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Milton: Paradise Lost: Religious and Literary Background

3. Defining Literature

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About this Lecture


In this lecture, we explore Milton's view that poetry had a religious purpose. In particular, we look at Milton's views on poetry in his 1624 pamphlet, 'The Reason of Church Government', reflecting on his assertion that one of the main purposes of poetry was to give complicated ideas coherence and intelligibility. This sections by considering Paradise Lost's role as an educational text, designed to instruct readers in the more difficult ideas within Christian theology in a way that was not simply religious propaganda.


In this course, Dr Edmund White (University of Oxford) explores the religious and literary background of Paradise Lost. This course provides an introduction to the religious culture of seventeenth-century England, and shows how this culture influenced the composition of Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost. This course falls into two halves. In the first half: we explore the principal Christian ideas that feature in Milton’s narration of the fall of Adam and Eve; in the second half, we look at the political implications of the religious ideas articulated in Paradise Lost. In both halves, we take examples from key moments of the poem, as well as from other writings by Milton and his seventeenth-century contemporaries.


Dr Edmund White completed his D. Phil. in English Literature at the University of Oxford in January 2014. Supervised by Sharon Achinstein, the title of his thesis was “The Concept of Discipline: Poetry, Rhetoric, and the Church in the Works of John Milton”. The main interest of his research thus far has been in the intersection between mainstream ecclesiastical politics and literature in Milton's works. Discipline, his thesis argues, is a complex concept in Milton's writing, that develops over time: whereas it denotes coercive and persuasive ecclesiastical power in his early prose, his later poetry treats the concept in terms of personal, moral piety.

His future research will seek to compare Milton’s understanding of piety in his later works with the pieties advocated by other contemporaries of different confessional persuasions: Bunyan, Baxter, Traherne, Vaughan.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

White, E. (2018, August 15). Milton: Paradise Lost: Religious and Literary Background - Defining Literature [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

White, Edmund. "Milton: Paradise Lost: Religious and Literary Background – Defining Literature." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,