New research explores the development of confessional identities in early modern Germany


Dr Ruth Atherton has been awarded funding to explore the development of confessional identities in early modern Germany through an examination of Protestant consolatory literature and sermons. 

Funding for the project, entitled "Death is the best doctor": The Body and Soul in Reformation Germany, comes from the Faculty's Early Career Researcher Scheme, which aims to support researchers across career stages and across a range of inter-disciplinary areas. 

About the project

"In adopting a framework for analysis that foregrounds the intended recipients of religious education, rather than viewing pedagogy as a top-down system of indoctrination, my work argues that consolatory material reflects the impact of popular agency in the development of confessional identities," said Dr Atherton.

"Further, in viewing education as a bridge between theological purity and the reality, or lived experiences, of confessional pressures, my research challenges existing hypotheses that education was designed to facilitate confessional division. Rather, the sources point to a broader process of accommodation, or a negotiated decision-making based on a pragmatic handling of religious pluralism.


She continued: “The concepts of identity and orthodoxy are central to an understanding of the actions and events of early-modern Germany and wider Europe. In arguing that educational material created fixed confessional identities, current scholarship does not acknowledge fully the impact of the audience on the development of pedagogical content. This has led to a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and effects of religious and moral education in Reformation Germany.”


The proposed outputs include a paper to be presented at the the RefoRC International Conference on Early Modern Christianity to be held in Berlin in May 2022; and an article entitled “Death is the best doctor”: Protestant Teachings on the Body and Preparations for Dying in Early Modern Germany’, which has been commissioned by the internationally recognised French-language journal, Cahiers de la Revue de théologie et de la philosophie

About Dr Ruth Atherton

Dr Ruth Atherton, HistoryDr Ruth Atherton is a Lecturer in History at USW. Her research explores the development of early-modern confessional identities, focusing in particular on late medieval and early modern education, and religious, social, political and cultural change in the Holy Roman Empire.