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Level 7

7AAH2023 Divided by Faith? The Age of Religious Violence in Early Modern Europe

Credit value: 20 credits
Module convenor/tutor (2019/20): Dr Joan Redmond
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminars (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 4,000-word essay
Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.
The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

This module examines early modern Britain and Europe through the lens of religious conflict. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have often been described as an age of religious war, as the working-out of Reformation precipitated religious, social and political divisions, that could and did manifest themselves violently. Violence was directed against people, with massacres and mass executions tactics in the hands of both Protestants and Catholics, but it was also aimed at other parts of the fabric of religious life, from the iconoclasm unleashed on religious statues, images and stained glass, to the politics of sacred space from the dissolution of the monasteries in England and Ireland, to the tensions surrounding shared burial grounds in France and Germany. This module proposes to investigate several key areas touching religious conflict:

  • It will ask what exactly was ‘religious’ about these conflicts, and explores the intersection of political, economic and social issues, and questions the label ‘religious war’;
  • It will examine the nature of iconoclasm and other forms of religious violence, including conflicts surrounding sacred space, the relationship between the living and the dead, and the contested nature of worship;
  • It will investigate the role of both state and non-state actors in religious conflict, such as the emergence of ‘resistance theory’ especially associated with Calvinism that legitimised rebellion, and the role of ‘official’ persecution of religious difference;
  • Responses to conflict will be examined, ranging from the supernatural and providential discourses, to the critical importance of martyrdom in creating and validating religious communities;
  • It will also consider non-violence and tolerance, examining instances of restraint, and the important concepts of neighbourliness and ‘getting along’.

 This module will bring together perspectives from religious, political, cultural and social history among others, together with concepts and questions from theology, social sciences and literature. It will adopt a comparative framework, examining instances of religious conflict but always encouraging a comparative, analytical dimension that considers such events in relation to one another, and to shaping the period as a whole. Topics will provisionally include iconoclasm, the French Wars of Religion, the Thirty Years’ War, Wars of the Three Kingdoms, martyrdom, and tolerance and intolerance.

Provisional teaching plan

  1. Reformation & religion in early modern Europe – antecedents to persecution
  2. Official violence: the state and persecution
  3. Iconoclasm: war against the idols
  4. Calvinism, resistance theory and the French Wars of Religion
  5. The Thirty Year’ War
  6. Conversion & the New World
  7. 1641 and the Irish Rebellion
  8. The Wars of the Three Kingdoms: the last ‘war of religion’?
  9. Martyrdom
  10. Tolerance and intolerance

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these texts is not mandatory.

Alexandra Walsham, Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England, 1500-1700 (2006)

Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France (1975)

Benjamin Kaplan: Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe (2009)

Brad Gregory, Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (1999)

Barbara Diefendorf, Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris (1991)

Tom Hamilton, Pierre de L’Estoile and His World in the Wars of Religion (2017)

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