BMGN: Low Countries Historical Review (2021-03-01)

Of Church Orders and Postmodernism

  • Philip Benedict

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 136, no. 1
pp. 59 – 77


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Self-avowedly influenced by the postmodernist critique of nineteenth-century ‘positivism’, Jesse Spohnholz's ambitious and multiple prize-winning 2017 The Convent of Wesel: The Event that Never was and the Invention of Tradition speaks at once to the political and institutional history of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany, to the role of archiving practices in shaping historical understanding, and to the nature of historical study. This review offers both an extended synopsis and a critique of the book. While recognizing its considerable achievement, it questions its framing of its findings about the Reformation era with reference to the ‘confessionalization’ debate, its reliance on a prefabricated narrative about archives as instruments of power and marginalization, and its mischaracterizations of post-Rankean historical practice and theory. Implications of the book’s findings for further research into the politics and personalities of the Reformation in the Low Countries are also suggested.