McClain, Lisa 1965-

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McClain, Lisa 1965-


Born November 23, 1965. Education: University of Texas, Austin, Ph.D., 2000.


Office—Boise State University, 1910 University Dr., Boise, ID 83725. E-mail—[email protected].


Historian, educator, and writer. Boise State University, Boise, ID, faculty member, 2001—, director of the Gender Studies program, 2002—. University of Texas, Austin, former lecturer in history. Appeared on the Jeopardy! television game show, 2006.


Lest We Be Damned: Practical Innovation and Lived Experience among Catholics in Protestant England, 1559-1642, Routledge (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals, including Sixteenth Century Journal and Journal of Religious History.


Historian Lisa McClain specializes in the history of religion during the Renaissance/Reformation era and gender and popular culture in early modern Europe. In her first book, Lest We Be Damned: Practical Innovation and Lived Experience among Catholics in Protestant England, 1559-1642, the author examines the give-and-take interaction between the institutional church in Rome and the needs of believers and the hands-on clergy who provided pastoral care within England. Using numerous personal stories, the author sheds light on how both believers and clergy in the lower echelons of the church pushed the limits of official orthodoxy to meet their own devotional needs in a hostile England.

"This is a bold and ambitious study of English Catholic identity-formation under conditions of persecution and proscription," wrote Peter Marshall in the Journal of Early Modern History. Writing in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, W.J. Sheils noted: "This is an energetic and provoking book which seeks to reassess the place of post-Reformation Catholicism in England through the examination of praxis, or what the author calls ‘lived experience’ among lay English Catholics, using the ‘theoretical underpinnings of disciplines such as sociology, cultural anthropology, and literary criticism.’"

Writing in the book's introduction, the author notes that, before Catholicism was outlawed in England, the majority of Catholics there practiced and grew in their faiths within institutional settings. "The presence of the priests, the centrality of the sacraments, the availability of physical locations of worship, the importance of material objects, and the prominence of performance and action taken by both the clergy and laity combined to make ritual, communal experience meaningful for members of a congregation," writes the author.

McClain goes on in her introduction to discuss Elizabeth I's Act of Uniformity passed in 1559, which essentially forbade Catholic worship and set one form of Protestant worship for all of England, namely the Church of England. "At first glance, Elizabeth's initial changes to religion do not appear to have radically altered many of the rituals used by pre-reform English Christians, yet their effect upon the religious identity and sense of community of those who refused to accept her reformed church was profound," the author writes in the book's introduction. "The public organization and sacramental structure of the church was no longer tied to Rome. Under Elizabeth's direction, the Church of England removed Catholic priests from their cures and reduced the number of sacraments from seven to two, retaining only baptism and a newly interpreted communion. The physical sites of Catholic worship were also transformed as Protestant ministers took control of Catholic churches and cathedrals."

The author continues in her introduction to detail other moves that reduced the ability of Catholics to worship fully in the way they had done before. She also questions why so many of them were willing to reject the Church of England and risk so much, including their lives, to maintain their standards of worship. She points out that numerous scholars saw Catholicism as "withering" within England due to the oppressive circumstances. "Such characterizations overlook the success of the Catholic Church's centuries-old modus operandi of accommodating itself to different, often hostile, environments in its efforts to perpetuate the Roman faith," the author notes.

In her first chapter, the author begins by looking at the challenges Catholics faced in a Protestant England and the priorities that they developed because of these challenges. She goes on to discuss these Catholics' search for religious space in England, where they were essentially part of a Church without a Church. In chapter three, McClain writes about English Catholic reinterpretations of the Rosary as a form of mystical union followed by a discussion of receiving the sacraments and the benefits of the Mass without having actual priests to conduct the Mass. Chapter five examines the options Catholics had for piety and community within London followed by examinations of the Catholics of Cornwall and the Northern Shires. She concludes with a chapter titled "From the Old Comes the New: Catholic Identities and Alternative Forms of Community." Throughout the book, the author illustrates how English Catholics kept their identity and historical association with the church, such as identifying with Catholic persecutions of the past and willingly becoming martyrs that placed them within the sphere of saints. Even without formal places of worship, according to McClain, they practiced communal worship through group prayer and sharing Catholic books and catechisms.

"This is an important book that moves the study of English Catholicism into a new realm by insisting that its subjects be studied as they lived, not as an ideological subset," wrote Norman Jones in the Catholic Historical Review. W. Clark Gilpin noted in Church History: "McClain has opened several windows into ‘lived experience’ among Catholics in Protestant England, bringing into view a beleaguered community sustaining its life through adaptations of piety and practical accommodations of institutional form. She has surely not said the last word on the subject, but she has effectively invited other scholars to join her in the investigation of a fascinating process of religious transformation."



McClain, Lisa, Lest We Be Damned: Practical Innovation and Lived Experience among Catholics in Protestant England, 1559-1642, Routledge (New York, NY), 2004.


Catholic Historical Review, January, 2007, Norman Jones, review of Lest We Be Damned, p. 179.

Church History, December, 2006, W. Clark Gilpin, review of Lest We Be Damned, p. 914.

Journal of British Studies, April, 2007, Brett Foster, review of Lest We Be Damned, p. 444.

Journal of Early Modern History, Volume 11, issue 1-2, 2007, Peter Marshall, review of Lest We Be Damned, pp. 125-126.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, October, 2006, W.J. Sheils, review of Lest We Be Damned, p. 772.


Boise State University History Department Web site, (May 27, 2008), faculty profile of author.

J! Archive (Jeopardy TV Game Show Web site), (May 27, 2008), brief statement by author.

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