Religion, Culture & Society in the Early Modern World: 4th Tübingen-Cambridge Workshop

Ulinka Rublack / Stefan Hanß, University of Cambridge, St John’s College; Renate Dürr, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
18.09.2017 - 19.09.2017
Fabian Fechner, Lehrgebiet für Geschichte Europas in der Welt, Fernuniversität Hagen

The main objective of this workshop was to analyze European and especially German history in the methodological frame of global history. The workshop brought together historians, art historians, literary scholars and a scholar of Islamic theology, with case studies from Germany, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and the Americas. The studies were based on rich source material, such as autobiographical texts, material remains, maps, dramas, convent account books, learned journals, and administrative reports.

ULINKA RUBLACK (Cambridge) opened the workshop with a suggestion of bringing together the manifold ways of thinking and analyzing early modern religion, culture and society, including the potential of global dimensions. RENATE DÜRR (Tübingen) added the possible value of the history of knowledge, especially through the methodology of the sociology of knowledge.

The first panel, “Experiencing Religious Identities,” analyzed the temporality of change in religion and non-textual expressions. ALEXANDRA WALSHAM (Cambridge) examined the recontextualization of outdoor crosses over the course of England’s long reformation. Telling examples clarified how a complex Catholic legacy was modified, reconfigured and physically adopted by subsequent generations. Crosses could be seen as symbols of frictions which fostered backward behaviour – and in some way, they were reused in a very profane way, as sundials, territorial markers or benches. The analysis did not end in early modern times, because some crosses were recreated or reconstructed during the reign of Queen Victoria, for example the Eleanor High Cross. During the discussion, the accidence of survival, the coexistence of meanings and the very deliberate utilitarian reuse of these crosses were highlighted. On a more global scale, the English setting was confronted with missionaries’ debates about idolatry. CHRISTINA FARLEY (Cambridge) presented “liveliness” as a quality of objects for post-reformation England. In this context, rhetorical theory as the art of eloquence and persuasion was not only applied in written and oral communication, but also in the visual arts. With the concept of “liveliness,” “vividness” or “energeia” in the background, Farley asked what kind of imagery was acceptable for protestants. The conference participants deepened the meaning of “liveliness” as “life sustaining” or “life-like,” and they wondered in which way the explained iconophopia was linked with a specific English fear of similitude. In her talk about convents populated by Florentine women during the Renaissance, EMMA NICHOLLS (Cambridge) focused on the tools of self-representation, especially in Florence, Prato, and Pistoia. Based on books of the sacristans, convent account books, and prayer books, Nicholls asked in what way a Renaissance woman could own her own words and how medieval and early modern selves were shaped. After a thorough reconstruction of the voices in a convent, the audience asked how much of the outside world came to the convent sources. The first three speakers focused on the expressions of “people who do not think in the form of texts,” as MARY LAVEN (Cambridge) pointed out in her commentary. She also highlighted the importance of place, the different forms of media (words, music, speech), identity and temporality – most of the analyzed examples showed that we need categories of re-inventing and converting to explain Reformation, and not exclusively the interpretation of Reformation as rupture.

In the second panel, “Shaping the Ottoman Empire,” the complexities of inner-Ottoman discourse dynamics and the multilayered cultural contact between the Ottoman Empire and Central Europe were demonstrated. LEJLA DEMIRI (Tübingen) studied scholar Nabulusi from Damascus, nowadays practically unknown, although he was a religious authority of his time. With a rediscovery of Nabulusi, the period around 1700, a time commonly considered an “age of stagnation” by European scholarship, can be reassessed. Methodologically important is a shift concerning the interpretation of commentaries. Nabulusi, by writing a commentary, did not merely repeat older positions. By doing so, he was looking for new responses to old questions with a different style of doing theology. In her presentation, HELEN PFEIFER (Cambridge) discussed the multifaceted ways in which gatherings of learned elites for the purpose of socializing were represented in literary and pictorial sources from the Ottoman Empire. She adapted the concept of the “Salon” as an analytical tool. Especially the view from the margins was emphasized when she compared the space of these highly choreographed events with a theatre-set and when she interpreted the role of nameless, but clearly visible supporting figures. PHILIP HAHN (Tübingen) demonstrated how Hans Ulrich Krafft, a patrician from Ulm, survived in the 1570s for three years as a button maker in the prison of Tripoli (today Lebanon) and how he managed this individual experience of transculturation in his diaries. Especially the material-related content of Krafft’s diaries was considered when Hahn tried to follow the traces of a Nautilus cup and thread-woven buttons mentioned there. TOBIAS GRAF (Tübingen) explained the case of the Habsburg spy David Ungnad, who under the reign of Maximilian II managed to obtain secret information about espionage campaigns of the Sublime Porte. With the aim to understand how governments thought and acted, Graf discussed why good information was not used in several cases. For a better understanding of decision making processes, Graf explained thoroughly reconstructed information networks in which his protagonists were involved. For the German context in the 15th and 16th century, CHRISTIANE ACKERMANN (Tübingen) examined how the Turk plays determined the Turk as a cultural phantasm. The drama as a pluralistic media art form was interpreted as an imagery pool which could evoke mental anti-Ottoman images. However, the “imago turci” is not a product, but a precondition of the social discourse. The telling example was Hans Rosenplüt’s “Turken Vasnachtspil.” In his commentary, STEFAN HANß (Cambridge) emphasized the complexities of inner-Ottoman discourse dynamics and the need for embedding the protagonists in social contexts in a pluralistic religious surrounding.

In the subsequent panel, “Religion & Power in the Spanish Americas,” the category of knowledge in the dynamics of learned and political debates was emphasized. IRINA PAWLOWSKY (Tübingen) presented her research on a map from the Upper Amazon drawn by the Jesuit missionary Franz Xaver Veigl in the mid-18th century. Through additional archival sources and the iconography itself, it became clear that the map interpreted the evangelization as an unfinished project because of the expulsion of the Society of Jesus from the Spanish Colonies (1767). Pawlowsky drew attention especially to the representation of ethnographic information, borders, and the mysterious River Ucayali, a southern tributary of the Amazon, as a possible interspace between different mission territories. With this approach, the analysis was an example for a history of geographic knowledge between peripheral mission stations, Quito, Rome and scholars in the Holy Roman Empire. In the discussion, the analysis of a sacred topography was widened by the question how places of martyrdom were represented on the map. MARIE SCHREIER (Tübingen) provided insight into the multiple layers of significance of administrative records about early modern Panama, ironically a core region of the Spanish empire, but practically outside Spanish control. Schreier focused on the Darien project of a Scottish colony, but not from the better known Scottish point of view, but from the Spanish perspective with its inner dynamics. To place these dynamics in a broader picture, the participants pointed to the question how the Scots imagined Spanish government in America. LAURA DIERKSMEIER (Tübingen) continued with another scarcely known topic, the Mexican connections to the Enlightenment. The core source was an article by the Mexican priest and scientist José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez in his learned newspaper (“Asuntos varios sobre ciencias y artes,” 1772). Alzate approved the use of an indigenous herb which was prohibited by the Inquisition. By discussing the legal, epistemological, and medical status of this herb “pipilzitzintlis”, today better known as the cannabis plant, Dierksmeier discussed the priest’s plan to be recognized in Europe and ended with the question “for whose enlightenment this article was written.”

The final panel, “Religion(s) in the Transatlantic World,” discussed the integration and coexistence of religious minorities. PATRICK McGHEE (Cambridge) discussed physical aspects of “unbelief” in North America and England in the 17th century. In the framework of the history of concepts, he focused on the characterization of the “wilderness”, the “idol,” and the “body” in theological dictionaries and tracts from both shores of the Northern Atlantic Ocean. NAOMI PULLIN (Cambridge) examined the history of the transatlantic Quaker community from 1650 until 1775. She addressed the inner tension of the religious group between integration or a status apart, as a godly community. Especially after the declaration of the American Republic it became clear that the coexistence which had earlier been experienced was fragile. FABIAN FECHNER (Hagen) clustered the main results of the workshop with focus on the creation of spaces, the analytical term “knowledge,” the concept of identity, and the close readings of visual sources. The wide range of interdisciplinary and methodological approaches was of special value to understanding the history of Europe from global perspectives.

Conference Overview:

Ulinka Rublack (Cambridge) and Renate Dürr (Tübingen), Welcome & Introduction

Panel 1: Experiencing Religious Identities

Alexandra Walsham (Cambridge), Recycling the Sacred: Material Culture & Cultural Memory in Post-Reformation England
Christina Farley (Cambridge), ‘[T]he livelier the counterfeit is, the greater error is engendered’?: Re-Assessing Vividness in Post-Reformation English Visual Culture
Emma Nicholls (Cambridge), Negotiating Convent Identities in Florentine Tuscany
Mary Laven (Cambridge), Commentary & Discussion

Panel 2: Shaping the Ottoman Empire

Lejla Demiri (Tübingen), Doing Theology in the Eighteenth-Century Ottoman World
Helen Pfeifer (Cambridge), Ottoman Salons & the Making of an Imperial Elite
Philip Hahn (Tübingen), A Patrician as Button Maker: Hans Ulrich Krafft in Tripoli (1574-77)
Tobias Graf (Tübingen), Knowing the ‘Arch-Enemy’. Observations on Austrian-Habsburg Intelligence in the Late Sixteenth Century Ottoman Capital
Christiane Ackermann (Tübingen), Imago Turci: ‘Turk Plays’ as a Focal Point in Premodern Media Transformations (Fifteenth to Sixteenth Centuries)
Stefan Hanß (Cambridge), Commentary & Discussion

Panel 3: Religion & Power in the Spanish Americas

Irina Pawlowsky (Tübingen), Making Mission Spaces: Jesuit Geographical Knowledge & Cartography of the Upper Amazon
Marie Schreier (Tübingen), The Limits of Mission and Imperial Control: The Case of Early Modern Panama
Laura Dierksmeier (Tübingen), Indigenous Knowledge as Enlightened Knowledge? A Priest’s Defense of Herbs Prohibited by the Inquisition in Eighteenth-Century Mexico

Panel 4: Religion(s) in the Transatlantic World

Patrick McGhee (Cambridge), Sites of Unbelief in the Protestant Atlantic World
Naomi Pullin (Warwick/Cambridge), ‘A Holy Nation’: The Transatlantic Quaker Community and the Problem of the American Revolution, c.1650-1775

Fabian Fechner (Hagen), Commentary & Discussion
Final discussion

Tagungsbericht: Religion, Culture & Society in the Early Modern World: 4th Tübingen-Cambridge Workshop, 18.09.2017 – 19.09.2017 Cambridge, in: H-Soz-Kult, 25.11.2017, <>.