A Global Reformation?

Tutors: Simon Ditchfield and Tara Alberts

Module type: Histories and Contexts

Module Code: HIS00006I

The election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis I on 13 March 2013 has been seen by many as a new chapter in the history of Roman Catholicism. Yet the advent of the first pope from the New World was anticipated ca.1500-ca.1700 by a period which, for all its incompleteness, saw the making of Roman Catholicism as a world religion. Missionaries such as the Portuguese Jesuit Manuel de Nóbrega (1517-70) in Brazil, for whom famously ‘One World is not enough’, brought Christianity to the four inhabited continents of the world for the first time in history. Although scholars no longer see this in such one-way terms as ‘spiritual conquest’, but rather as negotiated two-way outcomes, where the role of ‘go-betweens’ and the reciprocal dynamics of ‘cultural encounter’ need to be taken into account.

Accordingly, this module looks not only at the Roman Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation – the so-called ‘Counter Reformation’ - but also at how Roman Catholicism adapted itself to local conditions from Rome to the River Plate; Milan to Manila (via Mexico).Among the concepts and topics to be considered are: confessionalisation; censorship & inquisition; social discipline; language and communication (including catechisms and preaching); liturgy and the cult of saints. Since early modern Catholicism engaged all the senses, the lectures will deal with music, art and architecture as well as written and printed sources, while the weekly discussion groups give students the opportunity to engage with a correspondingly broad selection of primary sources in translation.

The provisional lecture programme is as follows:

  1. Understanding practice: what was ‘local religion’?
  2. Understanding theory: the Council of Trent
  3. The setting: Rome as ‘theatre of the world’
  4. The papacy and the papal court
  5. The missionary enterprise outside Europe I: going west
  6. The missionary enterprise outside Europe II: going east
  7. The missions to ‘the other Indies’: methods & outcomes
  8. Some local protagonists I: bishops
  9. Some local protagonists II: the female religious
  10. Some local protagonists III: the laity
  11. Drawing boundaries I: making sinners
  12. Drawing boundaries II: making saints
  13. Persecution and identity I: 17th century Japan
  14. Persecution and identity II: 16th century York
  15. Conclusion: confessionalisation and its limits
  16. ‘Trent and All That’: recap and revision

Possible seminar discussions might deal with the following :-

  1. What was ‘local religion’
  2. The Papal Prince and his city
  3. Missions outside Europe vs missions inside Europe
  4. Bishops and their flock
  5. Nuns behaving badly
  6. How to make a Counter-Reformation saint/heretic
  7. Salvation at stake: early modern martyrdom and persecution
  8. De-centering the Counter-Reformation


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.