Skip to main content Skip to navigation


This week we will examine – in detail – the contrasting ways in which historians have approached studying religion. How can historians access belief? And what are the methodological problems of doing so? Everyone should read the three key readings – which will form the basis of our discussion and will be disseminated in PDF form – and then explore some of the other suggested readings. You will be divided into groups tasked with two objectives: 1) to summarize the articles key arguments; 2) to consider the approaches and methodologies the historian in question has used in exploring religious belief (or the approaches which they criticise). You will be given time at the beginning of the first seminar to shape your individual findings into an informal group presentation.

Key readings:

J. Bossy, ‘The Mass as a social institution’, Past and Present 100, (1983), pp. 29-61.

B. S. Gregory, 'The other confessional history: on secular bias in the study of religion', History and Theory, 45, pp. 132-149

R. W. Scribner, ‘Elements of popular belief’ in T. Brady (ed.), Handbook of European history, 1400-1600 : late Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation (1994), pp. 231-62.

Suggested readings:

P. Collinson, ‘Popular and Unpopular Religion’ in his, Religion of the Protestants (1982), pp. 189-241.

E. Duffy, ‘Elite and Popular Religion: the Book of Hours and Lay Piety in the Later Middle Ages’, Studies in Church History 42 (2006), 140-61

C. Harline, 'Official religion - popular religion in recent historiography of the Catholic Reformation', Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte/Archive for Reformation History,. 81 (1990), pp. 239-262

W. Reinhard, Wolfgang, 'Pressures towards Confessionalisation? Prolegomena to a theory of the Confessional age' in C Scott Dixon, The German Reformation : the essential readings. (1999)

C. Marsh, Popular religion in sixteenth century England (1998)

M. Aston, Faith and Fire: popular and unpopular religion, 1350-1600 (1993)

R. Muchembled, Popular culture and elite culture in France, 1400-1750 (1985)