Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa



This essay is a critical historiographical overview of the ongoing debate about the role of the Protestant Reformation in the process of ‘the disenchantment of the world’. It considers the development of this thesis in the work of Max Weber and subsequent scholars, its links with wider claims about the origins of modernity, and the challenges to this influential paradigm that have emerged in the last twenty-five years. Setting the literature on England within its wider European context, it explores the links between Protestantism and the transformation of assumptions about the sacred and the supernatural, and places renewed emphasis on the equivocal and ambiguous legacy left by the upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Attention is also paid to the ways in which the Reformation converged with other intellectual, cultural, political, and social developments which cumulatively brought about subtle, but decisive, transformations in individual and collective mentalities. It is suggested that thinking in terms of cycles of desacralization and resacralization may help to counteract the potential distortions of a narrative that emphasizes a linear path of development.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Available formats
Corresponding author
Department of History, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Gerald Strauss , ‘Success and failure in the German Reformation’, Past and Present, 67 (1975), pp. 3063

Christopher Haigh , ‘Success and failure in the English Reformation’, Past and Present, 173 (2001), pp. 2849

Jonathan Clark , ‘Providence, predestination and progress: or, did the Enlightenment fail?’, Albion, 35 (2003), pp. 559–89

Alexandra Walsham , ‘Miracles and the Counter Reformation mission to England’, Historical Journal, 46 (2003), pp. 779815

Andrew Keitt , ‘Religious enthusiasm, the Spanish Inquisition, and the disenchantment of the world’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 65 (2004), pp. 231–50

Alexander Murray , ‘Missionaries and magic in Dark-Age Europe’, Past and Present, 136 (1992), pp. 186205

John Van Engen , ‘The Christian middle ages as an historiographical problem’, American Historical Review, 91 (1986), pp. 519–52

Dyan Elliot , ‘Seeing double: John Gerson, the discernment of spirits, and Joan of Arc’, American Historical Review, 107 (2002), pp. 2654

Susan Reynolds , ‘Social mentalities and the case of medieval scepticism’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., 1 (1991), pp. 2141

Richard Kieckhefer , ‘The specific rationality of medieval magic’, American Historical Review, 99 (1994), pp. 813–36

John Walter , ‘“Abolishing superstition with sedition”? The politics of popular iconoclasm in England, 1640–1642’, Past and Present, 183 (2004), pp. 79123

Peter Marshall , ‘Forgery and miracles in the reign of Henry VIII’, Past and Present, 178 (2003), pp. 3973

Helen Parish , ‘“Impudent and abominable fictions”: rewriting saints’ lives in the English Reformation', Sixteenth Century Journal, 32 (2001), pp. 4565

Lorraine Daston , ‘Marvelous facts and miraculous evidence in early modern Europe’, Critical Enquiry, 18 (1991), pp. 93124

Thomas S. Freeman , ‘Fate, faction and fiction in Foxe's Book of Martyrs’, Historical Journal, 43 (2000), pp. 601–23

R. W. Scribner , ‘Incombustible Luther: the image of the reformer in early modern Germany’, Past and Present, 110 (1986), pp. 3868

Hyder E. Rollins , ‘Notes on some English accounts of miraculous fasts’, Journal of American Folklore, 34 (1921), pp. 357–76

John Bossy , ‘The mass as a social institution, 1200–1700’, Past and Present, 100 (1983), pp. 2961

Robert Zaller , ‘Breaking the vessels: the desacralization of monarchy in early modern England’, Sixteenth Century Journal, 29 (1998), pp. 757–78

Jens Chr V. Johansen , ‘Holy springs and Protestantism in early modern Denmark: a medical rationale for a religious practice’, Medical History, 41 (1997), pp. 5969

Michael Heyd , ‘The reaction to enthusiasm in the seventeenth century: towards an integrative approach’, Journal of Modern History, 53 (1981), pp. 258–80

Ronald Hutton , ‘The English Reformation and the evidence of folklore’, Past and Present, 148 (1995), pp. 89116

Michael MacDonald , ‘Insanity and the realities of history in early modern England’, Psychological Medicine, 11 (1981), pp. 1125

Daniel Woolf , ‘A feminine past? Gender, genre, and historical knowledge in England, 1500–1800’, American Historical Review, 102 (1997), pp. 645–79

Lyndal Roper , ‘“Evil imaginings and fantasies”: child-witches and the end of the witch craze’, Past and Present, 167 (2000), pp. 107–39

Alison Winter , ‘Mesmerism and popular culture in early Victorian England’, History of Science, 32 (1994), pp. 317–43

Moody E. Prior , ‘Joseph Glanvill, witchcraft, and seventeenth-century science’, Modern Philology, 30 (1932), pp. 167–93

M. C. Jacob and J. R. Jacob , ‘The Anglican origins of modern science’, Isis, 71 (1980), pp. 251–67

Thomas Harmon Jobe , ‘The devil in Restoration science: the Glanvill–Webster witchcraft debate’, Isis, 72 (1981), pp. 342–56

Simon Schaffer , ‘Godly men and mechanical philosophers: souls and spirits in Restoration natural philosophy’, Science in Context, 1 (1987), pp. 5585

Peter Dear , ‘Miracles, experiments, and the ordinary course of nature’, Isis, 81 (1990), pp. 663–83

Andrew Cunningham , ‘How the Principia got its name; or, taking natural philosophy seriously’, History of Science, 29 (1991), pp. 377–92

Harold Fisch , ‘The scientist as priest: a note on Robert Boyle's natural philosophy’, Isis, 44 (1953), pp. 252–65

Leigh Eric Schmidt , ‘From demon possession to magic show: ventriloquism, religion, and the Enlightenment’, Church History, 67 (1998), pp. 274304

Peter Lamont , ‘Spiritualism and a mid-Victorian crisis of evidence’, Historical Journal, 47 (2004), pp. 897920

Irving Kirsch , ‘Demonology and science during the Scientific Revolution’, Journal of the History of the Behavioural Sciences, 16 (1980), pp. 359–68

David Kubrin , ‘Newton and the cyclical cosmos: providence and the mechanical philosophy’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 28 (1967), pp. 325–46

Peter Harrison , ‘Newtonian science, miracles and the laws of nature’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 56 (1995), pp. 531–53

Jonathan Sheehan , ‘Enlightenment, religion, and the enigma of secularization: a review essay’, American Historical Review, 108 (2003), pp. 1057–60

H. C. Greisman , ‘“Disenchantment of the world”: Romanticism, aesthetics and sociological theory’, British Journal of Sociology, 27 (1976), pp. 495507

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 101
Total number of PDF views: 775 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1184 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.