Below is a sample of my work and projects from the last ten years of research.
anabaptist identity in central germany
My recent book, Baptism, Brotherhood and Belief analyses the evolution of Anabaptist identity in the lands of the Saxon princes from 1525 to 1585. Adopting the idea of a ‘thick description’, rather than looking at intellectual origins, it shows how Anabaptism’s development in central Germany in the sixteenth-century was fundamentally influenced by its engagement with Lutheran theology, and that Anabaptism might be seen as a point on a spectrum of solution to religious concerns.
From 2012-2015 I worked on a British Academy funded project on Lutheran culture after Luther’s death. This project examined the creation and expression of Lutheran culture in the second half of the sixteenth century and explored how Lutheran pastors constructed their world without Luther. Lutheran culture ranged from hymns, through moralistic and humorous Devil Books, to books on subjects as diverse as hunting, local history, and mining, as well as relying on images and objects. This research focused on the memorialisation and diffusion of the Lutheran Reformation, as pastors and theologians used a variety of cultural forms to shape Lutheranism in the years after Martin Luther’s death. Consequently, my work has examined diverse themes such as the role of history-writing, time, and chronology in Lutheranism; the reimagining of space and place; the importance of memory and modes of memorialisation; the history of emotions as Lutherans dealt with the loss of Luther but also deployed humour and laughter; new ideas about the body, pain, and suffering evoked by Lutheran theology; and the role of material culture. In the current Reformation anniversary year of 2017, examination of this culture has never been more relevant.
material culture and migratory identities
My current research extends the themes of my existing work on culture and religious belonging in relation to the Reformation. It examines the transitory identities of radical groups such as the Mennonites and Hutterites in the early modern world as they formed new communities, faced exile or migrated, and constructed their own historical, emotional, and cultural identities. The project was inspired by a trip to the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, which has one of the richest collections of Anabaptist faience ceramic wares in the world and was collected by the founder Walter Koerner who took an interest in the material artefacts of displaced and minority groups. These are remarkable material expressions of the identity of Hutterite communities in central Europe. This research, for which I am in the process of writing an AHRC grant proposal, aims to answer major questions about religious and cultural identities in the early modern era by examining how Hutterites, Mennonites, and Anabaptists constructed a deeply confessional sense of belonging through forms of history writing, for example, by singing martyr songs, through material objects and home decorations, or in familial relationships. As my previous research highlighted, accounts of Anabaptist history have been deeply influenced by contemporary confessional beliefs. Study of Anabaptists, Mennonites, and Hutterites had been a side story at best of Reformation history, resulting in the neglect of an important dimension of the legacy of religious change in the early modern world. Furthermore, historians have never taken a cultural, interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of Anabaptist identity as it evolved across time and in different locations. This project, more expansive in its reach both chronologically and geographically than my work so far, explores the transmission and legacy of radical identities across continents and through to the present day, since Mennonite communities in America still sing in German and trace their names back to the families who first emigrated.