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Reviewed by:
  • Religious War and Religious Peace in Early Modern Europe by Wayne P. Te Brake
  • Penny Roberts
Religious War and Religious Peace in Early Modern Europe. By Wayne P. Te Brake (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. xv plus 396 pp. $89.99).

A renewed interest in the religious conflicts of the early modern period and, in particular, attempts at their resolution, has been prominent among European historians over the last couple of decades, and many valuable contributions have been made to the associated debates. Wayne P. Te Brake, while acknowledging this, seeks to provide a "novel" overview of "two centuries of experimentation in accommodating religious differences" from the perspective of a social scientist (xi). Te Brake is clear about his debt to his mentors, especially the historical sociologist Charles Tilly, in shaping this approach. He chooses to focus on the period 1529-1651 which, he argues, experienced pretty much continuous religious warfare, and to divide his discussion into three sections along broadly chronological and geographical lines. It is his hope, also, to provide an analysis which is instructive for those faced with resolving fraught and longstanding conflicts today. Indeed, such contemporary concerns are bound to inflect any discussion of the uses of religious violence and the difficulties of establishing a meaningful peace. As Te Brake himself makes clear, such attempts result more often in a "messy and fragile" compromise and an uneasy religious pluralism (8).

The author divides his discussion of religious war and religious peace into three phases addressed through three regions of activity: Central Europe (1529-1555), primarily the German and Swiss territories; Western Europe (1562-1609), principally France and the Netherlands; and seventeenth-century Europe (1618-1651), focusing on the Thirty Years War and the Treaty of Westphalia as well as religious conflict and compromise in Britain. The condensed detail of these eleven central chapters covers a significant and impressive amount of historical ground and fully engages with an up-to-date historiography. Thus, the heart of the analysis provides a comprehensive tour of the Reformation period recognisable to early modern historians, while synthesising for non-expert readers its key events and developments and summarising current debates. Te Brake's use of photographs to document, and allow the reader to visualise, the material culture which framed the negotiations and disputes he describes is an engaging additional dimension to this discussion.

There is, perhaps inevitably in view of the aims of the book, a tension between this detailed historical content and the theoretical framework (which will [End Page 1389] be more familiar to social scientists) developed in the first chapter and the conclusion. Aware of the challenges inherent in trying to reach out to a multidisciplinary readership, Te Brake suggests how best to get the most out of his work, by reading the introductory and concluding sections first and only then selectively dipping into other parts of the text. Like the religious groups he is studying, such attempts at accommodation are not always effective. Historians may not be comfortable with Te Brake's self-confessed deployment of the "social-scientific language of mechanisms and processes" and "strategies of contentious political analysis," an approach which may sometimes appear rather laboured, but also provides structure (351). His use of diagrams, tables, typologies and lists of questions (BIG or otherwise) which may grate with some will be welcome to others.

Nevertheless, there is a real effort by the author to properly historicise his thesis and to problematize the complexity of the peace-making processes he outlines. Te Brake is at pains to point out the costs as well as benefits for those involved in these settlements. In particular, he demonstrates that, in practice, we are looking at a variety of imperfect solutions, which often instituted inequality and injustice rather than toleration. Such uncomfortable truths may be insightful for thinking about how such situations are dealt with today. The comparative context is essential here, as it has been for early modern historians such as Ben Kaplan (oft-cited in the book), who have been able to provide a coherent and perceptive overview of the issue.1

Te Brake's ultimate conclusion is, quite rightly, that religious peace was "complex and messy...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 1389-1390
Launched on MUSE
2019-06-07
Open Access
No
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