(Version française: Anthropologie religieuse et politique de la parole (16e-17e siècles)


Nowadays, information is omnipresent while changing its shapes constantly. At such a time, it is of great interest to question its origins, roles and impacts in Early Modernity. This project aims to shed new light on how 16th and 17th century societies dealt with the spoken and written word. At that time, political and religious words were abundant, but, paradoxically, they could also be scarce. Their power often took root in their scarcity and in the restricted and controlled use that was made of them. Institutional actors emerged or evolved, to master the production, spreading and reception of the political and religious word. But they did not have the monopoly thereof. The many crises of the Early Modern era encouraged the amplification of discourse and communicational strategies.  The poles of production grew in number and weight, as did the modes of oppression. Prints made the spreading of the words easier but also more difficult to control. The sacred power of the sovereign’s word was diminished or even threatened by new forms of competition. In the responses to Early Modern crises, the political and religious word became both a problem and a solution.

Our research project will span across Western Europe in the 16th and the first half of the 17th century, with the Peace of Westphalia as upper limit. We are interested in transversal and interdisciplinary approaches that can enrich our study of the Early Modern political and religious word. We will focus on specific subjects, such as oaths, conjurations and abjurations, royal or princely promises (whether direct or indirect), military sermons, legal preambles to declarations of war, religious peace treaties and other documents linked to the resolution of conflicts. Our project will also shed new light on the administrative know-how associated with the political and religious word and on the materiality of its practices, on the perlocutionary force of speech and writing, on the characteristics, permanence and/or evolution of their iconographic representations.

A first international conference will take place in Geneva on the 17th and 18th February of 2022. It will bring together all the potential partners of the project, as well as several PhD candidates and other Early Career Researchers. Its central theme will be: Giving and disavowing your word in Early Modern Europe. Promises of war and peace during the crises of the 16th and 17th century.

A second international conference is scheduled at the University of Luxembourg for the 15th and 16th of September 2022. It will dwell on the complex interactions, made of complementarity, competition and/or hybridization, between the written word and the spoken word.


Illustration: Andrea Mantegna, La chambre des époux, fresque, c. 1465-1474, Palais ducal de Mantoue, (detail) © Domaine Public/The York Project/Wikipedia

Project members

Prof. Paul-Alexis Mellet, University of Geneva

Prof. Monique Weis, University of Luxembourg

Dr. Jérémie Ferrer-Bartomeu, FNRS, ULiège/UCLouvain