David Whitla - student profile

DAVID WHITLADavid Whitla - profile photo

My area of general interest is Early-Modern British religious history, with a particular focus on the theology of English Puritanism and the Scottish Covenanters of the late 16th and 17th centuries.  Specifically, I am interested in exploring the role of theology and spirituality in the Scottish Covenanter movement, as disseminated through a nascent print culture and the preached word.  Accordingly, my dissertation is entitled 'Sir Archibald Johnston of Wariston (1611-63) and the Formation of British Puritanism', and will provide a significant contribution to our understanding of this complex and turbulent era, by focusing on key elements of the formation of British Puritanism from the perspective of the remarkable career of Lord Wariston, who fully imbibed and integrated the Scottish Covenanter ideology into his extraordinary career as a lawyer, politician, polemicist, diplomat, propagandist, and family man.  Specifically, I am charting the development of Wariston’s 'British Puritan' confessional vision in his rapidly-changing political and religious context, examining episodically the interplay between Wariston as practitioner and defender of Covenanter theology and piety, and those with whom he sought to forge a British confessional state that was decidedly Puritan in character.  Each ‘episode’ reveals a discrete stage of consensus-building and -destroying within the British Isles during his lifetime (1611-63), seen through Wariston’s eyes, and evaluating Wariston’s role as catalyst for both.  Ian Cowan has contended, ‘there is a huge gulf between Johnston’s private and public personae’[1], and because the public persona has received the lion share of attention by political historians over the past fifty years, his career is reasonably well mapped out by the seminal works on the period.  However, this almost exclusive focus on Wariston the lawyer-politician to the detriment of Wariston the Puritan has contributed to the perception that there is a radical disconnect between the political Wariston and the religious Wariston: a somewhat naïve dichotomy to make in an age where the line between one’s own theology and piety and one’s public life was very thin indeed.  A study of Wariston’s theology and spirituality through several defining moments of his career will help bridge the gulf.  In doing so, I will not ignore the huge strides that have been made in the political history of the period, which would be to perpetuate the ‘huge gulf’ from the opposite side.  Rather, I argue that there is in fact no ‘huge gulf’ in the mind of Wariston between public and private personae; only a huge gulf in our knowledge of the latter.