Fellow: Awarded 2012
Field of Study: English Literature
Competition: US & Canada
Paul Stevens is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Early Modern Literature and Culture at the University of Toronto. The focus of his research is seventeenth-century English literature, most important the life and works of John Milton. His most recent publications include Early Modern Nationalism and Milton’s England, co-edited with David Loewenstein, which won the 2009 Irene Samuel Memorial Prize, and “Literary History and the Turn to Religion: Milton reading Badiou,” forthcoming in Religion and Literature, which won the 2011 Montaigne Prize. His first academic appointment was at the University of Richmond in Virginia and after an NEH Fellowship at the Huntington Library in California he returned to Canada. From 1996 to 2002 he was the Head of the Department of English at Queen’s University. For a year during this period he also served as the President of the Canadian Association of Chairs of English. In 2007 after he had returned to the University of Toronto to take up a Canada Research Chair, he was elected President of the Milton Society of America and Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. A passionate and dedicated teacher, his work has been recognized by numerous awards, most recently the 2008 Northrop Frye Award for Excellence in Teaching and Research and the 2010 President’s Teaching Award. In 2009 he was a finalist in the popular TVO Best Lecturer competition.
The project for which he has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship is called Sola Gratia: English Literature and the Secular Ways of Grace. What Professor Stevens hopes to accomplish in this study is an outline cultural history of grace. Analyzing Albrecht Durer’s engravings of St. Jerome in his Study and Melancholia, Brian Cummings suggests that the intellectual world of the early modern period is “poised between the clarity of faith and the melancholy of skepticism.” What transforms skepticism into faith and overwhelms the fear of mutability or contingency is grace. Grace is one of the single most important concepts that separates our modern, largely secular culture of “growth” from the early modern period. It is one of the concepts that gives the early modern period its alterity. But the religious concept of grace does not simply disappear with what Charles Taylor calls the “disenchantment” of the secular age; it transmutes itself into other complex and powerful cultural defenses against fatality, the contingent, and unpredictable. It is the story of these transmutations, some of these other, increasingly secular ways of grace, that Stevens wishes to tell in his book-length study, Sola Gratia. It is a story not so much of disenchantment, so he wishes to suggest, as one of re-enchantment.