This article offers a personal perspective on religious history after the institutionalisation of this field in the History Department at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 2015. In essence and method, religious history is like history of religion(s). In German and Dutch, one can speak of Religionsgeschichte or religiegeschiedenis/godsdienstgeschiedenis. Different terms are in use in English and French, reflecting the different traditions in the disciplines of theology and history. History of religion(s)/histoire des religions is commonly associated with comparative studies of (non-Christian) religions, while religious history/histoire religieuse developed as a specialisation within general history (mostly concerned with Christianity and therefore close to what is known as church history or ecclesiastical history). While understanding religious history as general history with a focus on the religious factor in cultural, social, and political realities, various research traditions should be converged and integrated by means of conceptual exchange, cross-disciplinary approaches, and linked scholarly networks. Given the interest in global dimensions and long-term developments, computer-assisted research of digitalised sources is recommended for doing religious history today.
In “To Renew the Covenant”: Religious Themes in Eighteenth-Century Quaker Abolitionism, Jon R. Kershner argues that Quakers adhered to a providential view of history, which motivated their desire to take a corporate position against slavery. Antislavery Quakers believed God’s dealings with them, for good or ill, were contingent on their faithfulness. Their history of deliverance from persecution, the liberty of conscience they experienced in the British colonies, and the ethics of the Golden Rule formed a covenantal relationship with God that challenged notions of human bondage. Kershner traces the history of abolitionist theologies from George Fox and William Edmundson in the late seventeenth century to Paul Cuffe and Benjamin Banneker in the early nineteenth century. It covers the Germantown Protest, Benjamin Lay, John Woolman, Anthony Benezet, William Dillwyn, Warner Mifflin, and others who offered religious arguments against slavery. It also surveys recent developments in Quaker antislavery studies.
This article explores the complex interweaving of kabbalistic and Christological concepts within the kabbalistic “teaching panel” (Lehrtafel) of Princess Antonia of Württemberg. The essay discusses the artwork in the context of visual representations of the ten sefirot, the divine attributes or vessels in Jewish mysticism. Executed as an altarpiece for the church in Bad Teinach in Southern Germany, the work integrates the sefirot into a pansophic concept that served devotional and educational purposes with a salvific goal. The article argues that, with the Lehrtafel, Antonia and her teachers created a devotional object that could be accessed by both regular Christian laity and experts who possessed deeper knowledge of Kabbalah.
Over the past fifty years Calvin research has seen significant turns toward interest in Calvin’s biblical exegesis, the social setting in which he was embedded, and the Frenchman’s self-understanding vis-à-vis such lived realities. These developments have resulted in a more deeply historicized Calvin, highlighting the benefits of contextual approaches for illuminating his life, work, and influence. At the same time, such research has relativized ideas about the reformer’s significance and originality. The future for Calvin research in an academy focused increasingly on contexts far removed from Reformation Europe should follow a similar course, relating the questions and insights of Calvin studies to an expanding group of conversation partners across diverse fields. Such projects include interdisciplinary historical work on Calvin’s context, more nuanced examination of Calvin’s reception in different settings up to the present day, and historically informed theological work related to the practices of faith communities.