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More than Piety

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The Historiographic Neglect of Early Modern Lay Theology

image of Church History and Religious Culture

Histories of Early Modern religion in Europe typically contrast the activities of ordained theologians with those of laity. The thought and writings of the former usually constitute “theology” and those of the latter “piety.” The result has long been a divided history. Confessional church historians have written histories that were essentially genealogies of (male) officer holders, while scholars of folklore, culture or literature analyzed the contributions of laity. Since the so-called cultural turn, the contributions of laity as organizers, transmitters and patrons of Early Modern religious movements are being recognized. What has been less studied are the intellectual achievements of laity, many of whom possessed deep knowledge of theology, history, and ancient languages and played important roles in Early Modern religious history. This article provides an overview of the main issues and the development of lay theology in the period and argues for increased study of the phenomenon.

Affiliations: 1: Gotha Research Centre, University of Erfurt


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