Borderlands in Early Modern Catholicism


Violet Soen (UCLouvain)




Goethe University Frankfurt (Campus Westend) and Zoom Meeting

Borderlands are often identified with the periphery, but what would happen if we were to turn them into the centre of religious change in society? If you give the exercise a try, the result might be more than interesting. In this paper, we will walk through the Franco-Habsburg borderlands during and after the Wars of Religion. While the region was French-speaking (with different dialects sometimes impeding exchange), it also hosted many English exiles and expats from across the Channel. The first English translation of the bible, the Reims-Douai Bible, might be an enduring testimony of these exchanges between Catholic exiles and natives in these borderlands. For historians, early modern borderlands never present clear-cut cases. Rather, they often come as hybrid identities; code-switching between languages and dialects; legal pluralism as well as judicial accommodation; trade as well as smuggling; religious militancy as well as ecumenical pragmatism. In this light, we will examine when and how boundaries and border-making mattered for early modern Catholicism. We will also look at instances in which these boundaries were easily transcended for the faith. Borderlands will thus appear as essential nodes of a polycentric Catholicism as well as Christianity more generally.

This presentation was part of the POLY Lecture Series on “Space and Religion II”, held in the winter term of 2023 and 2024. Click here for more information.

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