Practices of Piety: Lived Religion in Early Modern Europe (seminar)

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This was a fall 2001 semester seminar.

Taking as its starting point revisionist views of late medieval Catholicism and the questions they raise about the appeal of Protestant teachings and the ultimate shape of Catholic reform, the seminar studied religious ritual, worship, and spirituality as they evolved between the late fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. It proceeded topically and, whenever possible, comparatively to explore a variety of religious practices as they emerged across Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions. Topics included preparation for and reception of the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper, and the ceremonies surrounding such life passages as childbirth, marriage, and death. How did changes in the physical setting for worship and the omission of certain sacramental practices in Protestant churches affect lay religious experience? How did new forms of confraternal and monastic life act as sites for instruction in Catholic devotion? Moving from collective to more individual and interiorized forms of piety, the seminar explored some of the devotional literature that poured forth during the period under study. What did this literature teach about body and spirit, and what models did it offer for the godly life? Taking gender as a primary category for analysis, the seminar investigated models of piety set out in hagiography, funeral sermons, and other didactic literature. Lastly, it asked how religious practices in the Counter-Reformation cloister conformed to (or departed from) strictures set out by the Council of Trent. Scholars working on Continental and British subjects were encouraged to bring their case studies, as well as the perspective of their different disciplines, to a collective reexamination of the varieties of religious experience in early modern lives.

Director: Barbara Diefendorf is Professor of History at Boston University. She is the author of Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris (1991) and Paris City Councillors in the Sixteenth Century: The Politics of Patrimony (1983). With Carla Hesse, she coedited Culture and Identity in Early Modern Europe, 1500–1800 (1993).