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Belief in the Reformation Era: Reflections on the State of Confessionalization

  • Helmut Puff (a1)
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That Christian religion pervaded many, if not most, aspects of life in sixteenth-century Europe, even the lives of those who were not Christian, is undisputed. “From birth to death stretched a long chain of ceremonies, traditions, customs, and observances, all of them Christian or Christianized, and they bound a man in spite of himself, held him captive even if he claimed to be free,” as Lucien Febvre remarked in 1942 in The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century. Most everyone, including the French writer François Rabelais—the subject of Febvre's study—understood their own existence within the divine order. Accordingly, “a world without God” made little or no sense. Even if, pace Febvre, early modern people occasionally entertained the idea that there was no God, individuals rarely faced charges of atheism, as Francisca Loetz has shown. Our task in researching early modern religion is, then, to chart religious thought, practice, and experience as a complex and capacious phenomenon—its scope, shape, contours, and dynamics.

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References
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1 Febvre, Lucien, The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth-Century: The Religion of Rabelais, trans. Gottlieb, Beatrice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), 336.

2 Loetz, Francisca, Dealings with God: From Blasphemers in Early Modern Zurich to a Cultural History of Religiousness, trans. Selle, Rosemary (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 236.

3 Schilling, Heinz, “Confessional Europe,” in Handbook of European History 1400–1600: Late Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation, vol. 2: Visions, Programs, and Outcomes, ed. Brady, Thomas A. Jr., Oberman, Heiko A., and Tracy, James D. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 641.

4 Ibid., 643.

5 For a useful overview, see Lotz-Heumann, Ute, “Confessionalization,” in Reformation and Early Modern Europe: A Guide to Research, ed. Whitford, David M. (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2008), 136–57. She introduces the term Gesellschaftsgeschichte on pp. 136, 138.

6 Elias, Norbert, The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations, trans. Jephcott, Edmund (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000); Oestreich, Gerhard, Neostoicism and the Early Modern State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982); Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Sheridan, Alan (New York: Vintage, 1977); Hamm, Berndt, “Normative Centering in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries: Observations on Religiosity, Theology, and Iconology,” trans. Frymire, John M., Journal of Early Modern History 3, no. 4 (1999): 307–54. For a study that brings several such approaches into dialogue, see Gorski, Philip S., The Disciplinary Revolution: Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

7 Sabean, David W., “Production of the Self during the Age of Confessionalism,” Central European History (CEH) 29, no. 1 (1996): 3.

8 Forster, Marc R., “The Elite and Popular Foundations of German Catholicism in the Age of Confessionalism: The Reichskirche,” CEH 26, no. 3 (1993): 315.

9 Lotz-Heumann, Ute and Pohlig, Matthias, “Confessionalization and Literature in the Empire, 1555–1700,” CEH 40, no. 1 (2007): 3561.

10 This is a point made in Spohnholz, Jesse, The Tactics of Toleration: A Refugee Community in the Age of Religious Wars (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2011).

11 For the Urban Reformation, see Close, Christopher W., The Negotiated Reformation: Imperial Cities and the Politics of Urban Reform, 1525–1550 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

12 Kaplan, Benjamin, Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007). See also idem, Fictions of Privacy: House Chapels and the Spatial Accommodation of Religious Dissent in Early Modern Europe,” American Historical Review 107, no. 4 (2002): 1031–64.

13 Dixon, C. Scott, “Urban Order and Religious Coexistence in the German Imperial City: Augsburg and Donauwörth, 1548–1608,” CEH 40, no. 1 (2007): 133.

14 See, e.g., Christman, Robert J., Doctrinal Controversy and Lay Religiosity in Late Reformation Germany: The Case of Mansfeld (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

15 Müntzer, Thomas, Collected Works, ed. and trans. Matheson, Peter (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 55; idem, Briefwechsel, ed. Bräuer, Siegfried and Kobuch, Manfred (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2011), 159.

16 Quoted in Wandel, Lee Palmer, The Eucharist in the Reformation: Incarnation and Liturgy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 65.

17 Ibid., 46–93.

18 Luebke, David M., Hometown Religion: Regimes of Coexistence in Early Modern Westphalia (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016), 74103.

19 Lanzinner, Maximilian, “A Man without Confession in the Age of Confessionalization?,” CEH 36, no. 4 (2003): 544.

20 See also Rublack, Ulinka, The Astronomer and the Witch: Johannes Kepler's Fight for His Mother (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

21 Ginzburg, Carlo, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, trans. John, and Tedeschi, Anne (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 11.

22 Marjorie E. Plummer, “Where Are They Now? The Experiences of Protestant and Catholic Nuns after Confronting the Reformation,” unpublished paper at the 2017 Sixteenth Century Studies Conference, Milwaukee, WI, Oct. 26, 2017.

23 Steidele, Angela, In Männerkleidern: Das verwegene Leben der Catharina Margaretha Linck alias Anastasius Lagrantinus Rosenstengel, hingerichtet 1721: Biographie und Dokumente (Cologne: Böhlau, 2004).

24 On this topic, see Luebke, David M., Poley, Jared, Ryan, Daniel C., and Sabean, David W., eds., Conversion and the Politics of Religion in Early Modern Germany (New York: Berghahn, 2012).

25 Schilling, Heinz, “Confessionalization in the Empire: Religious and Societal Change in Germany between 1555 and 1620,” in Religion, Political Culture and the Emergence of Early Modern Society: Essays in German and Dutch History (Leiden: Brill, 1992), 209.

26 Lotz-Heumann, “Confessionalization,” 149.

27 See also Forster, Marc, Gordon, Bruce, Harrington, Joel, Kaufmann, Thomas, and Lotz-Heumann, Ute, “Religious History beyond Confessionalization,” German History 32, no. 4 (2014): 579–98.

28 Febvre, The Problem of Unbelief, 335.

29 As one example among many, see Karant-Nunn, Susan C., The Reformation of Feeling: Shaping the Religious Emotions in Early Modern Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

30 For a good example of this kind of work, see Lambert, Erin, Singing the Resurrection: Body, Community, and Belief in Reformation Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

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Central European History
  • ISSN: 0008-9389
  • EISSN: 1569-1616
  • URL: /core/journals/central-european-history
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