Exploring Antiquity and Modernity in Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne


  • Kokila Sehgal Mathur Professor, Department of English Dyal Singh College, University of Delhi




Empirical data, scientific analysis, reason, religion, imagination, metaphysical, hieroglyphs, antiquarian, multidisciplinary.


Sir Thomas Browne was a physician, a man of science as well as a mystic and antiquarian exploring the mystery of Creation, God and the nature of human life. Religio Medici or the Religion of a Doctor (1635), reveals a symbiotic relationship between his rational and scientific mind and his religious beliefs. His mystic speculations and meditative reveries are triggered by his scientific study of anatomy and investigation of Nature, irradiated by a philosophic imagination and penned with a poetic eloquence and verbal felicity of a unique literary artist. Religio Medici is Browne’s spiritual autobiography, a defence of the dignity of individual beliefs, a diary of his soul, noting his spiritual predilections despite his secular calling as a physician. Written solely for his private understanding and satisfaction, the treatise has no didactic intention and ends with a robust affirmation of faith in God’s almighty power. Browne’s quest for knowledge is multidisciplinary: anatomy, physiology, botany, archaeology, geography, natural history, Holy Scripture, music, languages, the classical and the antiquarian. It is the quest for Truth, Janus-faced, where, as a man of medicine, he studies life and death, but then ‘physick’ leads to knowledge of self and the First Cause or God. For Browne, all the scientific study data are visible symbols of an invisible reality: Nature is, after the Bible, the second book of God, and scientific analysis of this universal and public manuscript, the laws of Nature reveal the infallible wisdom of God. Browne’s apologia for science is that the philosophical imagination can, by inductive reasoning from this empirical data, understand the Maker whom he describes as a pencil that never works in vain. Browne’s empirical studies establish his rational bent of mind and also fortify his mystical predilections. Explaining how man is an amphibian who can live in divided worlds simultaneously, he uses the minutiae of scientific analysis and connects the corporeal and spiritual essences, the body and soul being the colony of God. In the quest for truth man can use his diverse faculties of sense, reason and imagination, can embark, as Browne does, on an adventure in both science and religion. The scientist in him studies and deciphers ‘hieroglyphs’ of Nature, and the mystic in him celebrates this miracle and leads him to unshakable faith in God. Nature is the handiwork of God, the perfect geometrician, and its beauty reveals Him as the supreme artist.

The kaleidoscopic perspective of Browne, its metaphysical quality, its inclusive sensibility and a secular approach to diversity resonates with the contemporary mélange of globalization and multiculturalism, desirous of a rational middle ground with which to celebrate the joy and beauty of living.


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How to Cite

Kokila Sehgal Mathur , translator. “Exploring Antiquity and Modernity in Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne”. Creative Saplings, vol. 2, no. 06, June 2023, pp. 59-68, https://doi.org/10.56062/gtrs.2023.2.03.319.

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