Popular Ritual and Festivity in Reformation and Post-Reformation Britain

AHA Session 21
American Society of Church History 1
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Mile High Ballroom 4B (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Beth Plummer, Western Kentucky University
The Audience

Session Abstract

The historian Eamon Duffy once remarked, “For townsmen and countrymen alike, the rhythms of the liturgy on the eve of the Reformation remained the rhythms of life itself.” Duffy pointed to the role of religious tradition and ritual in defining the division between labor and rest, providing opportunities for social festivity during holiday gatherings, and shaping religious devotion in liturgical seasons. The Protestant Reformation, however, challenged many of the long-standing rhythms of traditional religious culture as reformers sought to construct a godly society through civic ordinances, liturgical injunctions, and bans on many festive holiday customs. This panel explores the ways in which members and leaders of local parishes in early modern Britain abolished, retained, and grappled with various aspects of popular religious ritual and festivity in a Reformation and Post-Reformation context. How did parish leaders and members react to reformers’ bans on familiar ritual seasons and festivals? In what ways did they continue to observe popular customs and in what ways did they adapt their local religious culture to the new Protestant order? How can an assessment of the British Reformation from the perspective of parishioners shed light on the regional variations and contours of religious continuity and change in early modern Britain? Collectively, the papers on this panel seek to investigate these types of inquiries in order to complicate prior scholarly assumptions that viewed the Reformation in Britain either as a sweeping success in disposing of pre-Reformation religious culture or conversely as a destructive force that traumatically suspended traditional religion. In assessing the pace of religious reform, the papers on this panel each adopt a framework that views the Reformation as a continuous process of negotiation in which many parishioners neither completely accepted nor completely rejected religious reforms but rather appropriated or discarded them piecemeal over a process of gradual change over time. By focusing on the local level, the papers on this panel employ a microhistorical approach that takes into account a variety of often overlooked participants in parish reform. All three papers place local historical actors ranging from popular satirists, ballad writers, churchwardens, and influential neighborhood citizens, to members of civic bodies, trade guilds, livery companies, and parish fundraising guilds at the forefront of the Reformation at the parish level. They each examine how these types of actors challenged, upheld, and transformed the way that early modern British communities experienced ritual, tradition, and festivity. By placing these papers together, this panel aims to foster a conversation about the uneven, gradual, and continuously fluctuating nature of local reformations and engage a wide audience interested in themes related to religious continuity and change during the religious upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
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