Harrison Perkins - student profile

Harrison Perkins - photoHARRISON PERKINS

My research focus is the intersection of early modern theology and politics. My thesis is about the covenant theology of the Irish Archbishop James Ussher, and examines how covenant is used as a unifying principle in his thinking, how he appropriated ideas from early, medieval and prior Reformed thinkers to construct his own ideas, and how the political climate of seventeenth-century Ireland and the English civil war were important features that shaped his theological formation. I highlight how manuscript sources are important factors for investigating the dissemination of Ussher’s ideas, especially during the period of his career when he was exiled to England in the 1640s and 1650s, and demonstrate how this is one example of how theological development was not isolated to print sources. In the context of the Laudian regime, which was not friendly to strict Reformed thinking, and the tensions leading to English civil war, manuscripts are a crucial way of exploring how ideas were transmitted among those who were not in step with the agenda of the established church. Ussher is an example of an important figure in the seventeenth century who promoted a robust version of Reformed theology, and did so through a variety of means including unpublished material, and his insights are clear instances of the intersection of deep theological commitments with difficult political circumstances.

My other research interests include the development of ideas, and the reception and transmission of argumentative structures. In light of Quentin Skinner’s work on how the historical intellectual apparatus is an important factor for what made specific ideas reasonable in a certain period, it is important to reexamine features of intellectual history that may have looked at ideas as if they could be disconnected from the culture and time in which they developed. The early modern era is a crucial period in this respect because it gives us insight into how ideas from ancient and medieval times were appropriated but adjusted in light of changing political and technological landscapes. I am, additionally, very keen to explore the value of unpublished manuscript sources, and hope to be involved in publishing critical editions of early modern sources that have previously been unavailable to many scholars. In a context where more and more scholars are monolingual and may not have access to archives, it is important to have editions of early modern works that provide access to texts that are now available in only one manuscript copy, and provide translations of these works so that they can be more widely read and examined. I am also interested in the field of theological retrieval, which looks at the history of theological ideas with the purpose of giving clearer explanations to modern formulations. This is a cross-disciplinary exercise that draws on accurate historical work that includes consideration of cultural and political factors that did contribute to why ideas were formulated in certain ways, and combines it with systematic theological reflection that unpacks how historical ideas can fit within our contemporary context.