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  • The Ashgate Research Companion to the Counter-Reformation Edited by Alexandra Bamji, Geert H. Janssen, and Mary Laven
  • Kathleen Comerford
The Ashgate Research Companion to the Counter-Reformation. Edited by Alexandra Bamji, Geert H. Janssen, and Mary Laven. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. 2013. Pp. xix, 488. $149.95. ISBN 978-1-4094-2373-7.)

This excellent volume begins with an interpretation of a Latin American Madonna and child and progresses through four major areas of research into early-modern Catholicism (twenty-four articles divided unevenly among the sections “Conflict, Coexistence and Conversion,” “Catholic Lives and Devotional Identities,” “Ideas and Cultural Practices,” and “Religious Change,” with the largest number of articles in the first part), covering roots and branches, Europe and the world, gender, music, science, literature, art, printing, material culture, sanctity, lay and clerical spirituality, persecution, bureaucracy, everyday life, and community. As Mary Laven explains in her thorough and scholarly introduction, the purpose of the contributions to the book is “to demonstrate the varieties of Catholic experience” (p. 3), not to create a new grand narrative, posit a new system, or offer definitive interpretations. Instead, the reader finds a discussion of terminology, a controversy about periodization, a debate about geography (both in terms of “the sacred landscape” (p. 203) and of the physical reach of Catholicism and the Counter-Reformation), a challenge to accepted understandings of agency, and, the icing on the cake, a veering away from the how-did-it-happen questions to the what-does-it-mean-to-the-average-person questions. Readers will benefit simply from reading the introduction, which is a synthesis of the volume that places it in historiographical context, and from the select bibliographies that follow each article, but the articles themselves are of great value individually as well as grouped together.

The limits of this review allow for only brief comments on the contents. At first glance, having Simon Ditchfield’s chapter “Tridentine Catholicism” come first, long before chapter 22, “Catholic Reformations: A Medieval Perspective” (John A. Arnold) seems a curious choice—yet the organization is an excellent move; Ditch-field’s largely historiographical study sets the stage for the rest of the book by putting on the table some very important questions of what, exactly, was the Counter-Reformation; what role the Council of Trent played in it, whether in reality or in myth; what might distinguish Trent from “Tridentine,” a question asked too infrequently; and what was the role of the papacy in both the council and the reforms. Without at least considering such questions, historians cannot properly proceed to [End Page 607] find the “roots” of the Catholic reform that are examined in Arnold’s chapter. However, Arnold is not simply tracing lines of reform proceeding from medieval Europe to the Council of Trent; he is challenging the “grand narrative” by acknowledging the existence of precursors to the reform, but putting it in the context of a rich and varied set of medieval pieties and intellectual traditions. What is particularly important in this chapter is the emphasis on the everyday, not simply the conciliarist tradition, the reigning interpretation of Gratian, or even the heresy du jour. As Arnold observes, real changes occurred at the parish level—in particular during periods of cooperation between secular and ecclesiastical power to enforce discipline.

Three chapters cover global Catholicism: “Catholic Missions to Asia” (Tara Alberts), “Catholic Missions to the Americas” (Karin Vélez), and “The Globalization of Reform” (Karin Melvin). As with the Ditchfield/Arnold pairing, these form book-ends, with the first two in part I and the third in part IV of the book. Alberts discusses both the missionaries and those whom they sought to convert, raising issues of Jesuit identity, “sincere” Catholic conversion, and postcolonial historiography. Vélez, on the other hand, addresses the need for a new understanding of missionary studies; rather than see missionaries as creating a permanent new culture in the Americas, she argues that missionary work was chaotic, characterized by constant movement, and provisional—and was in its time understood to be such. Melvin’s more comparative study focuses on the popular missions outside Europe and situates them firmly within the historiography of global changes...


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