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‘Ancestral Pagans in Reformation Europe’ at the Reformation Studies Colloquium

A Laplander worships the sun and moon, from Sebastian Münster, Cosmographia (1555)

Today I delivered a paper at the biannual Reformation Studies Colloquium on the subject of ‘Ancestral Pagans in Reformation Europe’, as part of a panel on ‘Mission and Unbelief in Reformation Europe’, chaired by Dr Noah Millstone. The paper examined how the Reformation affected the minority of ancestral pagans who remained in early modern Europe, especially in northern Scandinavia (the Sámi), Estonia and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Reformation polemic accusing Catholics of ‘paganism’, while largely rhetorical, drew attention to the existence of actual pagans, while anxiety about the continued survival of pockets of unconverted pagans drew accusations of religious indifference from Catholics and Protestants alike. The renewed emphasis on catechesis and confessional allegiance introduced by both the Reformation and Counter-Reformation made it harder for forms of religious syncretism to survive, resulting in the rapid Christianisation of most pagan minorities. However, these pagan minorities were treated very differently, and the paper drew particular attention to the discrepancy in treatment between the Sámi under Swedish rule and Lithuanian pagans in Poland-Lithuania, tracing the difference in treatment to structures of colonial power.

My paper was followed by presentations from Prof. Alex Ryrie and Dr Patrick McGhee addressing the printing of Christian literature in the languages of peoples of the New World and Asia, and approaches to atheism in the early modern world.