The Tactics of Toleration: A Refugee Community in the Age of Religious Wars

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9781611490343: The Tactics of Toleration: A Refugee Community in the Age of Religious Wars

The Tactics of Toleration examines the preconditions and limits of toleration during an age in which Europe was sharply divided along religious lines. During the Age of Religious Wars, refugee communities in borderland towns like the Rhineland city of Wesel were remarkably religiously diverse and culturally heterogeneous places. Examining religious life from the perspective of Calvinists, Lutherans, Mennonites, and Catholics, this book examines how residents dealt with pluralism during an age of deep religious conflict and intolerance. Based on sources that range from theological treatises to financial records and from marriage registries to testimonies before secular and ecclesiastical courts, this project offers new insights into the strategies that ordinary people developed for managing religious pluralism during the Age of Religious Wars. Historians have tended to emphasize the ways in which people of different faiths created and reinforced religious differences in the generations after the Reformation's break-up of Christianity, usually in terms of long-term historical narratives associated with modernization, including state building, confessionalization, and the subsequent rise of religious toleration after a century of religious wars. In contrast, Jesse Spohnholz demonstrates that although this was a time when Christians were engaged in a series of brutal religious wars against one another, many were also learning more immediate and short-term strategies to live alongside one another. This book considers these 'tactics for toleration' from the vantage point of religious immigrants and their hosts, who learned to coexist despite differences in language, culture, and religion. It demands that scholars reconsider toleration, not only as an intellectual construct that emerged out of the Enlightenment, but also as a dynamic set of short-term and often informal negotiations between ordinary people, regulating the limits of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

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About the Author:

Jesse Spohnholz is an Associate Professor of History and the Director of the Roots of Contemporary Issues Program at Washington State University.


"Spohnholz has done brilliant work...This is an exceptionally rich book...It ought to be read by anyone concerned with toleration and the Reformation." (Church History).

Spohnholz takes "us beyond charting emerging theories of toleration to a methodically researched, comprehensively evidenced, and deeply interesting demonstration of how confessionally distinct early modern Europeans were able to find peaceful coexistence in a world where religion was still foundational to society." (German Studies Review)

"This fascinating new book by Jesse Spohnholz investigates how individuals and communities managed their faith and coexisted with groups that held different beliefs in the age of the religious wars. In doing so, it challenges many received ideas . . . This fine book should immediately find its place on any reading list devoted to the religious wars, confessionalization, religious toleration, and the social history of Germany in the later sixteenth century. Spohnholz describes a state of affairs that does not fit into any of the categories so far used by historians: it is a superb work of empirical history." (The Journal of Modern History). 

This fine study develops a nuanced and complex understanding of religious toleration and coexistence in the early-modern period. (The Catholic Historical Review)

This monograph makes good use of rich...sources from Wesel to add another distinctive variant to the practices and tactics of religious coexistence found in sixteenth-century Europe. (Renaissance Quarterly)

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