Rosamund Oates

‘“Speaking in Hands” Preaching, Deafness and Sign Language in Early Modern Europe’


Deaf men and women occupied an ambiguous place in early modern Europe.  The Pauline maxims that ‘faith comes by hearing’ and ‘with the mouth confession is made unto salvation’ seemed to disbar deaf men and women from the saving grace of God.  Yet in reality the situation was more complex.  Lutheran, Catholic and Calvinist churches all devised ways for deaf men and women, including those without speech, to participate in religious services.  This paper will explore what these interventions reveal about contemporary views about disability, impairment and the role of the senses in religious knowledge. It will address the importance of sound and speech in legal definitions of selfhood, and distinguish between different forms of hearing (including the use of sign language), to uncover those who needed help to ‘hear’ in the largely oral world of early modern England. 


Dr Rosamund Oates is a Reader in Early Modern History at Manchester Metropolitan University.  She works on religious cultures in Early Modern England, with a particular interest in the history of reading and in sermon cultures.  She explored the importance of print culture and preaching in Puritanism in her recent monograph, Moderate Radical: Tobie Matthew and the English Reformation (Oxford University Press, 2018).  She was PI on British Academy funded projects that explored English and Russian readings of the Nuremberg Chronicle (2018-2019) and has co-curated exhibitions on reformation print history with the National Trust (2019) and John Rylands Library (2017). She is currently preparing a monograph exploring deafness and hearing loss in Early Modern England.

The International John Bunyan Society

A society dedicated to the study of the life and times of John Bunyan (1628-1688)