Date of Thesis

Spring 2020


This thesis investigates John Donne’s body/soul dialectic, and discusses how this relationship extends towards both the individuated and communal body. The first chapter grounds Donne’s “Songs and Sonnets” in theology through his facilitation of the Platonic Ladder and the Great Chain of Being. It also gestures towards a shift in Donne’s poetry from subjectivity to intersubjectivity. Finally, it discusses Donne’s commissioned elegies, interrogating Renaissance ideas about the gendered soul, and expounding upon the impact of one person’s death on the communal body. The second chapter historically contextualizes ideas of martyrdom, suicide, and Donne’s term “self-homicide.” It discusses the content of the sermons delivered at Paul’s Cross outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and how these ideas helped to form religious thought during the early sixteenth century. It serves to discuss the heterodoxy of Donne’s ideas regarding suicide, in contrast with his more orthodox ideas concerning martyrdom. The second chapter also yokes bodily violence to soteriology, and expounds upon the idea that the soul is edified through this violence. Overall, this thesis serves to provide an overview of Donne’s body/soul dialectic throughout his oeuvre. It provides a theorization of why Donne would have endorsed relinquishing the body, despite claiming in a 1627 sermon that he loved it better than his soul.


John Donne, body politic, body, soul, body/soul dialectic, Biathanatos

Access Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts



Minor, Emphasis, or Concentration

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Kat Lecky