Race, in the early modern period, is a concept at the crossroads of a set of overlapping concerns of lineage, religion, and nation. In Bad Humor, Kimberly Anne Coles charts how these concerns converged around a pseudoscientific system that confirmed the absolute difference between Protestants and Catholics, guaranteed the noble quality of English blood, and justified English colonial domination.
Coles delineates the process whereby religious error, first resident in the body, becomes marked on the skin. Early modern medical theory bound together psyche and soma in mutual influence. By the end of the sixteenth century, there is a general acceptance that the soul's condition, as a consequence of religious belief or its absence, could be manifest in the humoral disposition of the physical body. The history that this book unfolds describes developments in natural philosophy in the early part of the sixteenth century that force a subsequent reconsideration of the interactions of body and soul and that bring medical theory and theological discourse into close, even inextricable, contact. With particular consideration to how these ideas are reflected in texts by Elizabeth Cary, John Donne, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Mary Wroth, and others, Coles reveals how science and religion meet nascent capitalism and colonial endeavor to create a taxonomy of Christians in Black and White.
By analyzing how theology and natural philosophy of the period inform works of early modern English"—Times Literary Supplement
literature, [Bad Humor] traces the development of a racial logic that ultimately upholds and justifies English
colonial rule by rendering impossible the religious conversion of Irish Catholics, Spanish Catholics, Africans
and Indigenous people. Coles examines canonical works by John Donne, Ben Jonson, Edmund Spenser and
Shakespeare alongside readings of Mary Wroth, Elizabeth Carey and Aphra Behn to document an emerging
relationship between melancholy and religious error that assumes the heritability of (un)belief. Writing
within a contemporary American context that has witnessed a rise in white Christian nationalism, Coles
offers a timely exploration of how race and religion become intertwined.
"Locating religion and race along a single axis, Kimberly Anne Coles measures the role of the connection between body and soul in the oppression and alienation of groups of people. Her argument gets at the foundations of race-making in a book that is thoroughly grounded in literary criticism, early modern race studies, religious history, early modern medical theory, and early American law."—Jonathan Burton, Whittier College
"Bad Humor is a timely contribution to ongoing conversations about how religion informed early modern race-thinking. Arguing that earlier conceptions of hereditary blood and rank enabled ‘Black melancholy’ to be tethered to irreligion, Coles shows that faith comes to be seen as less a feature of belief than an inheritable somatic condition. First articulated in relationship to Europeans and later to Black Africans, the idea that there exists a ‘complexion of the soul’ reveals early modern theology, natural philosophy, humoral medicine, and Protestant literature to be early contributors to white supremacy."—Valerie Traub, University of Michigan
"Uncovering how humoral theory entwines with philosophical and theological discussions of the relationship between body and soul, Kimberly Anne Coles makes clear that English Protestants rendered belief and non-belief heritable, and that this understanding of the heritable nature of belief was used to justify colonialism and the enslavement of Africans. Bad Humor provides important new insight into the racialization of religion in early modern English literature."—Dennis Austin Britton, The University of British Columbia
"In Bad Humor, Kimberly Anne Coles traces a logic whereby humoral imbalance—in particular, the excess of black bile supposedly registered in dark complexions—constitutes an essential moral inferiority that renders Christian conversion and civic affiliation impossible; those so cast outside the body politic are marked as legitimate objects of enslavement and genocide. Bad Humor compels us to attend to the enmeshment of science and religion in shaping early modern iterations of hierarchy and heredity attuned to the demands of emergent racial capitalism."—Melissa E. Sanchez, University of Pennsylvania