Calvin’s Unmarked Grave: Marking Ground Beyond the Sacred and Profane

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 11:40 AM
Thurgood Marshall North (Marriott Wardman Park)
Michelle Chaplin Sanchez, Harvard Divinity School
Like other sixteenth-century European reform movements, Calvin’s Geneva engaged in iconoclastic activity. At times this was expressed with violence, destroying existing monuments and images; later, it was expressed through the positive construction of a simplified, unadorned aesthetic. Famously, Calvin also insisted that he be buried in an unmarked grave. The consistent thread in these phenomena is tied to Calvin’s general anxiety over the tendency of monuments to elicit idolatrous worship, or the privileging of some parts of creation over others. This paper will explore the underlying logic of this particular version of iconoclasm. Specifically, it will ask how the difference between (idolatrous) monuments and (rightful) worship was adjudicated by (1) an implicit theory of temporality and history that resisted periodization; and (2) an ontology of the material world itself that resisted demarcation between the sacred and the profane.