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Crossing the Boundaries of Belief

Crossing the Boundaries of Belief: Geographies of Religious Conversion in Southern Germany, 1648-1800

Duane J. Corpis
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Crossing the Boundaries of Belief
    Book Description:

    In early modern Germany, religious conversion was a profoundly social and political phenomenon rather than purely an act of private conscience. Because social norms and legal requirements demanded that every subject declare membership in one of the state-sanctioned Christian churches, the act of religious conversion regularly tested the geographical and political boundaries separating Catholics and Protestants. In a period when church and state cooperated to impose religious conformity, regulate confessional difference, and promote moral and social order, the choice to convert was seen as a disruptive act of disobedience. Investigating the tensions inherent in the creation of religious communities and the fashioning of religious identities in Germany after the Thirty Years' War, Duane Corpis examines the complex social interactions, political implications, and cultural meanings of conversion in this moment of German history.

    InCrossing the Boundaries of Belief,Corpis assesses how conversion destabilized the rigid political, social, and cultural boundaries that separated one Christian faith from another and that normally tied individuals to their local communities of belief. Those who changed their faiths directly challenged the efforts of ecclesiastical and secular authorities to use religious orthodoxy as a tool of social discipline and control. In its examination of religious conversion, this study thus offers a unique opportunity to explore how women and men questioned and redefined their relationships to local institutions of power and authority, including the parish clergy, the city government, and the family.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3553-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    On the eve of August 14, 1658, in one of Augsburg’s many taverns, a Lutheran man known in the official record simply as Knapp began singing Psalm 25 to a confessionally mixed group of customers. A decade following the end of the Thirty Years’ War and the implementation of the Peace of Westphalia, Lutherans and Catholics were sharing drinks together. They did not, however, share in the singing. At first, Knapp forgot the song’s melody, but then Matt häus Schmid, another Lutheran, picked up where Knapp left off, singing the psalm to completion. After finishing, Schmid gave a spontaneous commentary...

  5. 1 Mapping the Religious Landscape 1648 and Confessional Geography
    (pp. 21-52)

    Among the rival theological camps that formed during the “Luther Affair,” distinctions between the “old faith” of the Roman Catholic Church and the “new learning” of the evangelical reformers centered on theological disputes over doctrines, ritual practices, and ecclesiastical institutions. But as soon as the reformers implemented their theological visions, they also began to reshape the physical dimensions of the community’s religious landscape. For example, critiques of the cult of the saints, pilgrimages, and religious images inspired some parishes to empty their churches of paintings, sculptures, and relics, while enraging others enough to desecrate these objects with urine and dung...

  6. 2 Navigating between Confessions Migration and Displacement
    (pp. 53-81)

    How did converts cross the confessional boundaries laid down by the Peace of Westphalia and move across early modern Germany’s religious and political landscape? From the initial decision to change one’s confessional affiliation to the moment of successful reintegration into a new community of belief, converts typically experienced an urgent need to move, sometimes not far from home, other times over quite daunting distances. Historians of German-speaking lands have recently recognized this characteristic of religious conversion.¹ Previous scholars who discussed conversion frequently focused either on political and clerical elites—princes, nobles, or learned clergy and theologians—or on single communities....

  7. 3 Losing Faith Doubt and Dissent
    (pp. 82-116)

    If one aim of the Peace of Westphalia was to minimize the threat posed by religious pluralism within the Holy Roman Empire by imposing stable confessional boundaries, then the converts who transgressed those boundaries revealed Germany’s confessional map for what it was: a religiously fragmented terrain fully coherent only on paper and in the imagination of clergymen and magistrates. Conversion between the sanctioned Christian confessions was an inescapable by-product of the increasingly sharp lines drawn by Protestants and Catholics to distinguish themselves, while it simultaneously revealed those lines to be unstable and permeable. Converts challenged the bonds of religious solidarity...

  8. 4 Transgressing Jurisdictions Disobedience and Disloyalty
    (pp. 117-144)

    This chapter examines how secular magistrates perceived, regulated, and managed those disobedient subjects who abandoned their religious loyalties to their local community. Conversion undermined the convert’s position within the local web of political relations and hierarchies in both monoconfessional and biconfessional polities. As a result, conversion often generated interconfessional disputes within and even between polities. In turn, the Peace of Westphalia created a legal and institutional framework that aimed to absorb conversion’s destabilizing effects. The interactions between converts and secular authorities show that secular magistrates were intent to manage—rather than erase—the tensions of religious pluralism in the empire...

  9. 5 Breaking the Ties That Bind Family and Community
    (pp. 145-177)

    Like the previous chapter, this one explores the transgressive quality of religious conversion within Christian communities of the Holy Roman Empire, focusing specifically on family and kinship. Conversion’s disruptive effects on familial relationships deserve special attention because they occupy such an important part of the archival record. When one family member decided to change confessional loyalties, it tested the bonds of kinship uniting relatives. Familial relationships were embedded in the larger matrix of religious, political, and social bonds that tied individuals to their communities, so that one rarely broke a familial bond without simultaneously affecting many other relationships.

    Typically, converts...

  10. 6 Starting Over Relocation and Reincorporation
    (pp. 178-226)

    Conversion afforded early modern Christians an opportunity to alter their affiliations, relationships, and identities, and hence break from fixed, normative religious expectations and social positions. It offered a flexible narrative structure that let converts explain, justify, and come to terms with choices that shattered their prior religious, familial, communal, and political allegiances. The dramatic climax of most conversions entailed a crisis of belonging involving displacement and dislocation. However, the grand finale ideally included a process of reincorporation into a new religious community. Nevertheless, the narratives spun by converts themselves or by church and state authorities within institutional settings of power...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 227-244)

    This book has charted the twists and turns along the winding paths that converts took in their journey from one confessional community to another in southern Germany during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As converts wandered across the countryside from town to town, they crossed a variety of social, political, and confessional boundaries. It was a path that sometimes provided women and men with new and advantageous life opportunities, but more frequently it brought them to the very margins of their society, where opportunities were rare and life was hard. My conclusion will not simply summarize the arguments that I...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 245-284)
    (pp. 285-300)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 301-314)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-316)