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date: 25 February 2021


Abstract and Keywords

This handbook provides a novel approach by treating the Protestant Reformations as a broad movement within and beyond Europe which aimed to create new knowledge, ideas, and practices in relation to what it conceived as supernatural and divine. The handbook gives voice to the distinctness of a historically situated set of beliefs and investigations into the nature of the divine and evil, formed in particular sites, through particular interpretative communities, institutions, and media of communication, rooted in interaction with symbols and the imaginary of the time. It brings to life the plurality and vitality of ideas which remained. In these ways, the handbook stresses that the Protestant Reformations in all their variety, and with their important “radical” wings, must be understood as one of the lasting long-term historical transformations which changed Europe and, subsequently, significant parts of the world. A global and connected account of the Reformations is long overdue.

Keywords: cultural history of the Reformations, Martin Luther, Reformed traditions, radical traditions, global history

In 1542, the Reformer Martin Luther reflected on a story about St. Francis of Assisi. It recounted how the monk had been so tempted by sexual thoughts that he had gone out into the snow to make several snowmen. He called them his wife and children, and told himself: “O Francis, look, you have a wife and child whom you must now support by your labours and efforts; then your carnal desire and lust will leave you.” Luther was repulsed. Francis seemed like a child who took fabrications for real. Just like children use dolls to furnish elaborate stories in which they imagine behaving as adults, so Francis seemed to play out a fantasy of how he would provide for a family instead of begging to sustain his life among allegedly celibate men. To Luther, who made much of his doctoral degree, paid university work, and busy domestic life in Wittenberg with his wife, children, students, and constant visitors, all this revealed that Francis of Assisi had been “uneducated and inexperienced.” He had filled the world with equally “childish,” “foolish” works to obscure the true Christian faith. “We now dare pass judgement upon such great saints,” Luther exclaimed: Francis should have recognized that he was human. This meant accepting that mankind lived in the shadow of Adam’s Fall from Paradise and in the “common sickness of the world.” The German Reformer hoped that a merciful God had saved fool Francis, for “then we, too,” he reassured followers, “should not despair” (Figure 1.1).1

This story neatly encapsulates some defining elements of the Protestant Reformations. The Reformations produced confessional difference by depicting Catholicism as a force which misled people to follow an unchristian faith. The papacy was demonic. A spiritual path marked by poverty, good works, and chastity was no longer sanctified—its pretense of perfection was simply deemed impossible. Original sin powerfully disabled reason and amplified desires. Piety could therefore only express itself through desperate belief in God’s grace. Marriage and work provided a Christian way of life; the end of the world was imminent. This different approach as to how the divine could be honored and known constituted a momentous break not only with medieval traditions, but many world religions. As a result, the Protestant Reformations have long been regarded as one of the most profound forces of mental, social, and political change in the past. (p. 2)


Figure 1.1 Lucas Cranach the Younger, Martin Luther, woodcut, 14.4 × 14 cm, ca. 1550.

Small portraits of this kind were designed to be pasted into bibles or on walls and were key to the commemorative cults spreading from Wittenberg.

By kind permission of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Protestantism emerged from the way in which many religious concerns and institutional church practices were subject to vibrant medieval discussions and contested intellectual traditions; it continued to pluralize Christianity and reshaped the world. Given the great spectrum of ideas in these movements, the modern connotations of the word “Protestant” as a collective noun to describe all those groups who broke away from the Roman Church in the sixteenth century of course would have horrified Reformers (see Holt, Chapter 11). Even so, we can identify some more broadly shared ideals and significant changes, which ranged from claims about the centrality of the Bible for faith to an endorsement that sacred texts should be substantially mediated in non-classical languages, for the benefit of the majority of people, who were illiterate and only knew their (p. 3) own tongue. Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament in 1522 and the complete Wittenberg Bible in 1534 were landmark achievements. The idea of purgatory was abolished as a greedy invention.

In major Protestant faiths this went along with the reduction in the number of sacraments from seven to two (baptism and the Eucharist) and an insistence that the Eucharist must be offered to the laity in “both kinds” through bread and wine. Those confessing their sins were not required to enumerate individual sins; there was no concern about degrees of contrition and no penance was imposed. Preaching and communion gained a new centrality in church services, sometimes alongside vernacular singing by the congregation. Ordered families began to be regarded as microcosms of the perfect state and thus gained great political relevance. Convents, monasteries, and confraternities were abolished to make heterosexual family life and men’s superior authority the norm.

The sheer size of the clergy was thus dramatically reduced. Clerical learning was controlled through university education in which the contents of learning substantially changed. As Protestantism argued that the papacy as an institution was heretical and corrupt, it briefly empowered laypeople as legitimate interpreters of the faith and then forged new church hierarchies. These continued to allow access only to men—but their social background began to matter less than their education, and scholarship systems for expanding schools and university allowed for some social mobility even from the lower-middle classes. High-ranking clergymen were no longer appointed by Rome, and were required to be theologians. Feast days were gradually reduced to Sundays and key holidays, while pilgrimages and processions were abolished. So were indulgences or the official sanctification of individuals. Clerical marriage became the norm. Church property was taken over by secular authorities and created new financial resources. In some areas, the power of church courts was reduced and helped to centralize secular power in the process of state formation. Last but not least, Reformations confronted Europeans with the fact that Christianity contained radically different truth claims—among Protestants, among Protestants and Catholics, and among all these faiths and Eastern Orthodox Christians. This meant that the history of and arguments embedded in truth claims were constantly reconstructed and questioned. Eventually this contributed to the emergence of intellectual positions which recognize religions as cultural systems of meaning and explore their ideas, tensions, and limitations.

Despite these momentous changes it makes no sense to think of Protestantism in itself as an invariably modern, individualizing, liberating force and moral achievement. Leopold von Ranke’s (1795‒1886) view in 1854 that “Protestantism, as evolved in Switzerland and Germany” did not suit “Southern nations, and less cultivated countries as such” remains testimony to the chauvinism which has often colored historical judgment of a movement which many writers continue to feel deeply emotional about and evaluate as a watershed for Western civilization. For Ranke, the Reformation had been the German nation’s task to restore the purity of revelation.2 Three decades later a Pennsylvanian pastor announced on the four hundredth anniversary of Luther’s birth in 1883: “If there had been no Luther in Germany, there would have been no Washington in America.”3

(p. 4) Current scholarship critically questions such Protestant myth-making and memory cultures and turns away from linear grand narratives in which the Reformation provides clear stepping stones toward progress, human freedom, democracy, toleration, market capitalism and cultural superiority in the West, and Catholicism figures as a reactionary force (see also Burgess, Chapter 5). It pays more attention to links between Protestants and Catholics, in Europe as much as in Anglo-Iberian colonizations.4 Critical grand narratives which argue that Protestantism contributed to a “failed Western modernity” are more rarely defended, although recently Brad Gregory has prominently asserted that secularization, consumerism, and hyper-pluralist relativism form the Reformation’s unintended and deeply deplorable legacies.5

Yet concepts of modernity which rely on the notion of secularization are to be approached with caution and qualifications.6 At the beginning of the twenty-first century it remains easy to complicate the notion that living in a “modern” age means inhabiting a “secular” world. Faith-based issues remain extremely important in American politics and diplomacy. India’s liberal democracy sees frequent religious riots. The dwindling church membership witnessed in some contemporary European societies meanwhile can be regarded as indicative of beliefs which are transforming into newly spiritualized ideas about personhood, healing, or death rather than testifying to outright religious decline. “Unchurching” populations can still regard their lives as connected to supernatural forces and form vibrant non-affiliated spiritual groups.7 What we really need to understand is how categories of the “religious” or “secular” have been constructed by whom, when, to what end, and which attitudes, definitions, and regulation such concepts affect8 (see also Lotz-Heumann, Chapter 33).

Historians therefore do well to approach Protestant beliefs since the Reformation in terms of their own time and as furnishing particular concepts of confessional difference, of the sacred, selfhood and the sensuous, the heterodox and orthodox, the rational and irrational, temporal and eternal, in Europe and beyond. These processes of definition, demarcation, and debate continue to unfold globally, as Protestantism is nothing locked in an early modern past or a Western story—its varieties enjoy tremendous popularity in Asia, Africa, the United States, and Latin America. Between 1965 and 2000, for instance, the number of Protestants in Africa rose phenomenally from twenty-one million to one hundred and ten million people. The “average Anglican nowadays is a 24 year old African woman,” reports the Sunday Times, while born-again Africans often want to convince the West to rescue its overly liberal Christians from its “supposed apostasy.”9 Tanzania is home country to the second largest Lutheran Church in the world. Two-thirds of Korean Christians identify as Protestants, and cultivate five main strands of theology and active missions.10

Europe’s early modern Protestantisms provide no homogenous point of “pure” origin and authenticity for these strands of global and transnational Christianity. Protestantisms have supported diverse alliances between state and church or para-churches. They have gone different paths in marking difference from or excluding specific groups, in mapping out internal hierarchies, interfaith relations, attitudes toward science and commerce, or moral discourses on issues such as social inequality (p. 5) or ethnicized politics. They have sustained very different approaches to the question of how God comes alive to people individually or collectively and through what practices the supernatural can be known.11

This means that a history of the Protestant Reformations is not about “one tradition” and legacy and not even without qualifications about a dominating tradition constructed through static core beliefs, but permanent processes of adaptation, development, consolidation, and the questioning of religious practices and ideas which we actively discover and interpret from our particular position in the present. It is possible to identify broader platforms of some more agreed mainstream ideas and practices. These can likewise be identified for the radical spectrum, characterized by its more literal approach to the Bible, or radical spiritualism, the distance to clericalism and the state, for instance (see Dixon, Chapter 10). Yet the authors in this handbook keep pointing to the fact that none of these traditions—ranging from Bohemian Utraquism to Pietists and spiritualists in America, or Lutheranism and Reformed churches, as well as ideas about political obedience—are as monolithic or coherent as they used to be portrayed. A historical project of this kind thus traces processes rather than fixed identities and points to rather more eclectic intellectual trajectories. Exactly whether and how past legacies—which include a broad spectrum of ideas and practices ranging from mysticism to millenarianism—link to contemporary Protestantisms, or how they are constructed in memory cultures are important historical questions to be asked as linear accounts of modernization and rationalization have ceased to be compelling. Each strand of the historical developments we can trace was replete with possibilities and limitations. Some strands became more dominant than others for a time, or lost and later regained significance. In North America, radicalism thus would turn into a force “the very heart” of Protestantism. In Germany, radical ideas influenced later seventeenth-century Pietism and eventually public religion more widely (see Dixon, Chapter 10). Future developments likewise can be described as uncertain and open to renewal.12

In gathering perspectives on layered temporal changes in different milieux through different actors, this handbook reflects how much the writing of religious history has diversified during the past decades. It has considerably widened in scope chronologically as well as geographically, and presents Luther as one of several influential Reformers, ranging from Hus and Zwingli, Melanchthon, Müntzer, and Calvin to Comenius, William Penn, or Rebecca Protten, a former slave who became an extremely successful Moravian preacher in the Caribbean and beyond (Figure 1.2). In its scope, this handbook is the most ambitious attempt yet to capture early modern Protestantisms’ complex geographies, by incorporating its global dimensions and following the itineraries of this faith from Massachusetts Bay to Danish St. Thomas in the Caribbean, Formosa in what is now Taiwan, Africa or Arctic missions (see in particular Häberlein, Chapter 17; Wiesner-Hanks, Chapter 36). Those wishing to understand why this handbook includes no map should turn to Graeme Murdock’s discussion in Chapter 6, which includes a brilliant critique of previous attempts to cartographically represent neat and clear geographical boundaries for particular confessions even within Europe. (p. 6)


Figure 1.2 Johann Valentin Haidt, The Protten Family, ca. 1751.

Rebecca Protten (b. 1718) preached to enslaved Africans in the West Indies, married a Moravian preacher and moved with him to the Saxon community of Herrnhut, where this portrait was painted.

By kind permission of the Cover Archives, Herrnhut.

The handbook also includes a far wider spectrum of ideas and practices than is common. Many new accounts in Reformation history are methodologically grounded in the anthropology of religion, materiality, and emotions. They are also bound up with a new approach to the history of great Reformers. Just as we no longer write the history of science predominantly in terms of the achievements of isolated geniuses who created knowledge about nature drawing on singular mental gifts, so we can see the making of religious knowledge to a significant extent as products of human society. Religious knowledge is always constructed within particular networks and in relation to their place in social and intellectual structures, by people who make use of ideas, information, and techniques as much as imaginative forms of engagement which are available to them in that society. “Knowledge” here is to be understood in its broadest sense, as assemblage of ways and techniques of knowing what is taken to be the supernatural, the divine, or demonic, for instance.

This allows us to ask who was able to stabilize competing notions that such knowledge was “truthful” knowledge at particular points and why, who managed to legitimize themselves as “religious expert,” and how such claims to truthful religious knowledge (p. 7) and expertise were contested. How was spiritual authority secured? Who was excluded by claims about what constituted “pure” evangelical teaching and what hierarchies existed in relation to those who were included? How were careers and systems of patronage reconfigured? A history of religious truth claims is thus bound up with questions of power, contestation, and group building, rather than individuality and free conscience in our modern sense: about which sites, media, and institutions shaped debates, for instance (see Pettegree, Chapter 18).

This approach leads next to the question of how beliefs about a truthful religion were informed by and gave shape to personal experiences. How, for example, did belief resolve into gestures, habits, and temperament, ingrained by practices of spiritual preparation such as learning and daily repetition?13 Acts embody and build up specific ideals about the way in which communities of believers locate themselves on earth in relation to the divine. The ways in which Protestants made religion “happen in their world” and relevant to truth claims about their religion therefore can be studied through concrete acts which involve their bodies, material culture, gendered identifications, spaces, and texts through which religion becomes present in imaginative forms.14 We can point to rules about what Protestants were expected to feel where and how, how these rules about restraint and intensification might have shaped actual emotions, and what status emotions were given to “know” the supernatural.15 Such perspectives particularly highlight the value of culturally historical approaches (see Roodenburg, Chapter 31; Koslofsky, Chapter 28). These allow us to better understand the spectrum of experiences and ideas involved in what it meant to live as Protestant during the early modern period and a transforming world.

This handbook covers the “long Reformation” period from ca. 1400 to ca. 1750. Several contributions emphasize the importance of the earlier Bohemian Reformations as well as long ingrained aspirations for a universal reformation in the Holy Roman Empire alongside the influence of inherited prophetic practices and assumptions which were now super-charged (see Louthan, Chapter 7; Hotson, Chapter 15; Barnes, Chapter 4). Yet the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries provide a particular focus as central time for the initial developments of faiths which began to be called “Protestant.” Most contributions explore the Protestant Reformations in relation to the Catholic Renewal before and after Trent (Chapter 13 by Philip M. Soergel in addition focuses entirely on this subject). They repeatedly point to areas of convergence among Protestants and Catholics and continuities which have been obscured by narratives of radical confessional difference, and thus pluralize our understanding of Catholicism. A rich and current handbook historiography covers the astounding dynamics of Catholic change, the seriousness of many reforms, its global reach as much as disciplinary grip.16 This handbook in turn provides up-to-date surveys on a rich field of key themes to explore the complexities of early modern Protestantisms in innovative ways to serve as point of orientation for readers as well as inspiring new research.

As in the Oxford Handbook of Medieval Christianity, published in 2014, chapters follow a thematic rather than chronological order.17 Some authors present broad overviews, while others embed case studies within their accounts to rethink concepts, such as rationality, “superstition,” or sensorial experience. Familiar building blocks of our (p. 8) understanding of Protestantism are covered in authoritative chapters on Lutheranism, the Swiss Reformation, Anabaptism, or print, while other contributions foreground themes such as the body or commerce as part of a Protestant political economy, which have never previously featured in handbooks on the Reformation.

Six parts will hopefully make it easier to navigate the thirty-seven contributions by historians of theology, of political thought and ideas as well as societies and cultures which make up this hefty volume. Part I introduces some of the knowledge about religion which Protestants generated: intellectual developments expressed through learned theology and ideas about evil and grace; ideas about temporality in a movement which saw the Last Judgment as imminent; ideas about political obedience and resistance which were critical to the Reformations; and evidence for “the nature” of spiritual experience these theologies could engender. The aim of Part II is to work through geographies of Reform, in order to emphasize the plurality and vitality of the movement in interplay with the politics and societies in which it was embedded. Parts III, IV, and V demonstrate in what ways the formation of distinctive Lutheran and Calvinist cultures can be charted as a gradual and multifarious process through an emphasis on processes of communication (Part III), institutions (Part IV), and practices (Part V), which could nonetheless have very profound effects. There are close thematic connections between contributions in different parts, so that Chapters 2 and 3 in Part I, for instance, tightly interlink with questions about Protestant identities which feature in Part V, as do chapters on music, visual and material culture in Part III. Ideally, these will be read together. Part V closes with three contributions which respond to Max Weber’s formative ideas about Reformation changes and disenchantment, the Protestant work ethic, and scientific revolution, while Part VI turns to yet broader assessments to end the handbook. It covers innovation and reform in non-Western faiths during the early modern period, the consequences of the Reformation in a global perspective, and memory cultures in the past and present.

Collectively these contributions allow us to evaluate key developments in the period in fresh ways. The early modern period was characterized by renewed demographic growth, state building and new forms of popular politics, the beginnings of a “global age,” areas of significant economic expansion and diversified material cultures, new technologies, such as printing, the expansion of learning, and proliferation of new intellectual trends as well as new challenges to the status of women and distinct languages of self-awareness.18 The religious transformations interlinked with these huge and varied political, social, economic, and mental changes across the globe.

One of the most important developments in this age related to scientific practices. Here, the idea of sola scriptura can be said to have created a broader platform to help justify an empirical method of scientific inquiry. Philip Melanchthon’s influential curriculum in natural philosophy across Protestant Europe set out that laws in nature provided evidence of God’s existence. Human anatomy was practiced as a moral undertaking to reveal the greatness of God and with an emphasis on the close connection of body and soul. Such ideas about the value of empiricism were supported by many Catholics and built on pre-Reformation views of nature and making, (p. 9) but, Rankin finds, they began to unite Protestants rather uniformly. Other elements nonetheless kept differentiating traditions, as interests in the spiritualist tradition of Paracelsianism, in alchemy and astrology could sit uneasily with orthodox ideas (see Rankin, Chapter 35).

An enduring as much as unresolved Protestant struggle was to reach conclusions about human nature in relation to ideas about nature and grace—a “tiny element of contingent, human input in the overall process of salvation could ignite furious debate” (see Ocker, Chapter 2). German Lutherans had involved themselves in particularly fierce conflicts since 1555; it is apparently not overstated to argue that “these internal debates soon preoccupied Lutheran theologians at times more than did battles against Rome, Geneva, Zurich, the sectarians, the Jews, and the Turks taken together.”19 The so-called Flacian controversy pondered whether sin had become substance of Man, while the later Antinomian controversy explored whether law should be given a positive role in conducting the moral life of the justified (see Kaufmann, Chapter 8).

Yet by the early seventeenth century, Bacon and his circle for instance thought it possible to recover some of the wisdom lost through the Fall. Comenius, too, thought a universal reformation of mankind as fallen creature possible and pointed to the considerable advances in knowledge through printing and voyages of exploration the world had recently seen. Comenius wished to teach all people everything (see Hotson, Chapter 15).

These ideas of “progress,” thus, were not about secular rationalism, but inspired by religious fervor, a wish to overcome Christian divisions and frequently linked to millennial thought. This diverse spectrum of orthodox and minority positions began to feature those with greater trust in human rationality, who moved away from Luther’s notion of reason as a whore. Nature appeared an open book which by ongoing discovery could manifest the existence, power, and glory of God (see Heyd, Chapter 22; Barnes, Chapter 4). A Lutheran astronomer like Johannes Kepler (b. 1571) thus had no doubt that he was an ideal reader of God’s universe. God, Kepler confidently wrote, had waited for him as “apt contemplator” of his building plans. Yet the imperial mathematician never gained a university position and for many years was excluded from taking communion with fellow Lutherans because he held some heterodox ideas.20

Kepler was a scholarship boy from a lower-middle background and provides an excellent example of what a mainstream Protestant emphasis on education could unintentionally allow for. Schooling was deemed essential to produce a God-fearing population rather than stimulate independent thought. It was designed to shape moral citizenship, and this relied on the observance of moral laws which taught the obedience God wanted to see exercised. Moral obedience and virtue stood at the center of much Protestant education. Once more, a generalized idea that the Reformations ushered in more individual freedom cannot be rooted in history (see Methuen, Chapter 23). Institutions, and in particular universities, nonetheless created possibilities for Protestant men like Kepler to move beyond the simple imposition of conformity—though Kepler in turn, and unlike Comenius, never championed lay learning and often wrote in the most obscure Latin of the entire period.

(p. 10) An emphasis on possibilities to negotiate ideas and practices is also borne out by local historical research on other institutions and an approach which has questioned the idea that the Protestant churches together with the state rigorously implemented a whole program of social disciplining from top down (see Kümin, Chapter 25). Geneva’s systematic practice of excommunications for those unwilling to conform, for instance, was achieved independently from the magistrate and very much in opposition to large parts of the old elites. The policy, moreover, was unique. Protestant legal courts generally were active in relation to sexual crimes and public morality, but groups within the populace shaped which interests were followed. Courts did not so much determine confessional identity in relation to laws but provided a “charged venue” for such ideas to be worked out (see Harrington, Chapter 24). Scholars thus no longer look at the laity as either passive or resistant, but as agents who shaped the Protestant world in a much fuller sense.

The Reformed tradition in general stood apart from Lutheranism and other versions of Protestantism through its commitment to remain as independent of the secular state as possible, as well as through its constant goal of increasing moral discipline to create a kingdom of Christ on earth (see Holt, Chapter 11). Variation once more prevails: in England, local congregational discipline was only very partially supported by elites and a “complex pattern of acceptance of, and resistance to, zealous Protestantism” evolved. The nobility across Europe could be highly selective in their religious practices and beliefs, confessionally ambiguous or indifferent. Only in Scotland did Reformers labor “successfully … to turn the people into a nation of Protestants, or even Puritans, characterized by social discipline and a passionate conviction” (see F. Heal, Chapter 12; Asch, Chapter 27).

Gendered understandings of morality in mainstream Protestantism were nonetheless implemented across Protestant Europe in ways which were strongly biased against women’s equality. They continued traditional understandings of bodily and mental differences as well as the sense that unbridled female sexuality was particularly dangerous and disruptive (see Crowther, Chapter 32). Divorce was hardly ever granted. Family life continued to represent an important ideal and was communicated in detail in the correspondence of many Reformers to cement emotional bonds (see Greengrass, Chapter 21). Pre-marital sex in turn was more widely prosecuted and from Sweden to Protestant Switzerland the burden fell disproportionately on women, especially as having illegitimate children was more strongly criminalized. In Switzerland, the regulation of family life, pre-marital sex, adultery, and marital harmony, in fact turned into the key concern as the Reformation became fully institutionalized (see Head, Chapter 9). Witches were demonized.

Gendered ideals and sexual behavior, in short, were crucial for normative regimes which defined the “pure” and “impure,” mapped them onto confessional differences and easily led to a heightened sense of disorder. “Radical” groups often pioneered new arrangements for the choice of marriage partners, but in marriages themselves the dominant concern remained to keep women submissive (see Crowther, Chapter 32). The privileging of marriage went hand in hand with ethnicized policies in the Dutch East Indies: the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) (United East Indies (p. 11) Company) ordered that all Christians living together had to marry and forbade fathers of mixed-race children to return to Europe (see Wiesner-Hanks, Chapter 36).

At the same time, it is worth highlighting that historians of English religion point out that gender difference was not necessarily made to matter in many of their sources (see Ryrie, Chapter 3). The rise in travel literature as well as the popularity of alchemy provided competing discourses to the staple of gender ideals in sermons. Alchemy proposed that bodies could be both masculine and feminine, while global encounters provided accounts of other modes of living, which could complicate views of what should count as “natural” sexual difference (see Crowther, Chapter 32). Dutch missionaries could respect rituals of sexual maturity and indigenous practices of gendered piety (see Wiesner-Hanks, Chapter 36).

If we look at ideas about gender equality in Protestantisms more broadly, we moreover see how some spaces for women’s greater authority and different ideas about sexual difference could be created. French noblewomen often took the lead in the “Protestant self-fashioning” of their family (see Asch, Chapter 27). In Lutheran Germany, the valuation of empiricism could make it possible for elite women after the sixteenth century to gain a public role through their experience in making and freely dispensing herbal medicines for the poor (see Rankin, Chapter 35). By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Pietist and Moravian gender stereotypes became more flexible, as women were particularly attracted to the movement and active in it. An interest in genealogies which elevated the elect status of family members included women. These developments even cut across class bound conceptions, as “illiterate maidservants became visionaries, middle-class women hosted Pietist meetings, and noblewomen offered protection to persecuted radical Pietists and engaged in religious writings” (see Gleixner, Chapter 16). Women were in the majority and active participants among the settler communities in Massachusetts Bay (see Häberlein, Chapter 17).

Greater social equality was not a prime concern of mainstream Protestantism. It did nonetheless greatly care about the regulated distribution of charity for the resident poor in Europe, even though it was no longer seen as an avenue to salvation. While some of the radical communities attempted to hold all goods in common, most Protestants regarded a person’s rank and wealth as divinely ordained (see Johnson, Chapter 34). Dutch and English imperial claims were bolstered by Protestant ideology, and slavery was regarded either as irrelevant to salvation or as part of God’s yet to be revealed plan. Quakers had begun to question slavery since 1680; in 1736 Benjamin Lay systematically campaigned against it and the 1758 Philadelphia Meeting excluded those who bought and sold slaves.21 In Ebenezer, the recently arrived community of Austrian Protestant migrants with their Pietist minister staunchly opposed allowing enslaved Africans into colonial Georgia. Their 1739 anti-slavery petition was “one of the first of its kind in Britain’s southern colonies” and provides another testimony to the vitality of religiously informed ideas in transatlantic worlds.22

Pursuing commerce without greed continued to be broadly legitimized, while there existed a spectrum of ideas about what constituted extravagant, superfluous spending. Contrary to Max Weber’s idea that only ceaseless work and profit to be reinvested (p. 12) mattered to those among the Reformed looking for signs of their predestined election, there is now substantial evidence to indicate the reverse. Much time continued to be spent on the “continuous effort to maintain a height of spiritual ardor” and receive flashes of grace rather than relentless work. Meanwhile commodities took on moral meanings in a community’s symbolic universe, and not least provided important signals for creditworthiness (see Ryrie, Chapter 3; Johnson, Chapter 34).

There is thus every reason for a continued inquiry into a history of Protestant trade in the age of joint-stock companies and expansion as well as a history of Protestant consumption. This must include a figure such as Benjamin Franklin, whose wife one day placed a china bowl with a spoon of silver on the breakfast table. Franklin recorded that it “had cost her the enormous Sum of three and twenty Shillings, for which she had no other Excuse or Apology to make, but that she thought her Husband deserv’d a Silver Spoon & China Bowl as well as any of his Neighbours.”23 Even Franklin, whom Max Weber famously thought of as a model of Protestant frugality, thus quickly succumbed to costly, shiny, and delicate things: “This,” he noted, “was the first Appearance of plate & China in our House, which afterwards in a Course of Years as our Wealth encreas’d amounted gradually to several Hundred Pounds in Value.”24 Protestants in the Dutch Republic as much as in America could thus record pleasure and excitement about things as well as shame, shock, and frustration. They loaded them with extra moral meaning, so that food, for instance, could mark the increasingly more complex modes of religious encounter among Europeans in global settings, as when the Bostonian Samuel Sewell recorded in 1697 that he met a Spanish governor for breakfast: “breakfast together on Venison and Chockolatte: I said Massachuset and Mexico met at his Honour’s Table.”25

How can we define then the “nature” of Protestant spiritual experience? This can still seem very much of an “undiscovered country,” but contradictory feelings once more seem to be characteristic (see Ryrie, Chapter 3). How did many Protestants live with the sense of enduring sinfulness, which gradually aged and killed the body, with that sense of being both an enemy and child of God (see Ocker, Chapter 2)? Some contributors argue that these ideas resulted in heightened collective and personal anxiety which brought with it vacillation between hope and despair (see Barnes, Chapter 4). The assurance of faith was very much designed to remain a constant struggle, so that suffering, despair, and unbelief could be seen as signs of God’s favor. Taken to extremes, spiritual life could even mean a type of “warfare with God, in which God feints disapproval while at the same time challenging and arming believers to overcome him” (see Ryrie, Chapter 3). The fact that the souls of the dead were beyond intercession raised further fears. God could no longer seem touchable, but distant, while the laity was encouraged to focus on their own state of permanent corruption, which in itself prolonged Christ’s perpetual passion (see Roodenburg, Chapter 31).

Added to this was the prominent notion that the end of times was near. Did this produce Protestants as more aggressively curious, restless, anxious, and in this sense “modern” species? (see Barnes, Chapter 4). German Pietists certainly seem to have characteristically shifted between “euphoria and melancholy” in the lyrics they found to express themselves. They tended to provide written testimonies of their penitential (p. 13) struggles and conversion, which could show the effects of God in an individual’s life and dwelt on systematic internal self-examination. Diaries became key tools to record disciplines and spiritual renewal in this culture of individuation (see Gleixner, Chapter 16).

On the other hand it needs to be stressed that many lived forms of early modern Protestantism were community orientated and, in contrast to Catholicism, sin was not regarded as an individual failure to conform to God—it implied collective culpability (see Karant-Nunn, Chapter 20). This explains why in Scotland, as in America, there were communal fast days and prayers (see Lotz-Heumann, Chapter 33). For most Protestants listening to sermons and encountering the Bible through reading and transcribing remained crucial. The practices held out consolation and comfort as something that could be expected, and further techniques of assurance were supplied by liturgy practices through lifelong repetition, not least praying the Creed. Burial services in England and Scotland routinely held out the promise that the departed were “in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life” (see F. Heal, Chapter 12).

Music became a key element with which to express feelings and communicate with God and help in times of distress in many forms of Protestantism that practiced congregational singing or encouraged daily singing at home or at work. Calvin invested music with nearly “magical, unbound power” and it generally appeared as embodied practice through which God acted on humans. The Reformations thus were musical movements and fostered distinctive soundscapes which could serve as confessional markers (Brown, Chapter 30; Gleixner, Chapter 16). In relation to art, Lutheranism marked out confessional differences from Calvinism through its use of sensual imagery in the form of a Lutheran “baroque” of its own. A new genre of “confessional images” (Bekenntnisbilder) fostered a sense of unity, while pre-Reformation art could still be valued aesthetically and as memorial. Johann Arndt and his followers meanwhile believed that images and emblems could be imprinted in the soul and were certainly not subordinate to God’s Word (see B. Heal, Chapter 29).

The same assumption expressed itself in England, where Foxe’s best-selling Book of Martyrs enduringly used emotive woodcuts of steadfast preachers in flames. Services inspired new forms of “sacral looking,” which now focused on the pastor’s face. His voice and its affective registers became distinctly important for a long period in many milieux. Vehement preaching was believed to shape the soul and move hearts toward faith. Weeping was quite acceptable. In England and Scotland this style was popular until it fell out of favor in the late seventeenth century, and emotions of this kind were redefined as private (see F. Heal, Chapter 12). It is quite clear, in short, that the notion that Protestants were emotionally more cool, distant, or rational during the early modern period is outdated across the Protestant spectrum. They cultivated specific sensual worlds which were invested with great meaning.

Yet sensual and spatial worlds could remain in considerable flux. Swiss bi-confessional communities which used the same church tended to negotiate at length and sometimes even for years about the use of sacred objects, such as baptismal fonts, and needed to be ready to compromise (see Head, Chapter 9) As Benjamin Kaplan has recently underlined, there was thus no steady progress toward religious toleration or what is often (p. 14) termed “secularization” in Europe. The late eighteenth century still saw intense religious persecution, enlightened arguments could serve to endorse old Protestant prejudices against Catholics, and most enlightened thinkers looked for “more reasonable forms” of religious belief and practice rather than rejecting organized religion26 (see also Gow/Fradkin, Chapter 14; Burgess, Chapter 5). One of the issues at stake was whether landscapes could still be seen as instruments of divine education and warning. Danish clergy were still happy to deliver spring sermons at healing wells during the eighteenth century. German Lutheran pastors by then agreed that the efficacy of waters was due to natural causes, but during earlier periods defended the notion that their healing power came directly from God and would be extended to all those approaching “holy wells” with a pious attitude (see Lotz-Heumann, Chapter 33). Religious symbols and spaces could thus be enchanted, de- as well as re-sacralized.

Such processes of renewal and reform occurred in many world religions, not simply in the West. And, as we have seen, Protestantism increasingly asserted itself as a world religion. Before 1750, Protestantism slowly expanded outside Europe, and not only in North America, where its impact was greatest. Protestants could be found in many places ranging from parts of Asia, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. These small pockets of presence or even impact expanded only in the nineteenth century. The much more recent “booming congregations” in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, especially of Pentecostalists and fundamentalists, will now shape much of the future of global Protestantism (see Wiesner-Hanks, Chapter 36). In faith communities around the world, selective adaptations of Protestant traditions and traditionalizing rituals will continue to amalgamate with new political, social, and emotional concerns in the enduring human endeavor to make a Christian God come alive.

In sum, then, this handbook examines the progress and directions of current scholarly research on the Reformation. It pays attention to the contested questions for 2017 and its aftermath: “Which Luther to remember?”; and how will different choices be made to remember, silence, or forget? Bruce Gordon explores this memory culture in detail. Gordon and Thomas Kaufmann both set out divergent assessments of Luther’s historical significance, and Kaufmann makes the strongest possible case for the “provocative” argument that without Luther there would have been no European or global Reformations. Howard Hotson, by contrast, sees Luther as a Reformer who “harnessed” much of the pre-existing energy and “channeled it into his narrower reformation while obstructing all efforts to pursue broader reforms” (see Gordon, Chapter 37; Kaufmann, Chapter 8; Hotson, Chapter 15). In the future, scholarly interpretations will continue to broaden globally and new comparative perspectives seem on the horizon. Extensive editions of Luther’s works have appeared in Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong, where Luther research for some time now has “involved an exchange between East and West, rather than an education by the West.”27

This handbook also provides a much wider and novel framework for discussions which move beyond Martin Luther and Lutheranism to address questions about continuities and change in relation to much larger chronologies and geographies. It will be crucial for the next decades of scholarship to investigate religious change as multi-centric (p. 15) and interconnected across Western and non-Western worlds of Protestantisms in the early modern period.


Figure 1.3 John Hall, 1775, after Benjamin West, William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, when he founded the province of Pennsylvania in North America, 1681, engraving, 42.55 × 58.74 cm.

By kind permission of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Current handbook literature on the Reformations is oddly skewed: it omits global Protestantism, and focuses entirely on the global Catholic experience. In these handbooks on the Christian world in the early modern period or the Reformation, Protestantism thus is presented as a European story.28 The influential confessionalization paradigm was entirely European-based, as it explored the dual processes of state formation and confession building as part of a Western trajectory toward modernity. The point of incorporating these neglected global dimensions is that it demonstrates the vitality of varied traditions, which confronted very different institutional milieux, could significantly challenge political and cultural ideas of mainstream European faiths, and in turn reshape European Protestantisms (Figure 1.3). In Pennsylvania, for example, Quakers, Mennonites, Huguenots, Lutherans, and Calvinists from five different European nations created a pluralistic “holy experiment.”29 Conceptions of the state, gender, or the supernatural could be worked out in distinctive ways; emotions were made to matter differently.

(p. 16) All these strands form part of a history of the “long Reformation” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries properly conceived. They are at the core of the story of European Reformations—even in the settlement of eighteenth-century British America, for instance, German migrants were more numerous than the English.30 In St. Thomas, Danish settlers battled with German Moravians, mulattos, and black slaves who quoted the Bible to challenge slavery. New scholarship can draw on the considerable interest in “connected” histories and a de-centered perspective on narratives of change located in the West31 (see also Crowther, Chapter 32). Questions about the nature of religious encounters among people of different Christian faiths in relation to their European traditions as well as Protestant constructions of ethnicity to pursue the ultimate universal reformation overseas in future are likely to command greater attention.32 The considerable links between Protestant centers of missionary thought across Europe and the wider world around 1700, as Bostonian clergymen could network with German Pietists in India, and the effect of encounters in North America on later encounters in Africa and the Pacific are similarly important areas of study.33 These new perspectives show the relevance and dynamism of a rich field of Reformation scholarship for our understanding not just of the European past, but a history of the world.

Further Reading

Arnold, John (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Christianity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Asad, Talal. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Bamji, Alexandra, Geert H. Janssen, and Mary Laven (eds.) The Ashgate Companion to the Counter-Reformation. Farnham: Ashgate, 2013.Find this resource:

Dixon, C. Scott. Protestants: A History from Wittenberg to Pennsylvania 1517–1740. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.Find this resource:

(p. 19) Hsia, R. Po-Chia (ed.) The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol.6: Reform and Expansion 1500–1660. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Kaplan, Benjamin J. Cunegonde’s Kidnapping: A Story of Religious Conflict in the Age of the Enlightenment. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Karant-Nunn, Susan. The Reformation of Feeling: Shaping Religious Emotion in Early Modern Germany. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Kolb, Robert, Irene Dingel, and L’ubomir Batka (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Melton, James Van Horn. Religion, Community, and Slavery on the Colonial Southern Frontier. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Pestana, Carla Gardina. Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Rublack, Ulinka. Reformation Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Ryrie, Alec. Being Protestant in Reformation Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Sensbach, Jon F. Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006. (p. 20) Find this resource:


(1.) Martin Luther, “Preface to Erasmus Aulber, The ‘Eulenspiegel’ and Koran of the Barefoot Monks,” in Christopher Boyd Brown (ed.), Luther’s Works, vol. 60, Prefaces (St Louis, MO: Concordia, 2011), 279.

(2.) Leopold von Ranke, Über die Epochen der Neueren Geschichte (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1959), 102.

(3.) Thomas A. Brady, Jr., German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400–1650 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 3; and his contribution in “German History,” Forum Anniversaries 32/1 (2014): 89; an excellent guide to interpretations of the Reformation is C. Scott Dixon, Contesting the Reformation (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

(4.) Jorge Canizares-Esguerra, Puritan Conquistadors: Iberianizing the Atlantic, 1550–1700 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009).

(5.) In Gregory’s view the Reformation was prompted by a significant divide between Christian ideals and the realities of life for most people during the later Middle Ages. In response, Lutheranism sought to strengthen the Church’s message by focusing on the Bible. However, it soon became clear that the Bible allowed different interpretations of faith. This unintentionally led to infinite conflicts among Protestants as well as between Catholics and Protestants. In turn, liberal states eventually privatized religion. This left little space for public debates about common values and more time for shopping. “In combination with the exercise of power by hegemonic, liberal states,” Gregory sums up, “a symbiosis of capitalism and consumerism is today more than anything else the cultural glue that holds together the heterogeneity of Western hyper-pluralism”—a development that has reduced human possibility: Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012), 21, 23, 215.

(6.) This is powerfully brought out by Ruth Harris’s work, see her Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2008); The Man on Devil’s Island: Alfred Dreyfus and the Affair that Divided France (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2011); but also in a publication such as Christopher Clark and Wolfram Kaiser (eds.), Culture Wars: Secular–Catholic Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

(7.) Birgit Meyer, “An Author Meets her Critics: Around Birgit Meyer’s ‘Mediation and the Genesis of Presence: Toward a Material Approach to Religion,’” Religion and Society: Advances in Research 5 (2014): 205–254, here esp. 205–206. This also explains why the historiography of “confessionalization” which points to the “modern” features of both early modern Catholicism and Protestantism in alliance with state-making projects seems problematic: it assumes a modernity which itself needs to be questioned and analyzed as historical concept.

(8.) Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), here esp. 17; Asad, “Thinking about Religion, Belief, and Politics,” in Robert A. Orsi (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 36–57.

(9.) David Maxwell, “Post-Colonial Christianity in Africa,” in Hugh McLeod (ed.), The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 9: World Christianities c.1914–c.2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 401, 403, 421.

(10.) Sebastian C. H. Kim and Kirsten Kimm, A History of Korean Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

(11.) For a contemporary approach see Tanja Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2012).

(12.) Interestingly, this perspective can motivate historical scholarship, as one recent historian ends a book on the art of Reformation sermons with a utopia of sorts: “The established Churches gradually lose their institutional power; the voice of the preacher re-emerges as a charismatic source of authority; and the sermon culture described in this book awakens from its long sleep”; see Arnold Hunt, The Art of Hearing: English Preachers and their Audiences, 1590–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 402.

(13.) This paraphrases Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s immensely useful approach to scientific objectivity, and thus the interaction with the natural, in Objectivity (New York: Zone Books, 2007), 52.

(14.) For an introduction to such approaches see Henrietta L. Moore, Still Life: Hopes, Desire and Satisfactions (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011).

(15.) Pascal Eitler, Bettina Hitzer, and Monique Scheer, “Feeling and Faith—Religious Emotions in German History,” German History 32/3 (2014): 343–352.

(16.) See, most recently, Peter Marshall (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); Alexandra Bamji, Geert H. Janssen, and Mary Laven (eds.), The Ashgate Companion to the Counter-Reformation (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013).

(17.) John H. Arnold (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

(18.) See the recent summary by Hamish Scott in Scott (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern European History, 1350–1750, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 3, available at <>, accessed July 7, 2016.

(19.) Thomas Kaufmann, Konfession und Kultur. Lutherischer Protestantismus in der zweiten Hälfte des Reformationsjahrhunderts (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006), 18.

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

(21.) Francisco Bethencourt, Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013), 235–237.

(22.) James Van Horn Melton, Religion, Community, and Slavery on the Colonial Southern Frontier (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 4.

(23.) J. A. L. Lemay and P. M. Zall (eds.), The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: A Genetic Text (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1981), 76.

(25.) J. H. Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492–1830 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 219.

(26.) Benjamin J. Kaplan, Cunegonde’s Kidnapping: A Story of Religious Conflict in the Age of the Enlightenment (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014), esp. 13–16.

(27.) Pilgrim W. K. Lo, “Luther and Asia,” in Robert Kolb, Irene Dingel, and L’ubomir Batka (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 613. The volume also includes contributions on Lutheranism in Africa and Latin America.

(28.) See, for instance, R. Po-Chia Hsia (ed.), A Companion to the Reformation World (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004); R. Po-Chia Hsia (ed.), The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol 6: Reform and Expansion 1500–1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); or Marshall, Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation.

(29.) Elliott, Empires, 213—a rare comparative history.

(31.) Ibid., 12. Melton’s book is a model of this approach.

(32.) The seventeenth-century clergyman John Beale, for one, wrote to the natural philosopher Robert Boyle that hard-breeding Protestant Scotsmen should bring reformed religion to America, resist the lure of luxury trade, and bring greatness to the Stuarts—for an exemplary article on the link between natural philosophy, global missionizing, and trade politics, see Gabriel Glickman, “Protestantism, Colonization, and the New England Company in Restoration Politics,” The Historical Journal 59/2 (2016): 365–392.

(33.) Philip D. Morgan, “Encounters between British and ‘Indigenous’ Peoples, ca.1500–ca.1800”, in Martin Daunton and Rick Halpern (eds.), Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous Peoples, 1600–1850 (London: UCL Press, 1999), 58; and on the contacts of clergymen across continents, Glickman, “Protestantism,” 389.