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Wednesday 18 March 2020 14.00 - 16.00
T-3 REL05 Notions of Privacy as an Analytical Catalyst in the Study of Early Modern Religion
Reuvensplaats 4, 101E
Network: Religion Chairs: -
Organizer: Mette Birkedal Bruun Discussants: -
Mette Birkedal Bruun : Devotional Privacy in Elizabethan England
The concern with the believer’s private sphere is a hallmark of early modern religious culture. Pastoral and political efforts to cultivate and regulate the interior of the religious subject traverse confessional, cultural and national boundaries. While the reformations brought with them an intensified interest in individual believers and their private ... (Show more)
The concern with the believer’s private sphere is a hallmark of early modern religious culture. Pastoral and political efforts to cultivate and regulate the interior of the religious subject traverse confessional, cultural and national boundaries. While the reformations brought with them an intensified interest in individual believers and their private spheres, the political upheavals that trailed them evoked an increased awareness of the potentially seditious politico-religious force latent in privacy.

This awareness was particularly acute in Elizabethan England. The Catholic past was recent and political fractioning tense. Notions of ‘private’ and ‘privacy’ abound in Elizabethan devotional literature. They come with robust surveillance and regulation and have little to do with privacy in the modern sense of the term. The individual religious life prescribed in the Book of Common prayer and in Certayne sermons appoynted by the Quenes Maiestie, to be declared and read, by all persones, vycars, and curates (1559 and later) is clearly on a continuum with the official liturgy. It is, however, also characterized by being something markedly different than the official liturgy. The question remains, then, in what sense this religious notion of privacy was private.

This presentation traces the delineation, regulation and idealization of the private believer. I am interested in the definitions of the ‘private’ believer and his or her ‘private’ devotion: its locations, its characteristics and its regulation as well as with the ways in which the privacy of the private believer is described partly as a potential threat to the religious well-being of the nation; partly as a potential quality that allows for a particularly intimate devotional life. (Show less)

Natália da Silva Perez : Sexual Privacy, Self-Surveillance, and the "Introduction à la vie dévote" by François de Sales
In 17th century France, as the Catholic reformation was in full force, the sexual behavior of women—particularly those of the lower classes—was under close scrutiny from the police, from religious authorities, and from the communities where they lived. The police force, then recently restructured by Louis XIV, was deeply engaged ... (Show more)
In 17th century France, as the Catholic reformation was in full force, the sexual behavior of women—particularly those of the lower classes—was under close scrutiny from the police, from religious authorities, and from the communities where they lived. The police force, then recently restructured by Louis XIV, was deeply engaged in controlling sexual practices to conform to stricter religious norms. Philip Riley in his book Lust for Virtue cites the 1705 Traité de la police by Nicholas Delamare, which maintains that one of the main vocations of the police force was to “lead people to the most perfect happiness possible in this life.” Riley argues further that, during the reign of Louis XIV, women “as ‘Soldiers of Satan’ were special targets of the police” (p. xiv).

The family acquired special importance in the new religious narratives developed during the Catholic reformation in France—particularly its role as a foundation for Christian society. Thus, it is not surprising to find historical sources documenting attempts to closely control the sexual behavior of women: for sexually active women, pregnancy was, after all, ever looming in the horizon. But police and church would never be able to keep up with the task of reforming the Catholic faith if the renewed, stricter morals could not spread widely to all levels of society. The edge members of communities were not only the target of surveillance practices, but they would also serve as surveilling parties themselves, helping to sustain the effort of renewing and reforming Roman Catholic faith.

In this paper, I will analyze a very popular religious manual from 17th century France: Introduction à la vie dévote, by François de Sales. I will consider this manual as part of a widespread effort to bring a new religious order for the Roman Catholic faith to all echelons of the French population. Engaging privacy as an analytical catalyst in the study of early modern religious practices, I will pay special attention to the gendered effects that the advice in this book might have had on people’s lives. (Show less)

Eelco Nagelsmit : Private Matter: Exchanging Thoughts through Things in the Wake of the Thirty Years War
Early modern princes interacted with theologians in multifarious ways, both public and private: through patronage, attending sermons, taking advice and spiritual counsel, etc. At a time when politics and religion were inextricably interrelated, these princely interlocutors stood at the intersection of the conflicting exigencies of the reason of state and ... (Show more)
Early modern princes interacted with theologians in multifarious ways, both public and private: through patronage, attending sermons, taking advice and spiritual counsel, etc. At a time when politics and religion were inextricably interrelated, these princely interlocutors stood at the intersection of the conflicting exigencies of the reason of state and the personal fear of God. My project departs from the premise that theologians communicated their most important religious and political ideas to princes not only through language or writing (speech, letters, books), but also by means of images and material objects. Aby Warburg stood at the base of the idea that images have their own power and logic, independently from text or language. I consider things as constituents of a social nexus, which they help to mobilize, activate, or influence. This nexus encompasses various aspects of feeling, cognition, and judgement, which must be studied in their mutual interaction. I use Warburg’s concept of Denkraum, here defined as the space for reflection generated in and through material objects. The research is guided by the question: How did gifted objects provide Denkraum for reflection on the relationship between worldly power and the divine? And by extension, what role did these objects play in policy formation? My project explores the cultural process of gift exchange as a powerful mode for establishing relations, cultivating sentiment, and influencing princely mindsets. The empirical evidence of archives and objects provides a historical base for examining the ways in which aesthetic and religious concerns and experiences coincided, and their potential political implications.


During and after the Thirty Years War, duke August the Younger of Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1579-1660) maintained an extensive correspondence with the theologian Johann Valentin Andreae (1584-1654). Acting as the prince’s most important advisor, agent, and friend, Andreae counselled the duke’s private praxis pietatis, which also influenced his political decisions. Andreae’s counsel was often transmitted indirectly, through emblematic images and (designs for) objects such as coins, and was finally materialized in a commemorative chalice. I will argue that these material things should not be considered merely documentary, or as instruments of adulation and/or political propaganda, but as active agents in developing and disseminating ideas about (religious) peace, irenicism, and Christian patience. It will be shown how Andreae used images, objects, and artistic activities such as music and poetry, to steer the prince toward otherworldly concerns, in order to ultimately change the future. (Show less)

Lars Cyril Nørgaard : Impossible Privacies? Spiritual Direction in 17th-century France as Hermeneutics of the Self
On the back cover to the first volume of Michel Foucault’s Histoire de la sexualité, the author outlines an ambitious project. Besides the first volume of this history of sexuality, entitled “La volonté de savoir” and published in December 1976, the project at this stage includes five, additional volumes: “La ... (Show more)
On the back cover to the first volume of Michel Foucault’s Histoire de la sexualité, the author outlines an ambitious project. Besides the first volume of this history of sexuality, entitled “La volonté de savoir” and published in December 1976, the project at this stage includes five, additional volumes: “La chair et le corps”, “La croisade des enfants”, “La femme, la mère et l’hysterique”, “Les Pervers” and “Populations et races”. None of these volumes was ever completely realized. Only the two first volumes were drafted and, partially, edited by Foucault. Moreover, the substantial part of the planned volumes seem to focus on social configurations in the modern world, which importance had already been identified in the project’s first volume: the masturbating child, the hysterical woman, the perverted man and the married couple (Foucault 1976, 150). The second volume, however, was must likely to retrace the discourse on confession and direction as this unfolded from the fourth Lateran Council (1215) until the Council of Trent (1545-63). For various reasons, Foucault’s history of sexuality came instead to focus on Greek and Roman Antiquity as well as the Church Fathers (2th to 5th century). Serious considerations on later developments were never fully developed. They are briefly touched upon in some of Foucault’s lectures and in his shorter pieces. In L’usage des plaisirs (1984) and Le souci de soi (1984), such considerations of historical consequence remain but implicit: the posthumously published Les aveux de la chair (2018) designates the Christian mode of experience as a decisive event, but never explicates how it effected future ways of thinking and acting.

Outlining this “absent” aspect in Foucault’s work, my presentation proposes to study the discourse and praxis of spiritual direction. Developed during the late Middle Age, spiritual direction became highly popular in the Early Modern period. With regard to France, researchers have even identified the 17th century as “l’âge d’or de la direction spirituelle”. Focusing on this golden age, the proposed presentation engages with a language-use that both chimes with exterior norms and, simultaneously, has to be completely personal. This tension between shared norms and singular experiences raises important methodological questions with regard to notions of privacy and their porous boundaries vis-à-vis the public order of things. In spiritual direction, the private realm of experiences is seemingly circumscribed by a given set of objective truths, which the director embodies and imposes upon the directed individual. However, close historical examination calls this description into question. A space of private experiences linger in spiritual direction: experiences remain and resist univocal representation. (Show less)



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