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Preaching on an "unholy trinity": Muslims, Jews, and Christian identity in early modern Germany

Paul Strauss, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation explores representations of Muslims and Jews in sermons delivered by Lutheran, Catholic, and Reformed preachers and printed in German-speaking lands of Central Europe between 1526 and 1618. Sermons are valuable sources for exploring the cultural, intellectual, and religious history of the early modern period, and provided a crucial link between the learned clerical elite and the broader population. Although Muslims constituted an external military threat and Jews lived within the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire, preachers frequently linked them together with their Christian religious opponents. Little study has been done, however, on how preachers linked them or discussed them separately. Preachers used the sermon as a medium to disseminate historical, cultural, and quasi-ethnographical information about Muslims and Jews. Preachers did not simply inform audiences about Muslims and Jews, however, but used portrayals of these groups to teach the preferred religious and cultural worldviews of their confession and to construct boundaries between the preachers’ audiences, their confessional opponents, and the non-Christian groups. They linked Muslims and Jews in discussion of Christian religious doctrines, although preachers acknowledged the separate historical trajectories and the different beliefs and practices of each group. Information on Islam and Muslims came from a broader range of sources compared to that used for Jews, and preachers discussed Jews from Biblical times and late antiquity far more often than contemporary Jews and Judaism. The first chapter provides a historical overview of the position of Muslims and Jews in relation to Central Europe and to the Reformation. The second chapter demonstrates that historical works provided essential background for constructing images of historical Muslims and Jews and their relationship with Christianity. In the third chapter, I note that sermons were useful for teaching audiences about foundational Christian doctrines in a simple manner. The fourth chapter shows that preaching on Muslims and Jews was an entry for preachers to encourage audiences to behave and worship along confessional lines. In the final chapter, I argue that while Muslims and Jews were useful for building boundaries between confessions, the reality of conversion forced preachers to discuss crossing religious and confessional boundaries.

Subject Area

Religious history|European history|History

Recommended Citation

Strauss, Paul, "Preaching on an "unholy trinity": Muslims, Jews, and Christian identity in early modern Germany" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10101140.