Honors | The Bible and the Body in Religious Reform
H203 | 16039 | Constance Furey


TuTh 9:30-10:45am

Religious reformers often condemn rituals. They say devotional
bodily actions distract adherents from things that are truly
important. This was certainly the case during the Protestant
Reformation  in early modern Europe. Protestant reformers said that
salvation came through the Bible alone, faith alone. Belief, in
other words, is far more important than ritual. These reformers
condemned many traditional Catholic practices such as pilgrimages,
masses for the dead, veneration of relics, and devotions centered on
the Eucharistic sacrifice. The Protestant Reformation splintered the
Christian church and spawned fierce--often violent--disputes between
Christians. Some Protestants, convinced that most rituals were
idolatrous, stripped altars, desecrated holy objects, and destroyed
shrines. At the same time, European societies began to put more
emphasis on manners, self-control, and confessional discipline, and
renewed attention to what women did with their bodies--concerns that
fueled accusations of witchcraft. So did bodily behavior and ritual
become less important? Did the Protestant Reformation, in all its
manifestations, successfully “spiritualize” Christianity? Many
scholars have argued that the Reformation replaced a sacramental
worldview--a doctrine of presence--with a theory of representation.
Over the course of the semester, we will read sources from
Protestants and Catholics alike as well as dramatic descriptions of
the religious debates and clashes to assess the accuracy of this
argument. Our historical focus will thereby allow us to also examine
theoretical questions that are central to the study of religion.
What is the status and significance of religious ritual? How do
religious rituals change? What is the relationship between ritual
and belief, and how does this relationship vary within and between
religious traditions? The grade in this course will be based on
participation; two take-home midterms; and a final (5-7 page) paper.