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Crossing the Boundaries of Belief

Geographies of Religious Conversion in Southern Germany, 1648-1800
Duane J. Corpis

BUY Cloth · 328 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813935522 · $45.00 · Jun 2014
BUY Ebook · 328 pp. · ISBN 9780813935539 · $45.00 · Jun 2014

Smith Book Award, Southern Historical Association - European Section (2014)

In early modern Germany, religious conversion was a profoundly social and political phenomenon rather than purely an act of private conscience. Because social norms and legal requirements demanded that every subject declare membership in one of the state-sanctioned Christian churches, the act of religious conversion regularly tested the geographical and political boundaries separating Catholics and Protestants. In a period when church and state cooperated to impose religious conformity, regulate confessional difference, and promote moral and social order, the choice to convert was seen as a disruptive act of disobedience. Investigating the tensions inherent in the creation of religious communities and the fashioning of religious identities in Germany after the Thirty Years' War, Duane Corpis examines the complex social interactions, political implications, and cultural meanings of conversion in this moment of German history.

In Crossing the Boundaries of Belief, Corpis assesses how conversion destabilized the rigid political, social, and cultural boundaries that separated one Christian faith from another and that normally tied individuals to their local communities of belief. Those who changed their faiths directly challenged the efforts of ecclesiastical and secular authorities to use religious orthodoxy as a tool of social discipline and control. In its examination of religious conversion, this study thus offers a unique opportunity to explore how women and men questioned and redefined their relationships to local institutions of power and authority, including the parish clergy, the city government, and the family.


Based solidly on original sources from South German archives, Duane Corpis’s study is an important and original contribution to the scholarship on post-Reformation Germany. Lucidly argued and convincing, this book does an excellent job of historicizing the whole concept of conversion. No other work on early modern Germany examines the phenomenon of conversion in such an insightful and nuanced way.

James Van Horn Melton, Emory University, author of The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe

Crossing the Boundaries of Belief is an original and deep work of scholarship, based on extensive archival research and mature reflections. It shows a masterly command of the scholarship on early modern German history and covers a broad span, offering the reader a fine analysis of religious conversion and its meaning in the Holy Roman Empire between the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and the dissolution of the Empire.

Ronnie Hsia, Penn State, author of The World of Catholic Renewal, 1540–1770

About the Author(s): 

Duane J. Corpis is Assistant Professor of History at Cornell University.

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