- Recent Trends in the Study of Christianity in Sixteenth-Century Europe
When the Executive Board of The Renaissance Society of America asked me to organize the Trends panel for the Society's 2005 conference, they also suggested that its theme should be religion. To keep this theme as broad and flexible as possible, I blandly titled the panel "Christianity in Sixteenth-Century Europe," but I knew that there would have to be some further reducing and categorizing in order to facilitate the division of labor among the speakers — and this alone would provoke debate. For although trends in the writing of religious history, or any other sort of history, might obviously be approached chronologically, geographically, conceptually, or still otherwise, everyone has his or her favorites. In true academic fashion I could not settle on simply one approach, but complicated things by choosing a confessional arrangement tempered by chronological and geographical considerations: in other words, I envisioned three papers on the subthemes of Continental Protestantism, Continental Catholicism, and England — the last because of the location of the 2005 conference at the University of Cambridge, and the assumption that it might be worthwhile to devote some special attention to our hosts.
The three distinguished panelists who agreed to address these topics were gracious and willing, never more so than when politely voicing objections to my arrangement. But I had expected nothing less, since their liveliness and independence of mind were precisely why I had asked them to participate in the first place. Mary Laven kindly insisted that her paper was to be on Counter-Reformation Catholicism and that my neutral label was simply too flabby — and, yes, she knew quite well what she was doing in using that term. Diarmaid MacCulloch respectfully noted that it was rather artificial to separate English from Continental Protestantism (and that Continental was the wrong word anyway) — in other words, maybe we didn't really need a separate paper on England! How was I to break this news to the third panelist, Eamon Duffy, who had already prepared his paper on that very subject? In fact, Eamon never did present his paper, but not because it was unwelcome on the panel, nor even because of such [End Page 697] tiresome questions from me as to whether he would require any audiovisual equipment. Rather, at the last minute he was called away to Rome on even more pressing business, as one of the BBC's correspondents for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. He did agree to submit his paper here for publication, however, along with the other two, and readers may judge for themselves how well it fits — very nicely, in my opinion, but that may merely be the organizer's ego responding to Diarmaid's perfectly legitimate observation.
In any case, I thought the papers important and helpful enough in addressing recent historiographical trends that they ought to be published as a group, in slightly revised form, for the benefit of an even wider audience than the sizeable crowd that heard them (okay, two of them). Hence, all three are offered together here.