(B2-22) Beyond Confessional Clarity: On the Discursive Formation of Heterodox Groups in the Early Modern Period

What is striking when looking at the early modern history of religion from the perspective of a comprehensive history of piety is the complexity and dynamic of the religious forms and practices. A countermovement to and flipside of the rightly stated processes of disambiguation and rationalisation of the confessional age becomes increasingly apparent. This flipside becomes manifest not least in the many mystic spiritualistic writings recurring in periodic cycles, from the 16th-century Anabaptist movement and the Nonconformists of the 17th century to the 18th-century Pietists (see also Pietsch’s postdoctoral project below). The carefully drawn religious and confessional lines that academic theology and the authorities’ Church orders sought to control were watered down and violated by these writings. The positions range from explicit ritual criticism and various dissimulation strategies to a perfectionist deification of the believer. Internalisation tendencies and an elitist consciousness of election were vehicles of this ‘other’ religious expertise, which was often also claimed by women, and religious ambiguity was its outcome. This ambiguity reignited the discourses of politics and religion, which had largely been covered during confessionalism, and diluted the apparent unambiguousness of territorial belonging and denomination.

The Project is part of interconnecting platforms E Differentiation and De-Differentiation and G Religion, Politics, and Gender Relations.

Postdoctoral project of Dr. Andreas Pietsch: Spirituality beyond the churches

With its exemplary case study, the postdoctoral project “Spirituality beyond the churches. Discourses of confessional ambiguity in the early modern period” (Pietsch), which was begun in the first funding stage, will contribute to modifying accepted linear models of religious change in the early modern period. The project exemplarily looks into discourses of confessional ambiguity, which manifest themselves in various early modern mystic spiritualistic writings and which can thus be said to usually have stood outside of the established churches. The focus is on the writings of the “Familists” (Hendrik Niclaes/Hendrik Jansen Barrefelt), the reception of whom – recurring periodically in the context of the Quakers, Jacob Böhme and Jean de Labadie in the 17th century to the (radical) Pietists in the 18th century – will be reconstructed in detail. The main issue to be investigated is the role that the reading of these writings played in developing a distinct religious language and specific practices of internalisation and, thus, in constituting religious groups which stood beyond the confessional boundaries. The medial distribution of these writings as well as the analysis of the reading contexts in which they were perceived and passed on are both as interesting as the role of the text internal strategies of authorisation and concealment. A contextualising analysis investigates the relationship between disambiguation movements and their opposing counterparts, in order to thus outline, overall, the important issue of non-churchly spirituality in a better way for the early modern age.

The Project is part of interconnecting platform H Cultural Ambiguity and coordinated project group Figurations of the religious and the political.