Max Weber’s classic construction of Protestantism in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904/1922) was as a form of group identity, homogenous across geographic distance, that joined individuals in a distinctive psychological orientation to the material world and which produced a culture that was essentially verbal and anti-material. Hostile to the sensual aspects of visual representation, it had at its heart simplicity, clarity and plainness, an asceticism that governed every aspect of life. Subsequent scholarship has complicated this monolithic notion of Protestant identity by concentrating on continuities as well as the ruptures with Catholic tradition as the relationships between the material and the spiritual were reconfigured; it has also drawn attention to the unevenness of religious change as well as the heterogeneous character of different Protestant communities across northern Europe.
The aim of this conference is to revisit questions of Protestant identity from the perspective of a specifically material history of the Reformation. It will examine Protestant attitudes to the material aspects of the ecclesiastical, civic and domestic spheres for the light they can shed on the changing nature of religious experience and on the broad social and cultural changes brought about by the Reformation. It will address themes of iconoclasm and the consequent new forms of public worship; the effects of evangelical beliefs upon the forms and materials of artistic productions; their effect upon the character and rituals of religious, civic and domestic life; upon public institutions and domestic spaces, personal possessions, habits of dress and adornment; and more broadly, the material dimensions of identifiably Protestant attitudes to the written word and the book, natural philosophy, ethics, and history.