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Title: A godly environment : religious views of nature in early sixteenth-century Strasbourg
Author: Rowlatt, Linnéa
ISNI:       0000 0004 5921 1240
Awarding Body: University of Kent and Freie Universität Berlin
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis offers three case studies of religious representations of the natural world in Strasbourg from 1510 to 1541 from the perspective of the interactive model of socioeconomic metabolism. This model proposes that long-term environmental instability will exert a negative effect on human/social biophysical structures and may provoke changes in the manner in which the natural world is represented within that culture. Although direct causation is impossible to prove due to the autonomous nature of the cultural sphere, this thesis suggests that the two case studies of early sixteenth-century religious reforms in Strasbourg indicate the presence of theological innovations that changed the conceptual relationship between faithful Christians and Creation, thereby offering an enhanced capacity for adherents to exploit the metabolic opportunities in their natural environment. Further, it suggests that these cultural developments were supported and strengthened in part by the stresses society experienced from the natural world. The thesis begins with a description of the natural environment in Alsace during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, with particular attention given to the weather from 1473 to 1541. These decades spanned the coldest years of the Spörer Minimum, itself the second coldest trough of the Little Ice Age. Although weather was the most dynamic and influential element of the natural environment during this period, the model suggests that long term stress from the environment may provoke re-conceptualization of the entire natural sphere of causation. Three religious perspectives are taken as case studies in the thesis to test the model: Roman Catholic, Radical, and Evangelical Christianity. They were created temporally and geographically in proximity, but offer different theological representations of nature. Tentative conclusions arising from their juxtaposition with each other and the climatic conditions suggest that the model is helpful to better understand the complex social and cultural changes during the Reformation. The first case study focuses on Die Emeis, forty-one sermons delivered by Johann Geiler von Kaysersberg in the Liebfrauenmünster zu Strasbourg for Lent 1509. By reading against the grain of these sermons delivered by a well-known and highly respected Doctor of Theology, an orthodox Catholic representation of the natural world and the appropriate human relationship with it is revealed. This chapter also includes information about pre-Reform society in Strasbourg and Alsace, in order to provide a basis of comparison for later developments. The second case study explores three sources known to be popular with Alsatian peasants from 1515 to 1525: astrologist Leonhard Reynmann's Wetter Büchlin, Ein Fast schon büchlin by Clemens Zyegler, a lay theologian from Strasbourg, and Article IV of the Twelve Articles which formed the foundation of peasant demands during the German Peasants' War. The third case study focuses on Hexemeron Dei opus, written by Strasbourg Reformer Wolfgang Capito. An exegesis of Genesis 1-11, Capito writes explicitly of God's creation of the world for human salvation. The aftermath of the Peasants' War in Strasbourg and Alsace are described here, as well as social initiatives in Strasbourg favoured by Reformers such as welfare reform and education. The model of socioeconomic metabolism suggests that following an extended period of material insecurity and social instability caused by environmental uncertainty, cultural agents will modify the representation of nature in order to render human colonization of the natural world more effective. While it is impossible to firmly attribute causality for developments in the religious view of nature to environmental stress, it can be shown that the weather during the decades at the eve of the Protestant Reformation repeatedly limited or removed adequate metabolic intake from those disadvantaged by an increasingly unequal society, contributing to social instability which culminated in the 1525 German Peasants' War. Representations of nature in the examples studied from the new religious movements removed layers of spiritual mediation between humanity and nature which had been and continued to be accepted by the Roman Catholic Church, specifically articulating views which encouraged greater exploitation of the natural environment. Those who rebelled are known to have strongly favoured the new theologies, indicating the possibility that part of the widespread support in Alsace for reformed and radical theology may have been due to the enhanced conceptual opportunities they provided for exploiting the natural environment.
Supervisor: Fincham, Kenneth ; Ulbrich, Claudia Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: BL Religion ; CB History of civilization