Conflict between the confessions decisively shaped Europe’s modern era. But Protestant Christians were not simply Protestant, Catholics not simply Catholic. They became so in a project and process that researchers describe as “confessionalization”. It is deeply disputed whether religious knowledge and Christian practice contributed to the emergence of modernity, not only among historians, but also among the general public. In this volume, I try to describe both analytically and vividly how the churches and denominations changed and the ways in which they became entangled with political power. I look at the lifestyles and convictions of the clergy as well as those of ordinary Christians in Germany between the Peace of Augsburg and the age of revolutions. War and the persecution of witches are discussed, as are universities and rural schools, pious reading culture and lay prophecy.
Anyone who wants to outline a history of the impact of “confessionalization” must go beyond its core period during the 16th and 17th centuries. Pietism and the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and its consequences for 18th century Germany, and the pluralization of religion in the 19th century up to the Revolution of 1848 were also permanently shaped by the developments of the 16th and 17th centuries.
In this way, the book also puts forward a thesis: anyone who reduces modernity to its scientific and technical achievements, its secular culture and its political procedures overlooks something crucial. On the path that Germany took from pre-modernity to modernity, Christianity was an eminently dynamic social force.
This book was first published in German in 2015. The fact that it is now also available to English-speaking readers is first and foremost thanks to those who have translated it with skill and dedication: Charlotte Kieslich and Ansgar Hastenpflug. I thank both of them very much for having the courage to start with the first page, knowing full well how many more were to come. I am extremely impressed by the enormous reliability with which they have consistently driven this great project forward. They have been magnificently willing to engage with the difficult content. With great patience, they have considered everything down to the last detail. They have truly applied themselves with inquisitiveness and curiosity. I especially thank them for their linguistic ability, which has now resulted in a text that I am very happy to adopt as “my voice in American English”. The professional accuracy, the wide experience, the thorough research, the stylistic confidence and the close coordination they have cultivated among themselves have my full admiration! And last but not least, I thank them for our work together as a trio. It has taught me a lot about how elaborate translation is – the transfer of a world of thought into another cultural context. And they have shown me so much kindness and attention as a writer that I felt very blessed by each of our meetings.
Martina Kayser, editor at Brill, has actively supported the project from the beginning. The University of Tübingen and the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart contributed decisively to the funding. Furthermore, I would like to thank the staff at the Church History Institute in Tübingen, who have supported me enormously and lugged around a great many books: Vitor Boldrini, Katharina Jauch, Tristan Pohlmann and Marie Raßmann. And I sincerely thank the team around Volker Leppin at Yale University: Alexander Batson, Colin Hoch, Weston Sims, Serena Strecker, and Will Tarnasky. They have proofread the text with the expertise of theologically-trained native speakers, so that it is now hopefully a very pleasant read for English-speakers. Of course, I alone am responsible for any errors that remain.
I dedicate this book to my wonderful family, who always have to cope with the fact that I can’t stop writing books.
Tübingen, summer 2022