Converting and Not Converting “Strangers” in Early Modern London

in Journal of Early Modern History


The baptism of strangers in early modern England is often imagined as a “protocolonial” enterprise. This article explores the structure, contexts, and language of a number of “stranger” baptisms in this period to challenge such a reading. The improvisatory nature of these baptisms, a consequence of the lack of a specific service until 1662, is explored, with particular attention paid to language and structure, and the role of a Calvinist-influenced conception of religious and cultural difference. The article is also concerned with subaltern voices and silence. It concludes with a close examination of the circumstance of the baptizing of a “Turk” (initially named Chinano, then William) in London in 1586, considering the unique structure created for this specific occasion, and arguing that the occasion depends upon Chinano’s articulation of the reasons for his conversion before the community of believers to which he seeks access.


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