There can be no doubt that Europe’s “Age of Religious Wars” fundamentally changed Europe’s political and cultural landscape. But how, exactly, did nearly a century and a half of increasingly destructive warfare shape the political and cultural future? Traditionally, historians have promoted an essentially authoritarian interpretation of the changes. While many of Europe’s rulers did, in fact, advance authoritarian religious claims in the process of consolidating their territorial states, this interpretation misses at least half of the story. Indeed, a new generation of historical research has shown that, authoritarian claims of unity and purity notwithstanding, a durable pattern of religious diversity – that is, peaceful religious co-existence within common political jurisdictions – was the rule rather than the exception in post-Reformation Europe. In order to understand this largely hidden history, we need to take ordinary political subjects, and in particular, religious “dissenters,” into account as intentional and consequential actors who played a critical role in the larger historical process of making religious peace in a world afflicted by religious polarization, violence, and war.
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