Institute of Modern History

Panels at the biannual conferences of the German Association of Historians (Deutscher Historikertag)

Members of the Institute for Modern History participated in the organization and performance of the following panels at conferences of the German Association of Historians:

"Rhetorics of Certainty – Dynamic Knowledge: Negotiating Faith and Certainty in Premodern Europe", organized by Prof. Dr. Renate Dürr and Dr. Irene van Renswoude (Den Haag/Utrecht).

Could statements in matters of knowledge only be either right or false? Premodern rhetorical attempts to define certain knowledge, truth, and orthodoxy and to distinguish them from fantasy, fraud, and heresy convey this impression. From a modern viewpoint, this concept of certainty, implying eternal and fundamental validity, is often considered to be characteristic of the premodern era. The concept of ‘orthodoxy’ is inherently incompatible with the notion of truth as a social construct. It leaves no room for processes of adaptation and transformation, for ambiguity or even interaction with what was regarded as heterodoxy. In matters of knowledge, to put it briefly, change seems impossible. It can only appear as a breach with tradition or scientific revolution, hence a blow from outside against the rhetoric of certainty.

Similarly, the concept of ‘knowledge’ does not convey the idea of something preliminary. As the opposite to belief and unknowing, ‘knowledge’ seems to claim fundamental validity, too, at least from the perspective of those involved. Research into the sociology and history of knowledge have revealed these claims as illusory. Nevertheless, the rhetoric of certainty involved the evocation of a clear juxtaposition of codified and rejected knowledge. But what were the implications of declaring certain knowledge as ‘apocryphal’, which was received despite or perhaps because of this status? And what did this categorization mean for the concept of knowledge in general? In 2012, Martin Mulsow has proposed the term ‘precarious knowledge’ for certain strands of knowledge and its protagonists in the early modern period. This panel intends to demonstrate that this term has the potential to interpret ‘knowledge’ as dynamic.

[Read the panel report (in German)]

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"Media – Senses – Objects: New Approaches to Matters of Faith in the Early Modern Period", organized by Dr. Anne Mariss and Dr. Philip Hahn.

This panel explores the potential of different methodological approaches to ‘matters of faith‘ by looking at the media of instruction, the material culture, and the senses that could be employed in the process of producing ‘religious knowledge‘. In this way, we hope to contribute to explaining how people in the early modern period believed.

The concept of ‘religious knowledge‘ transcends traditional – and anachronistic – notions of a dichotomy between faith and knowledge in the premodern period. People produced ‘religious knowledge‘, i.e. knowledge derived ultimately from revelation, by constant re-appropriation, negotiation and transferral to new contexts. It could not only be acquired from texts, but also by looking at images, by the touching of objects, and by means of sensory perception in general. This means that the production of ‘religious knowledge‘ has to be interpreted from various methodological angles.

All three papers focus on aspects that do not fit into traditional narratives of religious history. Bridget Heal will analyse the exegetical role of illustrations in Lutheran editions of the Bible, which seems to disagree with the alleged word-centredness of Lutheranism. The importance of images for Jesuit pious practice, by contrast, is well known, but is generally ignored that they were embedded in a specific Jesuit material culture, as Anne Mariss will argue. Philip Hahn’s paper departs from the observation that late medieval sensory culture exerted a strong influence on early modern confessional cultures, and will ask how the role of the senses in ‘matters of faith‘ can be reinterpreted by employing a sensory historical approach.

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