Compelling God: Theories of Prayer in Anglo-Saxon England
Published: March 2018© 2018
336 Pages, 6.25 x 9.28 x 1.06 in
While prayer is generally understood as "communion with God" modern forms of spirituality prefer "communion" that is non-petitionary and wordless. This preference has unduly influenced modern scholarship on historic methods of prayer particularly concerning Anglo-Saxon spirituality.
In Compelling God, Stephanie Clark examines the relationship between prayer, gift giving, the self, and community in Anglo-Saxon England. Clark’s analysis of the works of Bede, Ælfric, and Alfred utilizes anthropologic and economic theories of exchange in order to reveal the ritualized, gift-giving relationship with God that Anglo-Saxon prayer espoused. Anglo-Saxon prayer therefore should be considered not merely within the usual context of contemplation, rumination, and meditation but also within the context of gift exchange, offering, and sacrifice. Compelling God allows us to see how practices of prayer were at the centre of social connections through which Anglo-Saxons conceptualized a sense of their own personal and communal identity.
Chapter 1: The Anglo-Saxon Inheritance
Chapter 2: Gratiam pro gratia: Bede on Prayer
Chapter 3: Does Prayer Work? The Prayers of King Alfred
Chapter 4: Ælfric and the Community of Prayer
"Stephanie Clark presents the first sustained study to focus directly on prayer in early England, and with stunning success."Brandon W. Hawk, Rhode Island College, Speculum
"Compelling God presents an original approach to investigating early English religious practices and devotional attitudes, a model worthy of imitation by scholar and student alike. Stephanie Clark makes a significant contribution to medieval studies and religious studies by treating what the early English authors taught about prayer, what it does, and how it works seriously on their own terms."Miranda Wilcox, Brigham Young University, Journal of English and Germanic Philology
"This volume offers a valuable and nuanced account of the Anglo-Saxon period to those working on histories of prayer, the gift, selfhood, and spirituality in other literatures and traditions."Helen Appleton, University of Oxford, Early Medieval Europe
"The strength of Clark’s book consists in showing that Anglo-Saxon prayer theory cannot be assumed to be the same as that of later periods. She carefully works out the differences in prayer theory between Bede, Asser, Alfred, and Aelfric."Gernot R. Wieland, University of British Columbia, University of Toronto Quarterly: Letters in Canada 2018
"Compelling God: Theories of Prayer in Anglo-Saxon England is a significant accomplishment. In this book Stephanie Clark has combined her extensive knowledge of, among other things, patristic theology, Anglo-Saxon source studies, prayer and gift studies, to craft a lucidlywritten, highly original cultural analysis of Anglo-Saxon prayer that will be recognized as a seminal work on the topic in Anglo-Saxon literature. It is indeed the first study of its kind, and should be of great interest to a wide range of readers, both students and scholars, in a number of related disciplines, from Anglo-Saxon literature, to religious studies, to the intellectual history of the early Middle Ages."David F. Johnson, Department of English, Florida State University
"Compelling God will be discussed by literary critics, historians, and theologians for years. Arguing that prayer in Anglo-Saxon England is part of a larger cultural construct, the economy of gifts, Clark interprets major works by Bede, Alfred, and Ælfric. Clark shows, moreover, how their practice contrasts to that set out by patristic writers, particularly Origen, Tertullian, and Augustine."Frederick Biggs, Department of English, University of Connecticut