Monday, April 6, 2009

History 112: Religion Wars and European Society (Q&A)

1. How unscathed do the mentioned Reformation religions translate to their modern counter parts?

The modern Calvinist (Presbyterians as we refer to them in America) and Lutheran religions are quite distinct from their sixteenth century forbears. For example the modern Lutheran church has officially rejected Luther’s views on Jews. I do not see modern Presbyterians attempting to recreate Calvinist Geneva on these shores. Neither of these groups maintain their forbearers emphasis of Hell and damnation.
This is quite common with religions in general. No religion is the same as the religion that existed centuries beforehand with the same name. A Catholic church run by Pope Benedict XVI, whether you like him or not, is a very different Catholic church from that of Leo X. We are dealing with different people who read texts differently, who interpret traditions differently and make different decisions. There is the lie perpetuated by most religions that they are an unbroken chain of tradition. In order to maintain this lie religious establishments will distort history and pretend that one can draw a straight line of equivalency between themselves and their forbearers.

2. I was reading the section and I noticed how divided up the nations we have today used to be. I knew Germany has been many separate states for most of its existence, but I had no idea the Netherlands was so separate. Also, it says that the Dutch had essentially the first modern Republic, so my question is, how similar was the 16th-17th century Dutch Republic to our own Republic, was it truly an early modern predecessor to American free-market capitalism?
3. What is your opinion on Davies' claim that the Netherlands "had every reason to regard itself as the first modern state"? I've never heard this before and would be interested in your thoughts on such a bold statement.

One of the major shifts in modern historiography is that our narrative of the Enlightenment and pre Enlightenment has moved away from just France. Just as our narrative of the Renaissance has moved away from the traditional Italian centered narrative so to has the narrative of the Enlightenment moved away from being France centered and other Enlightenments and pre Enlightenments have come into focus. The major beneficiary of this has been the seventeenth century Dutch republic. While the Dutch did not have religious tolerance in the modern sense of the term they were certainly more tolerant than anyone else in Europe and they were host to a fairly colorful cast of characters; the most famous of them being Benedict Spinoza. In addition the Dutch were leaders in the development of a merchant class. The Dutch republic, a small insignificant country managed to build a world class trading empire and become a major European power. Davies is certainly on the side of this pro Dutch shift, though he may overstep himself.

4. How was the Dutch education system? If I remember correctly from 111, the early university structure included 3 Lower and 4 Upper Disciplines. Was the same structure applied in the seventeenth century in Dutch Republic in particular, and Europe in general?
Good question. One that I am not qualified to answer. I do know that European universities one the major holdouts of conservative Aristotelians. This is contrary to modern times where we associate universities with being very liberal.

5. Can you go into more detail of the rioting and religious desecrationthat occurred under the regency of Margaret of Parma?

Margaret of Parma was the regent in charge of the Netherlands and she failed to maintain control at the beginning of revolt. Philip II put in a string of people to put down the Calvinist revolt and all of them failed. As with the pervious question I honesty do not have the background in Dutch history to go into much detail.

6. The witch craze is noted to be attributed "to the pathological effects of religious conflict." I can't say I really understand this. If all these changes and knowledge were being brought around by the Renaissance, how did this kind of stuff ever fly?

This is one of the great ironies of the early modern period. The Middle Ages, for all of its supposed “superstition,” did not have witches. All of a sudden, in the fifteenth century, when Europeans are becoming more “rational we have find this obsessions, possessing both the upper and lower classes, with the idea that there are people selling their souls to Satan and having orgies at secret Sabbaths. See Stuart Clark’s Thinking with Demons on this issue. He puts this issue into the context of early modern thought and shows why witches were a logical extension of certain foundational assumptions of early modern thought.

I showed the Return of Martin Guerre after class and offered the following questions to consider in relation to the class:

1. What is the role of family in Martin Guerre’s village? Are marriages made on the basis of love?
2. Are the villagers prudish about sex? Would children growing up in this society be more innocent or less innocent about sex than children growing up in our society?
3. The story in the film takes place in the mid sixteenth century. How relevant is this fact? Could this story have just as easily happened during the Middle Ages?
4. To what extent is the peasant society of Martin Guerre’s village distinct from the “high society” of the investigators from the parliament of Toulouse? To what extent does the film play to the notion of distinct spheres of high and low society?
5. Can we refer to the residents of the village as being oppressed and if so by whom?
6. Where does the priest fit in with this peasant society?
7. What is the role of women in this society? Are women in a subordinate position?
8. What is the role of religion in this society? How does the priest compare with the local wise woman?
9. In a world without fingerprints, DNA, dental records or even photographs how does one establish identity?
10. Using dramatic license, the film has Bernadette being aware of the truth about the man who claimed to be her husband; do you think that she did in real life?

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