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Historically Speaking

June 2012

Vol. XIII No. 3


The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press recently published Brad S. Gregorys The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society. It is one of those big books that even its critics concede is astonishing in its scholarly breadth and bold in its interpretive sweep. We are pleased to devote a major portion of the June issue to a discussion of this important work of historical synthesis and interpretation. Gregory opens our forum with an overview of the books method, approach, and argument. Then a distinguished panel of historiansAlexandra Walsham, Bruce Gordon, Carlos Eire, and Euan Cameronoffer their commentaries. We close with Gregorys rejoinder.

June 2012

The Unintended Reformation: A Forum
The Intentions of The Unintended Reformation
Brad S. Gregory

A Response to Brad Gregorys The Unintended Reformation

Alexandra Walsham


Brad S. Gregory

Response to Brad Gregory

Bruce Gordon

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Living with Unintended Consequences

Euan Cameron

The Intentional Challenge of The Unintended Reformation

Carlos Eire


Reply to Euan Cameron, Carlos Eire, Bruce Gordon, and Alexandra Walsham
Brad S. Gregory


Catholicism in Colonial and Revolutionary America: An Interview with Maura Jane Farrelly
Conducted by Randall J. Stephens


Absentminded Conquerors: The Paradoxes of English Imperialism and Militarism before the Great War
Ian Hopper


American Pandemic: An Interview with Nancy K. Bristow

Conducted by Donald A. Yerxa


From the Sentiment of Humanity to the Concept of Humanity

Bruce Mazlish




Cover image: A 19th century print of Martin Luther burning the papal bull of excommunication. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [reproduction number, LCDIG-pga-00297].

he Unintended Reformation is a work of historical analysis that takes the present as its point of departure. I am most grateful to the editors of Historically Speaking for devoting this forum to it. While disclaiming comprehensiveness, the book aims to be as explanatorily powerful as possible while making as few theoretical and methodological assumptions as necessary. Secondarily, the book addresses some major contemporary concerns based on its historical analysis. These remarks will speak mostly to the first ambition and briefly to the second. I endeavor in The Unintended Reformation to answer a basic but very big question: How did contemporary ideological and institutional realities in North America and Europe come to be as they are? The book intends to characterize these realities matter-of-factly. Ideologically, they include an openended range of secular and religious truth claims made by individuals about matters pertaining to human meaning, morality, purpose, and priorities, including some religious truth claims articulated with great intellectual sophistication by theologians and philosophers of religion. Insofar as the present is the product of the past, any adequate history must be able to account for all these claims. The modern liberal institutions variously characteristic of all contemporary Western states permit this ideological heterogeneity through the legal and political protection of individual citizens to believe and live as they please so long as they obey established laws. The books explanation of how the past became the present questions many widely held assumptions. The reason is simple: typical narratives, common

I endeavor in The Unintended Reformation to answer a basic but very big question: How did contemporary ideological and institutional realities in North America and Europe come to be as they are?

conceptions of change over time, and ordinary historical methodologies cannot answer the books central question. They fail to do justice to the full range of moral and metaphysical commitments encompassed under the first-person pluralwewhen it is used inclusively of all present-day Europeans and North Americans. Who are we? Predominant largescale historical narratives in which Catholicism is thought to have been superseded by the Protestant Reformation, which was in turn superseded by Enlightened modernity only to be superseded in turn by the postmodern presentwould seem to imply that we are all now secular, skeptical, fragmented selves. But we are not. This inaccurate generalization does not describe even highly educated Westerners because it fails to account for the wide varieties of secular rationalists or religious believers. What needs to be explained is not a nonexistent uniform secularism but a heterogeneous hyperpluralism of individuals who hold rival secular and religious truth claims that diversely influence their actions and collectively influence public life. Formidably complex questions of historical explanation confront anyone who seeks to know what people today believe, where their beliefs come from, and what their beliefs are based on, and not just because individuals beliefs so often change over time and are usually complicated hybrids. Not only the beliefs but also their related assumptions arose through historical processes. Divergent believers are also always embodied practitioners who enact behaviors within social relationships and political institutions, all of which can and do change over time in complicated ways. No explanatory narrative could possibly

June 2012

Historically Speaking

consider all the relevant evidence. Examples would tive. The specific and the particular in the human overwhelm coherent explanation, losing the forest past are incorporated not by directly including large in the trees. Even historians devoted to answering numbers of individual examples, which would have far less ambitious questions ordinarily divide their risked losing the books explanatory thread in an labor by historical period, type of history, and unreadable work of multiple volumes, but by syncountry or region. But the prevailing periodization thesizing in the analytical narrative a considerable and parceling of the past themselves reflect instibody of more specialized and conventional histortutionalized assumptions about change over time, ical scholarship. which are in turn related to other intellectual disciAnswering the seemingly straightforward plines with their own aims and presuppositions, all question about how the past became the present of which are also part of what needs to be explained because they, too, are historical products. Paradoxical as it sounds, then, in order to answer the question of how the past became the present we must bracket some of the ways in which historians ordinarily proceed. We need a more promising methodone that could in principle (if never in fact) integrate all the relevant findings of specialized historical scholarship while simultaneously recognizing that not only this research but all knowledge-making depends on assumptions that are themselves part of what requires explanation. This line of thought lies behind the unusual method and approach of The Unintended Reformation. In its attempt to explain how the past became the present, the book is both more analytical and more synthetic than most works of history. It is A detail from an 1882 lithograph of Martin Luther. Library of Congress, more analytical, first, because its dePrints and Photographs Division [reproduction number, LC-DIG-pgaliberately selective use of recon02205]. structive descriptions of past individuals, institutions, and ideas is subordinated to explanation in what is a relentlessly turns out to place considerable demands on the argument-driven book. Second, it is highly analytreader, and this for multiple reasons. Different doical because its chapter structure is based on a conmains of human life are analytically distinguished ceptual disentangling of different domains of from but also synthetically related to one another human life that were not lived separately from one as intertwined parts of a single overarching arguanother, but that are better grasped when considment. This simultaneous distinguishing and relatered one at a time. Human beings act on certain ing covers a chronological span of more than a desires rather than others, believe some things and half-millennium, because restricting ourselves to not others, and inhabit particular socioeconomic the modern era cannot explain how the past beand political positions rather than others. Yet it is came the present and requires particular attention difficult all at once to see these things and to purto the Reformation era. The book thus transsue their changes over time. gresses common boundaries of historical periThe Unintended Reformation is also more synodization. And substantively, the book thetic than most works of history, in the first inincorporates in a highly compressed way the relastance because each of its chapters contributes to tionships among science, metaphysics, and concepthe agglutinative argument of the whole. No chaptions of God; Catholic, Protestant, and modern ters are meant to stand alone despite their diverse philosophical truth claims about fundamental matfoci. The book seeks to show that intellectual, poters of human meaning, values, and purpose; the litical, social, and economic history cannot be public exercise of institutional power; moral theoneatly separated from one another, because human ries and practices in relationship to political theobeings embedded within social and political relaries and institutions; human desires in relationship tionships enact desires in relationship to the natuto capitalism and consumption; and the character ral world influenced by beliefs and ideas. Moreover, and institutional sites of knowledge-making across the book synthesizes much specialized historical the full breadth of human intellectual inquiry. I scholarship about the Reformation era, and less extoss readers many balls, so to speak, and ask them tensively about the Middle Ages and the modern to keep juggling. Not many readers are likely to be accustomed era, in a manner consistent with its overall objec-

Historically Speaking
The Bulletin of the Historical Society
Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press Senior Editors: Joseph S. Lucas and Donald A. Yerxa Editor & Designer: Randall J. Stephens Contributing Editors: Joseph Amato, Eric Arnesen, Andrew Bacevich, Jeremy Black, Fritz Fischer, Thomas J. Fleming, Colin S. Gray, Adam Hochschild, George Huppert, Mary Beth Immediata, Mark Killenbeck, Bruce Kuklick, Pauline Maier, George Marsden, Bruce Mazlish, Wilfred McClay, William H. McNeill, Allan Megill, Joseph Miller, Peter Paret, Linda Salvucci, William R. Shea, Dennis Showalter, Barry Strauss, William Stueck, Jr., Carol Thomas, Derek Wilson, John Wilson, John Womack, Bertram Wyatt-Brown 2012 by The Historical Society. All rights reserved. All texts The Historical Society unless otherwise noted. No portion of Historically Speaking may be reproduced by any process or technique without the formal consent of the publisher. Direct all permissions requests to Historically Speaking (ISSN 1941-4188) is published five times a year for The Historical Society by The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2715 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218-4363 Postmaster: Send address changes to Historically Speaking, 656 Beacon St., Mezzanine, Boston, MA 02215 Correspondence: Please write the Editors, Historically Speaking, 656 Beacon St., Mezzanine, Boston, MA 02215 Membership and subscription: Please see ad on page 21

656 Beacon Street, Mezzanine Boston, MA 02215-2010 ph. 617.358.0260 fx. 617.358.0250 PRESIDENT Mark M. Smith DIRECTOR Joseph S. Lucas SECRETARY/TREASURER Jeffrey Vanke ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, MANAGING EDITOR, THE JOURNAL OF THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY Scott Hovey SENIOR EDITORS, HISTORICALLY SPEAKING Joseph S. Lucas Donald A. Yerxa EDITOR, HISTORICALLY SPEAKING Randall J. Stephens EDITOR, THE JOURNAL OF THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY Peter A. Coclanis BOARD OF GOVERNORS Carol Anderson Eric Arnesen Charles Banner-Haley Chris Beneke Martin Burke David Chappell Peter Coclanis Bruce Cole Jennifer Delton Pamela Edwards Louis Ferleger John Higginson Joyce Malcolm Scott Marler Wilfred M. McClay John R. McNeill Heather Cox Richardson Linda K. Salvucci Joseph Skelly William Stueck Patricia Sullivan Marc Trachtenberg Graydon A. Tunstall Cheryl A. Wells Jon Westling John Wilson

Historically Speaking

June 2012

to thinking about the relationships among so many different areas of human life, distilled in such a condensed manner, and analyzed over such a long period of time, while simultaneously being asked to rethink many seemingly settled cornerstones of modern intellectual life. But this is what we must do, it seems to me, if we are to understand how the world in which North Americans and Europeans are living today came to be as it is. The Unintended Reformation is a demanding, intricate book because the human past is complex. Human decisions and actions taken many centuries ago continue to influence the present in ways that often go unrecognized, but which a certain sort of genealogical historical analysis can discern and trace. The book was written with care and must be read with care in order to be understood, not least because the analysis of many historical realities is threaded through and distributed across multiple chapters instead of being treated in only one place. At the heart of the narrative is the Reformation era because its unresolved doctrinal disagreements and concrete religio-political disruptions are the key to answering the books central question. The ongoing consequences of these controversies and conflicts continue to influence all Western women and men today regardless of anyones particular commitments. The book is not primarily an argument about any ostensibly secularizing aspects of Protestantism per se, whether direct or (as Weber would have it) indirect: Protestantism as such did not disenchant the world (41). Much more important were the ongoing disputes between Catholics and Protestants (which prompted ideological alternatives in modern secular thought) and their violent conflicts (which catalyzed institutional innovations that eventually accommodated religious as well as secular pluralism). Because late medieval Christianity was not religion in the modern sense, but rather a far from homogeneous yet institutionalized worldview that for good or ill influenced and was intended to inform all domains of human life (2), the rejections of the Roman churchs authority by Protestant reformers affected nearly everything. This included transformations already underway before the Reformation, such as conceptions of metaphysics, the increasing jurisdictional control of ecclesiastical affairs by non-ecclesiastical authorities, and the spread of markets and commerce in a monetized economy. The book traces the processes by which conflicts over true Christianity prompted novel conceptions of religion as separate and separable from the rest of life, and then analyzes the disembedding of religion from science, the public exercise of power, modern moral and political theories, economic views and practices, and higher education. An emphasis on doctrinal disagreement is not merely warranted but necessary if we are to understand the Reformation era and its consequences. The socially and politically divisive disagreements about what is true, how one ought to live, and what matters most in life that emerged within a Christian context in the early 1520s have never gone away. They have been transformed, modified, and expanded in terms

of content and character even as efforts have been made to contain and manage their unintended and unprecedentedly enormous effects. The most important institutional facilitators of this process have been and remain modern liberal states, which solved the problems of early modern confessional coexistence through a circumscribed understanding of religion. The Unintended Reformation expands upon and develops conclusions reached at the end of my first book, Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Harvard University Press, 1999). It was already clear to me then that critical aspects of the Reformation era and its influence on modernity

Besides its primary aim, The Unintended Reformation uses historical analysis to highlight and speak to contemporary concerns.
can be seen only if early modern Christianity is studied comparatively across confessional boundaries. It would be an exaggeration, I wrote in Salvation at Stake, to say that unresolved religious disagreement caused the Enlightenment, the rise of modern science and philosophy, the early modern renaissance of skepticism, and the birth of modern relativism. Yet its important influence on all these major trajectories in modern thought is clear (348). The Unintended Reformation seeks to delineate how this is so, tracing trajectories from doctrinal disagreements through these and other early modern realities to our contemporary hyperpluralism of divergent religious and secular truth claims. In Salvation at Stake I also gestured toward the institutional aspect of the analysis now pursued in The Unintended Reformation: Because the prospects for peaceful coexistence among Christians were tenuous at best, only nonreligious values could serve as the basis of stable social and political life. Individuals would eventually have the right to believe and worship as they saw fit. Or they might choose not to worship at all. Or they might, eventually, campaign against religion as a source of intolerance and oppression throughout human history. All these activities would be protected by the modern state, which permits virtually anything that it has rendered private and that it can control (349; italics in original). My new book is directed not only against modern reductionist theories of religion applied to believer-practitioners in the safely distant premodern past, as was Salvation at Stake. Much more unsettlingly, it also exposes the faith-based, confessional character of contemporary secular ideologies, whose historical roots lie in modern responses to Reformation-era doctrinal controversies. Besides its primary aim, The Unintended Reformation uses historical analysis to highlight and speak to contemporary concerns. This is a practical corollary of the fact that the present is a product of the past: understanding the makings of the contemporary

world should give us insight into some of (what seem to me to be) its problems. These include issues as disparate as our interminable (and apparently irresolvable) moral disagreements and the social rancor and political friction they sometimes generate; our lack of any substantive common good and the seeming impossibility of devising one; global climate change and the apparent contribution to it by human beings exercising their politically protected rights to acquire and consume as much as they desire within their credit limits; the inability to articulate any convincing reasons to believe that human rights or persons are real given the assumptions of metaphysical naturalism that govern public discourse; and the conspicuous dearth of attempts to understand how different types of knowledge might fit together, which both masks the incompatibilities among the truth claims of different academic disciplines and contributes to the incoherence of undergraduate university education. The Unintended Reformation argues that all these features of present-day Western life, and more, are unintended products of tangled historical trajectories that derive from the unresolved doctrinal controversies and eventual institutional solution to the concrete religio-political conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries. How one evaluates them whether one finds in them cause for concern or celebrationis a matter separate from the persuasiveness of the historical analysis that purports to explain how we have arrived at them. In other words, one could agree with the analytical narrative in The Unintended Reformation but praise these features of present-day Western life. They seem to me troubling for reasons on which I expand in the book, notwithstanding numerous positive aspects of modernity with which they coexist and which I also acknowledge. The payoff of my book, I would hope, is manifold. It reconceptualizes the Reformation by historically reintegrating those anti-Roman Christians who did not receive political support with those who did. By challenging conventional conceptions of change over time and schemes of historical periodization, the book offers fresh insight into how we have reached the situation in which we find ourselves today in North America and Europe, and thus contributes to greater self-awareness. I hope that not only historians but also other scholars and scientists will be inspired by the book to look beyond their respective areas of expertise, and indeed beyond interdisciplinarity, to questions about the relationships among the different kinds of knowledge generated in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. And I hope the book will convince colleagues that the exclusion of intellectually sophisticated religious perspectives from research universities is inconsistent with the open-mindedness that should characterize the academys ostensible commitments to academic freedom and intellectual inquiry without ideological restrictions. I am well aware that entrenched and frequently unacknowledged prejudices make this unlikely. That many readers were and are bound not to like The Unintended Reformation goes without saying. It is much too unsettling and subver-

June 2012

Historically Speaking

sive to garner anything approaching unanimous approbation. But what matters to me is whether those who dislike the book have understood it, and if so, whether they have persuasive counterarguments to mount against it. Brad S. Gregory is professor of early modern European history at the University of Notre Dame. A former jun-

ior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows, he was the recipient of the inaugural Hiett Prize in the Humanities from the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture in 2005 and is the recipient of multiple teaching awards at Notre Dame and Stanford University, where he taught from 1996-2003 and received early tenure in 2001. He is co-editor, with Alister Chapman and J.R.D. Coffey, of Seeing Things Their Way: Intel-

lectual History and the Return of Religion (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009) and author of Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Harvard University Press, 1999), which received six book awards.


Alexandra Walsham

spirit of primitive Christianity and build a rad Gregory has written a brave and new Jerusalem led, inadvertently, to the emerprovocative book that is destined to gence of a world in which God has, to a stimulate debate for decades to greater or lesser extent, become an irrelecome. Sweeping in scale and striking in its vancea world that the reformers themerudition, The Unintended Reformation is a lonselves would have abominated. gitudinal study of how the past has shaped Expanding a theme of his first book, Salthe present. It is an absorbing and sophistivation at Stake, Gregorys second agenda is a cated investigation of the complex historical robust critique of what he regards as reduclegacies of the religious revolution inaugutionist theories of religion derived from the rated by the Protestant reformers in 16thsocial sciences, especially sociology and ancentury Europe. It centers on the paradox thropology, and of postmodern social and that a movement that was designed to renew cultural constructionism. The Unintended Refand purify religious truth and to intensify ormation is a sharply edged rejection of interspirituality had the unforeseen consequence pretive tendencies that, implicitly if not of creating the increasingly secular societies explicitly, refuse to accept the reality of belief in which we live today. In tracing the process in absolute truths in the past and reduce them by which religious faith and theology have to mere symbols, categories, languages, and gradually been marginalized from public life discourses. It repudiates such approaches over the course of the last five centuries, it as insufficient to the task of understanding provides a fresh perspective on the endurand capturing historical realities. Indeed, it deingly relevant question of the origins of nounces them as evidence of a secular bias modernity, albeit one self-consciously inthat is no less confessional than that which debted to previous work by the economist marks histories written by committed believAlbert Hirschman, the philosopher Alasdair ers themselves. For Gregory, the intellectual MacIntyre, and the historian of science trends that now dominate the academy are exAmos Funkenstein. Breaking out of conHans Holbeins, The Preacher (1547). From George Edward Woodberry, A ventional molds, The Unintended Reformation is tensions of the very same processes that his History of Wood-Engraving (New York, 1883). a hybrid work of history, philosophy, and book seeks to explain and illuminate. They are contemporary moral and political commenno less historically contingent and arbitrary of incremental Weberian disenchantment and of the tary. than the faith convictions that secular academics deinexorable growth of post-Darwinian atheism. FolIn tackling this topic Gregory has two underlynounce as inimical to the writing of sound history. lowing in the footsteps of Herbert Butterfield and ing agendas. One is a determination to discredit what Gregorys analysis here is incisive and penetrating, others, Gregory recognizes the roots of this whighe calls supersessionist models of historical and it is certainly true that postmodernism has not gish historical vision in the very eras under his exchange: models predicated upon teleology and upon been free of internal inconsistency. It has encouramination and regards its tenacity as a reflection of the assumption that the steady displacement of meaged us to acknowledge the rationality of past belief its success as a form of ideological imperialism dieval by modern ideas, practices, and structures systems, but it has not always been willing to accord (386). Against the sense of inevitability that underis a wholly positive development. He conceives of present ones the same credibility. pins such accounts, he is at pains to draw our attenhis book as an answer to calls for a history of the The six chapters that comprise Brad Gregorys tion to a set of more interesting long-term Reformation with the notion of progress left out book tackle separate but intersecting themes. The trajectories: the tangled web of rejections, reten(366) and as a counterpoint to triumphalist post-Enfirst traces how a metaphysical system in which God tions and transformations by which a traditional lightenment narratives that celebrate the emancipawas regarded as a transcendent being separate from Christian culture was slowly transfigured into sometion of Western society from the grip of his creation and outside the normal order of causathing quite different, and by which the efforts of ignorance and superstition and approvingly tion was displaced by a univocal one in which he is Luther, Calvin, and their disciples to recapture the chart the rise of liberal democracy. They tell a story seen as an integral part of it and conceived of in spa-