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Greifswald Research Project


Communal Culture – Communal Power:
Parish Republics in the Holy Roman Empire c. 1500-1800


The centuries between the Reformation and the Enlightenment are usually associated with processes like centralization, state building and confessionalization. This project uses two exceptionally autonomous case studies – the village republic of Gersau in the Central Alps and the parish federation of Dithmarschen in Northern Germany – to highlight the existence of alternative trajectories in the Holy Roman Empire. In contrast to the ecclesiastical, legal and economic priorities of much previous work on pre-modern parishes, the focus lies on political and socio-cultural dimensions. Combining historiographical and conceptual approaches from both Germanic and Anglophone scholarship, the following research questions are addressed:

  • What were the specific features of cultural life in highly autonomous communities?
  • How did such parishes represent themselves to the outside world and how were they perceived by others?
  • Do these case studies allow us privileged insight into genuinely ‘popular’ politics and religion?
  • What were the limits of local autonomy and how did the power balance shift between c. 1500-1800?
  • Can the study of highly independent parishes enrich our understanding of rural republicanism in particular and the early modern period more generally?

Research for this project was supported by a grant from the British Academy and a Senior Research Fellowship of the Alfried Krupp Wissenschaftskolleg at Greifswald/Germany, where I spent the autumn / spring terms of 2012-13 and co-organize a related conference in July 2015. First results appeared in an article for the Zeitschrift für historische Forschung.

pfarrkirche_turmkugel_2.jpg

The parish church of St Marcellus, Gersau (Switzerland), with the golden tower capsule containing local chronicles. Pic: BK.


This project is supported by:

The British Academy

The Alfried Krupp Wissenschaftskolleg at Greifswald/Germany