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Reviewed by:
  • Die Konfessionalisierungparadigma: Leistungen, Probleme, Grenzen ed. by Thomas Brockmann and Dieter J. Weiss
  • Marc R. Forster
Die Konfessionalisierungparadigma: Leistungen, Probleme, Grenzen. Edited by Thomas Brockmann and Dieter J. Weiss. [Bayreuther Historische Kolloquien, Band 18.] (Münster: Aschendorff Verlag, 2013. Pp. vii, 300. €29,80 paperback. ISBN 978-3-402-12923-4.)

This edited volume assembles fourteen articles based on papers presented at a 2008 conference held at the University of Bayreuth. The occasion was a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of a very influential article by Ernst Walter Zeeden on Konfessionsbildung—that is, the “construction of confessions.” That article led, several decades later, to the development of the “confessionalization paradigm” associated most prominently with Wolfgang Reinhard and Heinz Schilling. The publication in this collection of articles originally presented five years ago gives the collection a bit of a dated feel, and the articles from fourteen German scholars and one American (one article is coauthored) cover little new ground in what has become a tired debate over confessionalization.

The introductory article by the editors provides a useful overview of the confessionalization paradigm and its critics. Critics have argued that confessionalization has overemphasized the role of the state in creating confessional cultures, while underplaying religious and spiritual motivations. Another critique is that the paradigm (or “thesis”) does not account properly for the specific theologies, practices, and traditions of the different Christian confessions. Reformation scholars complain that a focus on confessionalization, which took place after 1550, ignores the importance of the religious revolution set in motion by Martin Luther. None of this is new here, but the article lays the issues out clearly.

Several of the articles in the collection take up one or more of these critiques. Some of the articles are quite traditional in structure and argument. Dieter Weiss’s article about Bamberg argues that traditional practices, in this case the Corpus Christi procession, continued to dominate in Catholicism, despite Tridentine reforms. Wolfgang Brückner, the dean of the religious folklorist (Volkskündler), presses the critique that confessionalization does not effectively account for popular pious practices, many of which developed organically. The article makes interesting comparisons between Lutheran and Catholic practices, but is marred by an unnecessarily polemical style.

Some of the articles by younger and mid-career scholars are more valuable, providing new perspectives and attempting to move beyond older debates. Andreas Holzem’s elegantly written, densely argued, and clearly organized article on the development of confessional cultures argues that the scholarship on confessionalization has developed a certain “self-correcting” character that has allowed the strengths of the paradigm to encourage valuable research. Holzem pleads for a cultural and religious history of confessionalization, one that will emphasize the experience of ordinary people, rather than the actions of church and state. An interesting diagram (p. 160) aims at conceptualizing the interplay of social discipline, confessionalization, and the communal/local world (Lebenswelt). Here we see a real effort to move the historical analysis of early-modern religion in new directions. [End Page 161]

A final area of focus in this volume is provided by a number of articles that examine the value of the confessionalization paradigm outside of Germany. Josef Schmid looks at “royal religion” in Scandinavia, France, and England; Thomas Niclas examines France in the Wars of Religion; and Ludolf Pelizaeus presents the case of Spain and its worldwide empire. All these cases present challenges to the paradigm while, in this reviewer’s view, making only weak cases that the concepts borrowed from confessionalization improve our understanding of developments in these countries.

Overall, this collection reinforces the sense that the debate over confessionalization has run its course, and the new and innovative scholarship is moving in a different direction, in search of religious experience and religious culture. These are perhaps not strikingly new perspectives for scholars of France, England, and Italy, but they are new in early-modern German history.

Marc R. Forster
Connecticut College
New London, CT


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pp. 161-162
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