Confessional Divide in Monotheistic Religions

CETREN Seed Grant 2015/2016

The Confessional Divide in Monotheistic Religions

A Comparison of the Boundary between Protestant and Catholic Christendom in Austria and England 1560 to 1620 and between Sunni and Shiite Islam in Ottoman Anatolia in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Thomas Kaufmann

The fundamental question at the heart of this project is how confessional intolerance developes and how people try to deal with it. This question is still relevant today as current sadly show. This project perceives the construction of the confessional boundary as an interplay of forces in favour of intolerance and those in favour of tolerance. This construction is investigated as a social process that changed the religion deeply and authorized new structures and relations of power. Social and political forces that pushed for intolerance and a strict boundary and those forces that blurred the boundary with ambigious behaviour and tried to get along with members of the other confession worked at the same time. This project suggests that these forces didn't simply contradict each other but instead interacted in a complex way. Mutually causing and influencing each other and shaping the boundary in tandem. It was the product of every day interaction. Certain processes must be distinguished. On the one hand, orthodox clergy allied itself with state authority to enforce its vision of the true faith among the faithful. State authorities used this enforcement to enhance social control over their subjects and to legitimize their power as defender of the true faith. While orthodox clergy received the power of definition of right and wrong in the religious field. It used this power to push divergent doctrines and practices to the margins and thereby constructed heterodoxies. This process has been called "confessonalization". On the other hand, people who belonged to different confessions had to get along with each other. Some tried to ignore or down play the importance of the boundary while behaving according to the demands of the orthodoxy. Other people took to blur the boundary by the use of ambigious behaviour. In this way they avoided pressure from above and from their own level, namely from people with whom they had to get along like neighbours, relatives, friends, etc. Such ambiguity could take on many different forms. Ambiguity is usually seen as contradicting the paradigm of confessionalization but this project argues that this impression is too narrow. From all three countries that form the empirical basis for its research, there is an abundance of examples which show that the relationship between blurring the boundary and stressing it must be seen as a complex interaction instead. Some actors who wished for a clear cut boundary nevertheless tolerated ambiguity because they knew that too much pressure could provoke resistance. Some even employed ambiguity in certain areas as an instrument to enforce conformity in the long run. In this way, a colourful variety of religious practices developed. Some of them evolved into specific forms of piety and enriched the religious landscape in fascinating ways.

To analyse these forms of ambiguity and their relationship with orthodoxy and its pressure for conformity three different countries and two different religions of the same period are being investigated: the boundary between Catholics and Protestants in the Dukedoms of Lower and Upper Austria and the Kingdom of England, and the one between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the Ottoman Empire during the 16th and the 17th century. These countries provide fascinating examples of the mechanisms in question. And inspite of the obvious differences between them, research so far has revealed astounding parallels in the interplay of pressure to conform to orthodoxy and ambigious religious practices. These findings might support Jan Assmann`s theory that inside monotheistic religions there are fundamental structures that exert strong influence on the pious. The interplay of these fundamental structures with social dynamics may help us to a better understanding of religious intolerance and hatred.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Kaufmann

Prof. Dr. Thomas Kaufmann

Chair of Church History

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Theologische Fakultät, Platz der Göttinger Sieben 2

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