Religion and Culture in Early Modern Italy. New Questions and Approaches

Online Workshop

The history of the transformations to Italian religious life that occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has been a battleground for centuries. Confessional, political and ideological commitments have infused and shaped representations both within academia and in the broader public sphere. Historians have argued vehemently about and vacillated between competing and overlapping paradigms, often signaled by the use of specific terms to describe the period. From its coining in 1776 by the German jurist Johann Stephan Pütter, the “Counter Reformation” asserted the reactionary and forced re-Catholicization of Protestant lands and the often draconian suppression of heterodoxy in Catholic lands. By contrast, the “Catholic Reformation” emphasized the Church’s own internal efforts to reform its institutions, theology and the morality of the faithful. Moving beyond the debate over the spiritual drivers of reform, historians turned to the paradigm of “confessionalization”, linking religion and secular politics and asserting convergences between Catholicism and Protestantism and the rise of the modern state. Returning to “Counter Reformation”, others warned against ignoring or deemphasizing the repressive apparatus of the Catholic Church’s institutions and have illuminated various mechanisms of “social discipline” that sought to condition the behaviors and mentalities of the laity. Most recently, some scholars have adopted the capacious and flexible yet elusive terms “early modern Catholicism” or “the World of Catholic Renewal”, seeking to emphasize the diverse early modern and globalizing features of the faith, its practitioners and institutions.

Today, all these terms coexist, often uneasily, and continue to shape research projects. Instead of taking sides on the never-ending controversy over how to label, research and tell the story of religious change in early modern Italy, the goal of this workshop is to bring together some of the most innovative recent work on the period by a new generation of scholars. The participants, coming from European, Israeli and North American scholars, showcase the plurality of approaches used today to study the epoch that is still commonly referred to as the “Counter-Reformation”. Reflecting the two different backgrounds of the two conveners, the workshop was also born out of the effort to bridge the gap between Italian and Anglo-American scholarship that often run on two parallel tracks ignoring each other.