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Sources & Concepts


Concepts & Sources for the Study of Premodern Religion (Beat Kümin)

Alongside the thematic sections of the module, this session addresses the study of pre-modern religion from two complementary perspectives: the essential issue of identifying / working with appropriate source materials on the one hand, and prominent conceptual approaches to late medieval / early modern religion on the other. The former will be facilitated by student-led examinations of specific types of records (which might include confessions of faith, canon law legislation, church court proceedings, religious peace agreements, theological pamphlets, Reformation-age woodcuts, heresy trials, diaries, wills …), the latter exemplified by scholarly attempts to measure the ‘success’ of the Reformation, the much-debated paradigm of confessionalization and endeavours to distinguish between elite / popular religion.

Reserch Questions

• What kinds of sources do historians have for engaging with religious beliefs and practices in the more distant past?
• Which concepts and theories help us to make sense of pre-modern religion?
• How, if at all, does pre-modern religion differ from its manifestations today?

Seminar Task

• Prepare to give a short (max. 5 mins) presentation on ONE genre / type of primary source illuminating aspects of religious beliefs or practices

Core Text

T. Johnson, ‘Religion’, in: G. Walker (ed.), Writing Early Modern History (London, 2005), 139-58

Further Reading

P. Collinson, ‘Religion, Society and the Historian’, Journal of Religious History 23 (1999), 149-67

E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c. 1400-c. 1580 (2nd ed., New Haven, 2005), esp. ch. ‘Corporate Christians’

L. Sangha & J. Willis (eds), Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources (London, 2016)

W.A. Christian, Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain (1981)

N.Z. Davis, ‘Some Tasks and Themes in the Study of Popular Religion’, in C. Trinkhaus & H.A. Oberman (eds), The Pursuit of Holiness in Late Medieval and Renaissance Religion (1974).

C. Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (English trans., 1980).

D. Hacke, ‘Church, space and conflict: Religious co-existence and political communication in 17thC Switzerland’, German History 25 (2007), 285-312

Joel F. Harrington; H. Smith, ‘Confessionalization, community and state building in Germany 1555-1870’, in: Journal of Modern History 69 (1997)

P. Marshall, ‘Religious Cultures’, in: B. Kümin (ed.), The European World 1500-1800 (2nd edn, London, 2014), 134-45

D. Mayes, Communal Christianity: The life and loss of a peasant vision in early modern Germany (Leiden: Brill Academic, 2004).

G. Parker, ‘Success and Failure During the First Century of the Reformation’, Past & Present, 136 (1992), 43-82.

W. Reinhard, 'Pressures towards Confessionalization? Prolegomena to a Theory of the Confessional Age', in Scott Dixon (ed.), The German Reformation (1999), 169-192

M. Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (1991).

H. Schilling, ‘Confessionalization’, in his: Religion, Political Culture and the Emergence of Early Modern Society (1992)

R.W. Scribner, Popular Culture and Popular Movements in Reformation Germany (1987).

G. Strauss, ‘Success and failure in the German Reformation’, Past & Present 67 (1975)

K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England (1971), chs 1-9.