(C7) The Change in Religious Mentalities and Confessional Conflicts in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: A Structural Analysis

Beyond the religious divisions of the early sixteenth century, the practice of faith in western Europe underwent a profound transformation between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. With different emphasis in the individual confessions, but nevertheless with common basic tendencies, the content of faith became based less and less on actions that created a relationship between this world and the next, and increasingly on universal content. At the same time this content became logically systematised and connected with moral demands; in the wake of a “normative centralizing” (B. Hamm) its inner coherence increased and under the dismantling of gradualism it led to a stricter external demarcation. In the same step, universalistic forms of piety freed from social primary groups increased in importance to the detriment of group-oriented forms of piety.

Because of the universalistic, socially generalised character of religious praxis in the Confessional Age the contrast between two confessions lent itself to the transformation of numerous other binary elements of political language. But the implications of this statement are ambivalent. On the one hand, as a “moralised universe” (B. Scribner), socially generated confessional knowledge could serve to integrate large social groups and delineate them from the outside. On the other hand, the difference between confessions offered a point of contact for countless lines of binary conflict and could thus have the effect of escalating conflicts. This was especially true of contexts in which the territorial state was weakly developed and the competing processes of Church formation had led to the development of different confessional milieus.

On this basis it is possible to formulate regional-historical research that investigates the connection between the implementation of Church reforms, change in the practice of popular religion, and the development of milieus as well as confessional conflicts. This research could be sited in confessional border areas and in territories with weak statehood (for example, northwest Germany, southwest Germany, the Swiss confederation), and for comparison, also in the context of the Netherlands, characterised by voluntary churches. In contrast to the classical concept of confessionalisation, studies like this promise a clear added value in allowing for the relationship between state formation and conflict to be made more explicit and placing the accent on the link between church-political processes on the territorial level and the culture of popular religion and conflict on the level of the rural inhabitants.