Winter 2007: “Religion and Empire in the Early Modern Atlantic”

Religious passions and conflicts drove much of the expansionist energy of post-Reformation Europe and provided both a rationale and a practical mode of organizing the dispersal and resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people from Europe to the Americas. During the formative period of European exploration, settlement, and conquest of the Americas, from roughly 1500 to 1700, Europe’s Christians, confronting the new and unfamiliar, were forced to explain and defend the old, often in novel and startling ways.

This course will look at the dynamic expansion, fragmentation, and dispersal of religious communities and ideas in the 16th and 17th centuries through four interrelated categories:  translation (the process of rendering familiar beliefs and texts in a new idiom); dissent (the challenge of defining and maintaining boundaries between the authorized and the unauthorized); diaspora (the experience of exile and estrangement); and transplantation (the rooting of the sacred in alien environments).

All of these themes highlight the tremendous instability that the wars of the Reformation and imperial expansion introduced into organized religious life in the 16th and 17th centuries, on both sides of the Atlantic, and the creative adaptations of belief, practice, and community life that followed in the wake of these seismic events.  Our texts will include major literary and historical documents of the period as well as important scholarly interventions. 

We are eager to convene this course as an intensive interdisciplinary conversation and we welcome students from American Culture, Comparative Literature, Anthropology, Sociology, Romance Languages, Art History, and other related disciplines, as well as those from our home departments of History and English.

This course is sponsored by the Atlantic Studies Initiative and fulfills the proseminar requirement for the certificate in Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Our semester’s work will also lay the groundwork for an international conference on the same subject, to take place at the University of Michigan on October 5-6, 2007; students will be encouraged play active roles in planning and administering that conference.