Religion and Culture in Early Modern Europe: 1500-1800.

Author:Roney, John B.
Position:Book review
 
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Religion and Culture in Early Modern Europe: 1500-1800. By Kaspar von Greyerz. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 307pp. $25.00.

The title of this new book is broad indeed, and despite the more than 300 pages, it would be impossible to even survey this topic with the massive amount of material that modern scholarship has produced. Yet, von, Greyerz's main purpose is to take this broad survey and apply some theoretical and comparative principles in order to begin to see what trends and helpful explanatory patterns emerge. In his view it is impossible to speak of either religion or culture without reference to the other, for he follows the commonly accepted idea that the practice of religion is a socially constructed phenomenon, without reducing truth claims. The main task of this book is to show the necessary interconnections between what historians have often defined as elite culture and popular culture. While some historians have stressed the great divide between a more highly educated and wealthy elite culture that developed in the Renaissance, based on more rational and scientific sensibilities, in contrast to popular culture filled with magic and superstition, Greyerz believes that elite and popular culture shared many basic values. In the end, any religious practices are a complex mixture of elite and popular cultures. For example, alchemy (and thus also magical ideas) played an important role in the development of European sciences into the late seventeenth century" (p. 22). In order to make these connections Greyerz has found that a study of both microhistory, with its concentration on specific cases and actions, and macrohistory, with its attention to the large-scale structural forces, will help us better understand the place of religion in culture.

One important issue in earl modern Europe was the division of Christianity after the sixteenth-century Reformation Confessionalization demonstrates how both elite and popular culture contributed to unity and diversity within develop gin nation-states. While the Catholic Church used catechism and Baroque displays of splendor and pageantry to attract followers, many examples abound where at the micro-level a trans-confessional identity allowed for the...

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