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A Comparative Method for Sixteenth-Century Polemicists: Cults, Devotions, and the Formation of Early Modern Religious Identities

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This article retraces the roots of the modern comparative history of religions to the sixteenth-century controversy between Catholics and Protestants. By looking at one case study, that of a treatise on cults and devotions by Heinrich Bullinger, one of the most important Swiss Reformers of the early Reformation, it will show how the confrontational method of comparison inherent in the Christian tradition of religious polemics became a flexible means of creating and defending different religious identities. This change allowed both the reinforcement of confessional boundaries between Catholics and Protestants, and, unintentionally, made it possible to place the Christian idea of truth in context. By broadening the perspective to another religious history of the period, the Apologética historia sumaria by Bartolomé de las Casas, the article will identify a common line of thought in sixteenth-century comparative history of religions, which paved the way for the reconsideration of religious phenomena through a careful readaptation of patristic and classical thought.

Affiliations: 1: Ludwig-Maximiliams-UniversitaetMunich


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