Philippa Carter, “Diseased brains and diseased souls in Reformation England” (15/12)

In Mystical Bedlam: The World of Madmen (1615), the Calvinist preacher Thomas Adams warned his readers that “there is a double madnesse, corporal and spirituall. That obsesseth the braine, this the heart”. Adams develops this extended simile throughout his sermons. Yet similes depend on points of difference as well as likeness. Focusing on the latter, Adams treats the difference between ‘corporal’ and ‘spiritual’ madness as though it were simply self-evident. For many of his contemporaries, however, it was not. Madness was troubling precisely because it seemed to afflict the whole person, including the rational faculties traditionally attributed to the soul. This paper explores English theologians’ attempts to disentangle soul, mind and brain in the aftermath of the Reformation. 

Philippa Carter is a historian of early modern medicine, natural philosophy, and religion. She is Assistant Professor in the History of Medicine and Health before 1800 at the History and Philosophy of Science Department, Cambridge, and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College. She is currently working on a first monograph, provisionally entitled Phrenitis: Madness, Brain Disease and the Soul in Early Modern England.