Dr Michelle Pfeffer


I am an intellectual historian with research interests in the history of early modern science, religion, and scholarship. My research explores how the humanities, as much as the sciences, have played a key role in many of the developments we associate with modernity. My doctoral research, which examined some of the first and most influential people in England to deny the existence of the immortal human soul, revealed the important role of humanist scholarship in the emergence of modern views of the human mind and body.

I am currently pursuing two further projects. The first is an intellectual biography of William Warburton (1698–1779), a clergyman who became a major celebrity as a result of his controversial claims about the Old Testament. The second project examines the decline of astrology as an accepted scientific field in the seventeenth century.

My research engages closely with university disputations, and in addition to these projects I am also preparing a digital edition of the records of Oxford student disputations from the early modern period.


‘The Pentateuch and the Immortality of the Soul in England and the Dutch Republic: The Confessionalisation of a Claim’, in Beyond Ancients and Moderns: Comparative Approaches to the Reception of the Classical Tradition in Early Modern Europe, c. 1600–1750, eds., Ian Maclean and Dmitri Levitin (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

‘Paganism, Natural Reason, and Immortality: Charles Blount and John Toland’s Histories of the Soul’, Intellectual History Review 2020 (issue not yet assigned).

‘Christian Materialism and the Prospect of Immortality’, 148–61 in Science without God? Rethinking the History of Scientific Naturalism, eds., Peter Harrison and Jon Roberts (Oxford University Press, 2019).

‘Physicians and the Soul: Medicine and Spirituality in Seventeenth-Century England’, 15–28 in Medicine, Health and Being Human, ed. Lesa Scholl (Routledge, 2018).

In the Media

‘Before epidemiologists began modelling disease, it was the job of astrologers’, The Conversation, 19 May 2020