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Nicholas Watson is a professor of English at Harvard University whose principal field is medieval studies. His general scholarly interests are in literary and intellectual history, medieval theology, mystical and visionary writing, and the development of vernacular languages.
As a Radcliffe fellow, Watson will complete a study called “Balaam’s Ass: Vernacular Theology and the Secularization of England, 1050–1550.” This study of the vernacular religious writing produced in several languages in England over a five-hundred-year period tracks the relationship between uses of vernacular language and the phenomenon of secularization, or laicization—whereby the focus of the Western Christian Church increasingly shifted toward the evangelization and instruction of the laity—and the consequences of that process.
British by birth, Watson moved to Canada in the mid-1980s and studied and taught for more than fifteen years at several universities there, including the University of Western Ontario. His early studies—which resulted in a monograph, Richard Rolle and the Invention of Authority (Cambridge University Press, 1991), and a scholarly translation, Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Works (Paulist Press, 1991)—won him the John Charles Polanyi Prize, a major Canadian award for young scholars. His subsequent work has been influential in the rising field of medieval vernacular studies, particularly in its deployment of “vernacular theology,” which has been the topic of a number of books, articles, and conferences. Watson studied at the University of Cambridge and Oxford University and earned his PhD at the University of Toronto.