the Bible are made more starkly and, unlike More, he does not cloak his views in ambiguity or try to disassociate himself from what is being said. Yet these utopian writers also share a common flexibility; perhaps partly related to More’s humanist ideas, there is an unwillingness to accept blindly the teachings within the church and an overall drive towards the need for reasoned and critical inquiry into religious truths.

It must be noted, however, that none of these works of utopian fiction abandoned the Christian framework altogether. While Bacon and particularly Campanella consider other faiths, Campanella writes that “When the people learn the living truth of Christianity, proved by miracles, they will submit to them”.[69] The idea of an entirely godless society also remains alien to these utopian writers. What is important is that these writers create a new perspective from which to view religion, with More forging the idea of a ‘no place’ whose knowledge of Christianity is recent and fragile. Commentators like Thomas Molnar, who have tried to categorise utopian writers as either ‘heretics’ or ‘orthodox’, are to some degree missing the point; there cannot be a definitive or generalised answer to how ‘radical’ utopian fiction is, as radicalism remains subjective and dependent on interpretation. Rather than a statement of the writers’ beliefs about a particular doctrinal agenda, works like Utopia or A City of the Sun have an exploratory and analytical character, which encourages re-evaluation and uncertainty. At a time of immense religious turmoil during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, utopian writers like Campanella dare to step back and consider spirituality in a less confined manner, which strikingly set their work apart from more conventional religious writings.


[1] J. C. Davis, ‘Formal utopia/ informal millennium: the struggle between form and substance as a context for 17th century utopianism’, in Utopias and the millennium, ed. K. Kumar and S. Bann (London: Reaktion Books, 1993), 17-32; P. Christianson, Reformers and Babylon: English apocalyptic visions from the reformation to the eve of the civil war (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978).

[2] T. Molnar, Utopia: the perennial heresy (London: Tom Stacey Ltd, 1971), 3-32.

[3] K. Kumar, Religion and Utopia (Canterbury: Pamphlet No. 8, Centre for the study of religion and society, 1985), 7-8.

[4] Edward L. Surtz, The Praise of Wisdom: a commentary on the religious and moral problems and backgrounds of St. Thomas More’s Utopia (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1957). HathiTrust Digital Library. Oxford. 20th August 2013. http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015008174420;view=1up;seq=9

12-13, 7.

[5] S. Kessler, ‘Religious freedom in Thomas More’s Utopia’, The Review of Politics vol. 64 (Cambridge University Press, 2002), 207-229.

[6] Bishop Joseph Hall, Another world and yet the same, trans. and ed. J. M. Wands (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1981), xxxiv.

[7] Thomas More, Utopia, eds. G. M. Logan and R. M. Adams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 93.

[8] P. Ackroyd, The Life of Thomas More (London: Chatto & Windus, 1998), 170-174; More, Utopia, 107.

[9] More, Utopia, 99.

[10] More, ‘The confutation of Tyndale’s answer’ in The complete works of St Thomas More, eds. L. A. Schuster, R. C. Marius et al (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973), vol. 8, 190-191.

[11] More, Utopia, 78.

[12] Guillaume Budé to Thomas Lupset of England, Paris, 31st July 1517. Thomas More, Utopia, eds. G. M. Logan and R. M. Adams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 111-117.

[13] D. MacCulloch, Reformation – Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700 (London:  Penguin, 2004), 32-33.

[14] More, Utopia, 36.

[15] More, Utopia, 15-20.

[16] More, Utopia, 42.

[17] See Surtz, The Praise of Wisdom, 7.

[18] Edward L. Surtz, ‘Interpretations of ‘Utopia’’, The Catholic Historical Review 2 (1952), 156-174, at 159.

[19] Kumar, Religion and Utopia, 9-10.

[20] Ackroyd, The Life of Thomas More, 66-95.

[21] More, Utopia, 93.

[22] S. Kessler, ‘Religious freedom in Thomas More’s Utopia’, The Review of Politics vol. 64 (Cambridge University Press, 2002), 207-229.

[23] More, Utopia, 95.

[24] A. E. McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, fourth edn (West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2012), 47-48.

[25] Kumar, Religion and Utopia, 10.

[26] J. Holstun, A rational millennium: Puritan utopias of seventeenth-century England and America (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 4.

[27] MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 94-97; More, Utopia, 59.

[28] Hall, Another world and yet the same, 19-30.

[29] Hall, Another world and yet the same, 83-92.

[30] Thomas Lupton, Too Good to be True (London, 1580) Early English Books Online. Oxford. 20th August 2013.  http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&rft_id=xri:eebo:image:23485:4

[31] T. F. Kinloch, The life and works of Joseph Hall 1574-1656 (London, New York: Staples Press Ltd, 1951),36.

[32] Kinloch, Life and works of Joseph Hall, 11-56.

[33] Lupton, Too Good to be True, 75.

[34] Holstun, A rational millennium, 18-21.

[35] J. Harrington, The Commonwealth of Oceana and a system of politics, ed. J. G. A. Pocock (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 83.

[36] Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. and Alan Stewart, eds, The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature (Blackwell Publishing, 2012).  Blackwell Reference Online. Oxford. 24th August 2013 http://www.blackwellreference.com/public/book.html?id=g9781405194495_9781405194495

[37] Hall, Another world and yet the same, 36-54.

[38] [Samuel Gott], Nova Solyma, the Ideal City, or Jerusalem Regained [1648], ed. and trans. W. Begley (New York: Scribner, 1902), vol. 2.  HathiTrust Digital Library. Oxford. 28th September 2013. http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433074375027;view=2up;seq=130

[39] Lupton, Too Good to be True, 21.

[40] Francis Bacon, Of the Advancement and Proficience of Learning (Oxford, 1640). Early English Books Online. Oxford. 17th August 1013. http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&rft_id=xri:eebo:citation:468826195

[41] J. C. Briggs, ‘Bacon’s Science and Religion’, in The Cambridge Companion to Bacon, ed. M. Peltonen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 172-199.

[42] Tommaso Campanella, La Città del sole: dialogo poetico / The City of the Sun: A Poetical Dialogue [1602], trans. Daniel J. Donno (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 31.

[43] Francis Bacon, Certaine considerations touching the better pacification, and edification of the Church of England (London: Printed for Henry Tomes, 1604). Early English Books Online. Oxford. 22nd August 2013. http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&rft_id=xri:eebo:image:1667:2 4

[44] Francis Bacon, New Atlantis (London, 1658?). Early English Books Online. Oxford. 15th August 2013. http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&rft_id=xri:eebo:image:64462:3 3-4.

[45] Bacon, New Atlantis, 3.

 [46]Johann Valentin Andreae, Christianopolis [1619], trans. Edward H. Thompson (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999), 188-90.

[47] Andreae, Christianopolis, 146-147.

[48] Kumar, Religion and Utopia, 13.

[49] N. Malcolm, ‘The crescent and the City of the Sun: Islam and the renaissance utopia of Tommaso Campanella’, Proceedings of the British Academy 125 (2004), 41-67; MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 54-7.

[50] Malcolm, ‘The crescent and the City of the Sun’, 41-67.

[51] Campanella, The City of the Sun: A Poetical Dialogue, 69, 105.

[52] Bacon, New Atlantis, 21; R. H. Popkin, ‘The religious background of seventeenth-century philosophy’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 25 (1987), 40-41.

[53] Ambrose Phillips, ‘A Description of New Athens’ [1720] in Utopias of the British Enlightenment, ed. G. Claeys (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 36-37.

[54] L. Miles, ‘The platonic source of Utopia’s “minimum religion”’, Renaissance News 9 (1959), 83-90.

[55] F. Lodwick, ‘A country not named’, in On language, theology and utopia, ed. F. Henderson and W. Poole (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 271.

[56] Henderson and Poole, On language, theology and utopia, 44.

[57] Campanella, The City of the Sun: A Poetical Dialogue, 115.

[58] Henderson and Poole, On language, theology and utopia, 267.

[59] W. Poole, ‘The Genesis Narrative in the Circle of Robert Hooke and Francis Lodwick’, in Scripture and Scholarship in Early Modern England, ed. A. Hessayon and N. Keene (Aldershot: Alshgate, 2006), 41-57.

[60] Molnar, Utopia: the perennial heresy.

[61] Henderson and Poole, On language, theology and utopia, 275, 284.

[62] More, ‘The confutation of Tyndale’s answer’, 36.

[63]Gerrard Winstanley, The Law of Freedom. (London: Printed for J. M, 1652). Early English Books Online. Oxford. 1st September 2013. http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&rft_id=xri:eebo:citation:99831469 60, 6-7, 57.

[64] William Smith, A general idea of the College of Mirania (New York, 1753) [ECCO; ESTC Number: W004650], 11.

[65] Phillips, ‘A Description of New Athens’, 43.

[66] Henderson and Poole, On language, theology and utopia, 276 and 44.

[67] Henderson and Poole, On language, theology and utopia, 276.

[68] W. Poole, ‘The Genesis narrative in the circle of Robert Hooke and William Poole’, in Scripture and scholarship in early modern England, ed. F. Henderson and W. Poole (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 55-57.

[69] Campanella, The City of the Sun: A Poetical Dialogue, 67-68.


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