Academic journal article Church History

Church History

Academic journal article Church History

Church History

Article excerpt

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Book Reviews and Notes

The editor claims that this is a revisionist volume pointing not only to recent changes in the approach to the history of toleration or more precisely to the history of religious coexistence in the early modern period, but also to the route new research should travel. Apart from the wish to get rid of the term toleration with all its late nineteenth-century baggage and the introduction of the term "multiconfessionalism," serious revisionism is difficult to spot. The volume, however, does reflect the change of emphasis which has taken place within this field over the last couple of decades, moving away from intellectual history and toward social and cultural history, particularly those concerned with religious coexistence and conflict in its local setting. The confessionalization paradigm, which considers religious pluriformity to have been a transient phase of the European Reformation, is not surprisingly challenged, while the inherent weakness of this top-down view of early modern society is emphasised.

The term confessionalism is one of many "isms" or terms which the late nineteenth century has bequeathed to us, but multiconfessionalism appears to be a more novel anachronism which would surely have made little sense in the period we are concerned with here. I assume it is inspired by that twentieth century, relativist term "multiculturalism"--so presumably what we are dealing with here is something similar with an added dose of religion. As terms go even the cumbersome terms religious pluralism or religious diversity would have been preferable.

However, this should not detract from the fact that a handbook or companion volume to the history of toleration in the reformation era--that is, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries--is timely. Apart from a very useful chapter on confessions and their formation in the wake of the Reformation by Lee Palmer Wandel, which seems somewhat at odds with the rest of the content of this volume, the editor has divided the volume into five separate geographical sections, on the Netherlands, the Holy Roman Empire, France, Britain, and Central Europe. A choice undoubtedly determined by the fact that we still live in a scholarly world dominated by national historiographies.

Overall it works well, but the result is that we hear nothing about the many emigrant communities of religious refugees, uninvited or invited by either local and central governments, who settled across northwestern Europe from the mid-sixteenth century onward and who more often than not served to add diversity to the religious landscape. Each section has been allocated three chapters, starting with a broader survey chapter followed by two more detailed studies. Of these general chapters Jesse Spohnholz's chapter on confessional coexistence in the Low Countries is particularly successful in introducing and evaluating the most recent literature on this subject. …

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