Tom Clayton

Tom Clayton
Tom Clayton
Teaching and Research Interests: 

B.A. Middlebury College 2013

I study the intersections of religion, politics, and literature in the early modern period.

My dissertation, “The Reformation of Indifference: Adiaphora and Poetry in the Seventeenth Century,” shows how the theological concept of adiaphora (or “things indifferent”) structured contemporary representations of religious culture. In the early modern period, this concept provided a set of terms for reformers evaluating the legality and efficacy of religious practices (particularly those thought to be vestiges of Roman Catholicism) and divided these elements of religious practice into the shifting categories of “necessary” and “indifferent.” I argue that this theological distinction also informed contemporary thinking about poetry and its uses. Readings in poems by John Donne, George Herbert, John Milton, and Andrew Marvell demonstrate how the lyric mode in particular enabled a more expansive sense of the concept’s ability to organize and justify the material world of religious practice. The purpose of this project is to describe the early modern imaginative models for representing and understanding the forms of cultural pluralism underwritten by indifference.

Alongside this project, my reading and teaching interests include early modern poetry, religious texts in the history of ideas, political philosophy, modern poetry, and the history of print culture.

As an assistant instructor, I have taught several sections in the English Department at Princeton, including ENG 325: Milton, ENG 208: The Essay, and ENG 200: Introduction to English Literature 14th-18th Century. I have also co-taught a number of English composition and literature courses with the Prison Teaching Initiative, a state-funded organization that provides for-credit college education in correctional facilities in New Jersey.

From 2014-2017, I was a co-convener of the Renaissance Colloquium in the English Department, which sponsored a series of talks by visiting scholars on topics ranging widely across the fields of early modern studies.

For the 2017-2018 academic year I will be working in archives in Oxford and London, supported by a Donald and Mary Hyde Academic Year Research Fellowship from Princeton.