Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

The Exclusivity of Pure Truth

Episodes of religious violence in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

Sandro Liniger

Abstract

Taking a comparative perspective,  this project examines sixteenth and seventeenth century episodes of religious violence—or episodes encoded as such by contemporaries—within a spectrum taking in the following sorts of occurrence: violence against objects, including desecrations of the Host and the burning of churches and church property; violence against persons, including punitive rituals, executions, burnings, and attacks; and both military conflicts and “religious wars” between territorial domains.

A first field of study is made up of episodes of violence in their character as concrete events. These events—regardless of whether they involve local violence or military conflict—present a temporal-spatial structure distinguished by a double movement of concentration and dissolution or destruction. The application of non-military, frequently ritual violence unmistakably follows such a double movement. But in its material arrangement (battle formation, pennons and banners) the battlefield as well is conceived, on the one hand, as a locus of identification, of the externalization of a clearly defined friend-enemy relation in the form of a symbolic ordering; and, on the other hand, as the locus of an observable destruction of order: of a dissipation of stable references or de-territorialization in which the absolute is manifest as something inaccessible. Not least of all the battle is the locus of contingency par excellence, referring every statement and ascription back to its irrecoverable premises. For this reason, precisely battles are events that are continuously imagined by contemporaries and reshaped in narrative. On a societal level they are largely only accessible in this form. As modes for society’s processing of contingency, the production of signs, and the formation of references, narrations of violence represent a privileged space for the production of religious evidence. Within this space, truth can be set and staged or possibilities investigated and verified, for the sake of generating differences.

It is here important to keep in mind that as places for establishing differences, violent events consistently signify shared places. The fixing of differences takes place through a reconnection to practices of mutual encounter in space and time that render a fixing and observing of differences possible in the first place. In light of the fact that the exercise of violence is constitutively grounded and generates a shared typology, it appears necessary to relate the historical reconstruction of the ties between religion and violence to concrete historical constellations, if we are to assess the displacements or changes in loci for establishing differences and their medial implications.