Where darkness is as light
: approaching the divine in the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

  • James Gordon Smoker

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This dissertation explores how the British Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) pursued the divine, as shown in his poetry, notebooks, letters, and prose. I also consider the reception of Coleridge’s pursuit across secondary literature, bringing together the ways it has been elevated, ignored, and disputed. Coleridge wrote about the light of God’s reason, the logos, illuminating human minds, but he also struggled with deep doubts, unworthiness, and despair. Scholars have wrestled over whether he truly apprehended the divine light or is an example of its never attainable, even illusory, nature. I argue that both light and darkness must be taken seriously in accounting for his pursuit of the divine—that the darkness is vital to a full theological reading of his work, even as it does not have the final word over the light.

The structure of this dissertation, then, is shaped by these images of light and dark, and how Coleridge both found and struggled to grasp the divine in each. In order to set the stage regarding accounts for Coleridgean light and darkness, my first chapter is a literature review that surveys the field of those who are sympathetic to Coleridge’s religious pursuit and those who are not, considering where they meet, diverge, and ignore one another. The second and third chapters focus on the light of knowing God, where Coleridge described the illumination of God’s “down-shine” upon his creation and where humans are limited in their apprehension of this light. The fourth and fifth chapters turn to the dark of the imagination, where sin, eternal separation from God, and the possibility of the divine being illusory threaten to destabilize Coleridge’s pursuit, but also where the darkness of unknowing becomes a place of impossible hope.
Date of Award11 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorJudith Wolfe (Supervisor) & Gavin Richard Hopps (Supervisor)


  • Imagination
  • Coleridge
  • Poetry
  • Prayer
  • Fairy
  • Romanticism
  • Theology
  • Faith
  • Doubt

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 12 April 2029

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