Gary Waite

Gary Waite is a prolific, internationally known scholar and author/editor of seven books and over fifty scholarly articles and chapters. He began his research in the Protestant Reformation, and especially its radical variants (Anabaptism and spiritualism), and his subsequent research projects have revealed the interconnectedness of fields typically studied in isolation. He has published not only in the history of religion and religious reform, but also in Dutch literature and drama, demonology, magic and witchcraft, and on Jews and Muslims in the early modern world. Building on his award winning dissertation and then monograph on the Anabaptist career of the Dutch artist and lay religious leader David Joris (c.1501-1556), Waite remains the acknowledged international expert on this controversial individual. Waite has since become interested in Joris’s later spiritualistic career and the reception of his controversial ideas, such as his depreciation of institutional religion or of a literal devil. Branching out from this work, Waite in 1988 embarked on his first SSHRC supported research on the Chambers of Rhetoric, the Netherlands’ influential amateur literary and drama societies, especially in how they adapted and then propagated reform ideas during the first half of the 16th century. Requiring broad reading in the field of drama studies, extensive archival research and the analysis of over 50 early-modern Dutch scripts, Reformers on Stage was the first English-language monograph on these influential dramatists which one reviewer, the specialist Peter Arnade, noted “does double duty as a valuable synthesis and fresh interpretation” that is “of exceptional value to Low Country historians, historians of the urban Reformation, and scholars of popular culture and theatre studies” (Sixteenth Century Journal 33 [2002], 919-20). Waite has subsequently published two chapters elaborating on specific themes from this research, the more recent, “Rhetoricians and Religious Compromise during the Early Reformation (c.1520-1555),” (in Urban Theatre in the Low Countries, 1400-1625, eds. Peter Happé and Elsa Strietman, 2006, 79-102), emphasized the confluence of spiritualistic ideas and urbanites’ desires for prosperity and peace in the unusual drama of the Rhetoricians.

Waite’s subsequent research program (SSHRC, 1993-96) successfully brought together the fields of the Reformation and the witch hunts. With two books and no fewer than fourteen scholarly articles and chapters, Waite is now the acknowledged expert on this subject. Situated at the intersection of popular and learned elite cultures, Waite’s Eradicating the Devil’s Minions (2007/09) compares the persecution of 16th-century Anabaptist heretics with that of witches in early modern Europe. Demonizing propaganda against and persecution of real Anabaptists fed fears of other imagined diabolical conspiracies, although Waite explains why the Dutch Republic was an anomaly due to its unique policy regarding religious conformity. In subsequent publications (most recently his “Sixteenth Century Religious Reform and the Witch-Hunts,” in The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America, ed. Brian Levack, 2013), Waite has explained the puzzle of the gender difference between the two sets of accused, as most arrested Anabaptists were men while witches were predominately women. With this project Waite extended his chronological expertise well into the 17th century on the subjects of demonology, magic and witchcraft, and he is well able to conduct the research on the reception of spiritualistic demonology that is part of this research program.

In 2006 Waite embarked upon his third SSHRC funded project on “The Religious Other in Seventeenth-Century Europe” exploring vernacular publications and governmental records by Flemish, Dutch and English writers relating to Jews and Muslims in the 17th century. He has completed this research, presented nine papers and published seven referred articles/chapters, and aims to finish the monograph during his sabbatical in 2014-2015. In this study Waite discerns important differences in tone and content among the three regions, revealing that the distinctiveness of the Dutch related to their rejection of enforced religious conformity within their borders that then affected how they regarded non-Christians, and this, he argues, was related to the confluence of artisanal and merchant priorities, urban culture and spiritualistic currents flowing through the realm.