- Sacred Boundaries: Religious Coexistence and Conflict in Early Modern France
The issue of religious coexistence has dominated recent studies of early seventeenth-century France, and for understandable reasons. Religious division [End Page 523] was one of the primary causes underlying the enormously destructive civil wars of the late sixteenth century. Implemented to end the constant conflict, the Edict of Nantes (1598–1685) obliged the Catholic French majority to recognize limited political, economic, and religious rights for the Calvinist minority. Looking at the region of Poitou, Keith Luria's new book sets out to understand how Calvinist and Catholic men and women defined themselves as members of a distinct faith after experiencing decades of confessional violence and in response to sustained religious division within their own community. But Luria is even more ambitious. By situating the complex interrelations of the two faiths in the region of Poitou in the broader context of state policy and ecclesiastical affairs, Sacred Boundaries enriches our understanding of the influence of religion on the formation of French national identity in the wake of the Wars of Religion.
Belief is important to Luria, but he is particularly interested in mapping those cultural occasions where religion played a significant role in shaping communal life. Luria's exhaustive study reveals just how complex these relations could be, and his sophisticated interpretation of the stratagems employed by Calvinists and Catholics should provoke further discussion on how we interpret the interactions of the state and local community in shaping religious life. Luria argues in his introduction that the construction of religious identity, whether that of an individual or a community, involved the construction of confessional boundaries. He identifies three kinds that varied in degree of cultural permeability depending upon the relationship and the particular concerns of those involved. The most malleable of the boundaries operated wholly at the local level and reflected family concerns about alliance, business dealings, and civic affairs. Here economic, social, and political affairs could take precedence over faith. More clearly demarcated were boundaries governing participation in civic life such as the use of public sacred spaces (churches, cemeteries). The third boundary, and the most concrete of the three identified by Luria, was that of complete separation. The exclusion of one faith from office-holding, the closing down of schools, the removal of children, and other forms of persecution were among the strategies used to prevent contact between confessional groups. This last boundary was most visible by the 1630s in response to changing royal policy toward the Huguenots, and it was also the intent of the missionary activities of the Capuchins and Jesuits throughout the early seventeenth century.
There is always some danger in overemphasizing patterned behavior. One could easily obscure even greater complexity. Luria is never heavyhanded, however, and his model has the happy effect of illuminating the critical, if at times erratic, dance of local interest groups and state and religious authorities vis-à-vis the practice of faith while tracing the equally complex interactions of the inhabitants of Poitou. In his discussion in chapter 2 on Catholic missions, Luria shows that even as state authorities early on were promoting neighborliness in Poitou, the Capuchins explicitly set out to divide local communities through recapturing and redefining sacred space. Of course, by the 1630s the monarchy increasingly lent its [End Page 524] authority to the whittling away of Protestant privileges. The same nuanced approach lends itself particularly well to "Markers of Difference: Heroines, Amazons, and the Confessional Boundary." Luria situates women, and more particularly the rhetoric of "femaleness," as contested confessional terrain. Weak or obstinate, pure and devout or depraved — the female sex became a flexible if ambiguous and even contradictory critique of the rival faith in the hands of Catholic and Protestant apologists. Luria's chapter on funereal rites is also excellent. Here Catholics and Protestants faced head-on the issue of eternal coexistence, at least in terms of their corporeal remains. The three boundary formations are all in evidence, as...