Popular Religion, Toleration, and Martyrdom

Kate Hession and Alicia Maggard

“Popular Religion”
Scholarly interest in “popular religion” largely grew out of social history’s discovering of the common people in history as worthy subjects of study and cultural history’s insights into the meanings that can be drawn from an expanded source base. Drawing on the work of pioneering scholars such as Natalie Zemon Davis, historians in the 1980s attempted to recover and to define early modern popular culture, of which a large component was popular religion. Crucial to this scholarship is the act of defining “popular religion.” Scholars like Peter Burke suggest that popular religion be defined betweenclasses and have understood its purview to be the folklore and superstitious traditions of the predominantly rural peasantry as distinct from the beliefs and practices of the literate and elite. Patrick Collinson argues that “popular” religion rather manifests itself within classes, with elite and common folk often sharing in similar attitudes. This argument finds basis in Thomas Keith’s earlier scholarship on magical belief and practice, which found peasants and kings alike seeking extra-church remedies, and is furthered by William Christian, who finds the unique traditions of local religion, often beyond the scope of even the local church, to be the site of “popular” religion. Eamon Duffy powerfully reconfigured the debate over what comprised “popular” religion when he took on scholars like Keith and asserted that popular religious practices and beliefs were actually derived from liturgical paradigms of an incredibly vivacious late medieval Catholic church and thus grounded in, rather than in opposition to, orthodox Christianity. A corollary of this debate over the definition of “popular” is the question about the interaction between dominant culture and religion (usually for the purposes of this debate considered to the realm of the literate elites) and their popular variants. As with the debates over tolerance/toleration, historians have probed the relationship between popular and elite culture and religion in order to determine the directionality of its permeability and, at times, to argue for reciprocity. Apart from asking what defines and differentiates “popular religion,” historians have also asked how we can find it. Robert Scribner has interrogated the rich visual culture of the reformation era while Carlo Ginzburg has provocatively asked about the individual—even “popular”—glosses and interpretations that readers added to the expanding world of print culture. Crucial to all the scholarship listed below is an attempt to recover and approximate what is considered to be intensely vital to popular culture—ever-elusive oral culture.

Burke, Peter. Popular Religion in Early Modern Europe. New York: New York University Press, 1978.

Borrowing methods from cultural anthropologists and folklorists in particular, Burke attempts a synthesis of European popular culture. While he identifies popular culture with class (specifically, with the non-elites) and introduces continental themes (like that of the outlaw hero), he is careful not to assert that popular culture is monolithic and develops the differences in its texture between town and country and different craft groups. He views the expression of popular culture (as through carnival and folklore) as largely reactionary and resistant to developments in elite culture and state policy. In his final chapters, he attempts to recover when “the people” as the lower classes began to attract separate study and asserts that learned and popular culture grew so disparate during the 18th century as to limit interaction and to encourage elites to record the separate beliefs and behaviors of the subordinate classes.

Christian, William. Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Using the responses to Phillip II’s 1575-1580 questionnaire about town life and organization, Christian recreates the intensely “localistic” nature of Spanish Catholicism. Rather than classifying religion in terms of town and country, or elite and subordinate, Christian uses evidences about community vows and connections with specific saints (or specific renderings of general saints like Mary), local shrines and chapels, and miraculous images to reinforce his emphasis on local as the best lens for understanding religious belief and practice.

Collinson, Patrick. The Religion of the Protestants: Church in English Society 1559-1625. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982.

Within a larger study of the role of the English Church, Collinson devotes a single chapter (Chapter 5) to “Popular and Unpopular Religion.” He disagrees that popular religion, like popular culture, occurred between classes, and rather argued that it was evidentwithin; popular religion, then, could be expressed by elites and peasants alike. As evidence for this claim, he cites preoccupation with youthful indiscretions such as dances and sexual misconduct that implicated the young elite and lower orders alike and culls through bastardy and defamation suits to conclude that a large cross-section of society did not seem to express the shame that the Church preached in relation to fornication. Moving away from his joint treatment of learned and un-learned, Collinson then focuses on how the Church fitted catechisms to the aphoristic culture of proverbs which proliferated in the oral/semi-literate sections of society and then laments on the Church’s inability to further adapt and market themselves to the masses via other means such as visual culture.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. Society and Culture in Early Modern France. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975.

In a collection of seven essays, Davis applies social history’s interest in “the people” to the artisan and peasant classes of early modern France. Her topics range from carnival and sex-role reversal to popular violence and common proverbs. Importantly, she reconstructs the way that popular culture could support but also subtly critique existing power structures through symbol and inversion.

Duffy, Eamon. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

First published in 1992, Duffy’s Stripping of the Altars argues against scholars like Keith Thomas who contrasted late medieval Catholic orthodoxy with popular religion and the magical superstitions of the ill-educated populace. Rather, Duffy reconstructs a rich medieval tradition of Catholicism and demonstrates the vitality of the late medieval Church that included widespread lay involvement and by and large doctrinal orthodoxy. He particular attacks Thomas’s opposition of religion and peasant magic by arguing that conceptions of magic were very much derived from liturgical practices and informed peasants, nobles, and kings alike. This reconstruction of traditional investment in Catholicism further leads Duffy to dismiss the idea that England’s Protestant Reformation was a popular revolution.

Ginzburg, Carlo. The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller. Translated by John and Anne Tedeschi. New York: Penguin, 1982.

Using records from the Inquisition, Ginzburg outlines the beliefs of Menocchio, a sixteenth-century Italian miller who would be executed as a heretic. He stresses Menocchio’s access to print culture (he was literate, and Ginzburg was able to lift an incomplete catalog of the books Menocchio read from the records), but is careful to reconstruct how Menocchio offered his own unique readings in order to arrive at his heretical conclusions (such as his belief in the mortality of the soul). He suggests that Menocchio’s individual views might be better understood as part of a popular oral tradition that helped to explain similarities between disparate heretical groups.

Mills, Kenneth. Idolatry and Its Enemies. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Mills uses the Achdiocese of Lima’s Extirpation of Idolatry records in order to study Andean religion after the period of initial Christian contact. As opposed to scholars who argue for indigenous religions as being purely oppositional or wholly syncretic, Mills stresses the “incorporative” nature and fluidity of Andean religion. He posits that the Extirpation enforced a rupture with the past in order to eradicate not only traditional Andean religion, but also the variety of Catholicism that had been incorporated from the various and often pre-Tridentine practices and beliefs of Spaniards with whom they interacted.

Scribner, Robert W. For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Originally published in 1981, For the Sake of Simple Folkchiefly examines the hundreds of broadsheet images and other media of visual culture created during the German Reformation. Scribner, a social historian, employs semiology to “read” these images with the goal of understanding “the sacramental gaze” and the relationship between visual, oral, and print culture during the period. He is particularly interested in the creation and evocation of stereotypes and their ability to propagate reform.

Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Scribner’s, 1971.

Focusing on England in the 16th and 17th centuries, Thomas recovers the myriad “magical” practices and beliefs—such as witchcraft, divination, healing rituals, fairies, etc.—engaged in by people across classes. Viewing belief in the supernatural as counters to the instabilities and dangers of early modern life (famine, pestilence, fire, etc.), Thomas understands magic as a search for remedy that was shaped by and yet operated beyond the Catholic Church and often in opposition to its dogma. A central part of English culture, magical belief was re-shaped but not wholly defeated by the Protestant Reformation.


We would like to think there exists a common understanding of toleration but the following sources demonstrate that it is much more complicated than we think and that there is a wide range in the interpretation of “toleration”. What makes this field difficult to study is that the definitions of “toleration” and “tolerance” are incredibly subjective and it is challenging to agree on what constitutes each one. Even tolerance and intolerance were also not necessarily opposites of each other.

The historiography on toleration and tolerance tends to fall in one of the following two categories. On the one hand, intellectual historians have dominated the older standard narrative emphasizing the theories of humanists, theologians, and political philosophers of the Enlightenment in England, France and the Netherlands. They argue that the influence alone of these ideas was responsible for the dissemination and achievement of toleration and religious freedom. On the other hand, the more recent standard narrative focuses on the political contexts and governmental policies based on complex strategic motivations that permitted toleration. In this case, toleration was less philosophically driven but rather imbedded in a labyrinth of interests, strategies and compromises. The issue with these standard narratives is that they focus on one section of society: the elites (intellectual and governing). Little attention has been given to the popular reception of these “great” ideas or of changing governmental policies although a few authors have begun to pay more attention to this area in recent times. Both Kaplan and Schwartz examine the practices and beliefs of the common people and demonstrate that these people did express attitudes of tolerance. Most often, these popular expressions of tolerance permitted the halting of bloodshed and bound communities divided by religious differences together. The one area in the field of toleration/tolerance that still needs to be developed is how the elites and common people interacted and influenced each other with regard to their views on toleration. Further work must be done to answer the questions of whether politics shape and reflect attitudes or whether attitudes shape and reflect politics.

Medieval Toleration

John Christian Laursen and Cary J. Nederman eds., Beyond the Persecuting Society: Religious Toleration Before the Enlightenment (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998).

Laursen and Nederman argue for the existence of ideas of toleration in medieval thought and political theory. They challenge the typical timeline and approach to the subject of “toleration” which usually focuses on the period of the Enlightenment and assumes that the Middle Ages was only an era of intolerance and ruthless persecutions.

Toleration in Europe

Ole Peter Grell and Roy Porter, eds. Toleration in Enlightenment Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Grell and Porter have edited a series of essay collections on the theory, practice and limitations of toleration in post-medieval Europe. These essay contributions come out of a 1997 conference at Corpus Christi College and cover the 17th and 18th century. Notable essays in the collection include Martin Fitzpatrick’s essay which is a general survey of toleration in the Enlightenment, and he pays particular attention to Locke and Voltaire. He claims that toleration was once a religious issue but that it became involved in debates about the purpose of a secular government; Sylvana Tomaselli’s essay which asserts that tolerance was used to ensure either a peaceful society or good government. Toleration was not a prized as a virtue nor portrayed by its advocates as good in itself—it was considered typically a means to an end. She explains the contradictions that exist in the theories of Enlightenment authors, such as Locke’s denial of toleration to atheists (since they cannot swear oaths) and Catholics (since they swear allegiance to the Pope and therefore can never be fully committed to a unified society); and Jonathan Israel’s essay which compares the two different understandings of toleration found in the works of Locke and Spinoza. As illustrated above, Locke argued for limited view of toleration based on theological concerns; each individual should be free to participate in an organized religion of his own choice as long as it did not conflict with the stability of the state (i.e. freedom of worship). Spinoza, on the other hand, believed that the idea of toleration was based on an individual’s right to think and speak freely, no matter what their religious beliefs (i.e. freedom of thought and speech). Fitzpatrick, Tomaselli and Israel demonstrate toleration in theory. As for practice, the remaining essays in the collection examine the progress and practice of toleration in various European countries: Netherlands, England, France, Holy Roman Empire, Hapsburg Monarchy, Poland-Lithuania, Italy and Spain.

Benjamin Kaplan, Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

Kaplan considers the history and practice of religious tolerance in Europe between the Reformation and French Revolution. He shifts the focus from elite thinkers and rulers to common people and their beliefs and behaviors. He argues that toleration was not just a concern for the intellectual and ruling elites but it also pertained to the common people who lived in religiously mixed communities. Deviating from the standard narrative, Kaplan asserts that toleration was not a theory or policy but was “a peaceful co-existence with others who adhered to a different religion” (8). From the evidence he presents, Kaplan appears to claim that toleration led to a more stable rather than peaceful society. He argues that tolerance does not necessarily entail acceptance but instead it was a pragmatic move of enduring something that was objectionable. He separates elite and popular practices of tolerance without examining whether there may have been a dialogue or an exchange of ideas between the two groups.

John Marshall, John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture: Religious Intolerance and Arguments for Religious Toleration in Early Modern and ‘Early Enlightenment’ Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Marshall focuses his argument on the 1680s and 1690s in France, England, and the Netherlands during a time of intense religious intolerance. Writing an intellectual and cultural history of intolerance and tolerance, he places toleration in the ‘early Enlightenment’ context -argues that toleration laid at the heart of the Enlightenment movement and claims that these educated elite “universalized” tolerance. Marshall considers religious violence and the impact of religious intolerance as the setting for Locke’s ideas of toleration (as well as other members of the republic of letters), but he asserts that while these men were committed to religious tolerance, they were not in favor of toleration or liberty more generally. For example, some advocates were supporters of intolerance for the intolerant. Others questioned whether tolerance could be extended to Catholics on political grounds since they were committed to intolerance, did not believe that faith extended to heretics, and they obeyed the Pope. Others also believed that tolerance should not be extended to atheists since they could not swear oaths to God.

Marshall falls into the category of authors who focus on the educated elite (the republic of letters), their ideas on toleration and the political context of toleration. But does not really talk about how these ideas were received by the mass of the population and how these ideas might have been shared or cultivated by the mass population. Marshall does not scrutinize the relationship of these educated elite thinkers with society.

Stuart B. Schwartz, All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008).

Schwartz examines the idea of religious tolerance in Spain, Portugal and their New World during the Inquisition. He focuses on tolerance arising from the world of common people in their everyday lives as opposed to the world of intellectual philosophers or the world of constitutions or legislations. He illustrates what common people thought of tolerance and freedom of conscience and emphasizes the populace’s efforts in the process of tolerance.

Joachim Whaley, Religious Toleration and Social Change in Hamburg: 1529-1819 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

Whaley’s work focuses primarily on the Lutheran city of Hamburg during the 18th century, but he does analyze the historical and political developments during the 16th and 17th century and the city’s use of toleration. His account acknowledges an internal and external reason for Hamburg’s toleration towards its religious minorities who included the Catholics, the Calvinists and the Jews. The internal reason points to the significant impact and influence of the religious minorities on the Hamburg economy. Had the religious minorities been persecuted, they might have fled the city leaving the economy in shambles. Whaley additionally points to an external factor in accounting for the religious toleration in Hamburg. The city was in a precarious political position with respect to its neighbors and needed to maintain diplomatic relations with both the Empire and Prussia. This imperial and Prussian pressure resulted in Hamburg allowing the Catholics and Calvinists to worship in private chapels; it must be noted that private chapels were not synonymous with churches, and the city clearly differentiated between private and public forms of worship.

Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003).

As the title suggests, Zagorin examines the idea and theory of toleration rather than the actual practice of toleration in Europe. His work is an intellectual history that focuses on elite thinkers and theories as opposed to popular beliefs and behaviors.
He argues that the idea of toleration was inspired primarily by religious values and that it was entirely religious in character. He claims that it was not the result of political circumstances or religious indifference and unbelief, but that it was developed by genuinely religious individuals (such as Sebastian Castellio, Spinoza, Roger Williams, John Milton, John Locke, Pierre Bayle) acting in the best interests of their religion. He asserts that the concern for the spiritual welfare of religion itself impacted the justification for toleration more than any secular or pragmatic arguments.

Toleration in the New World

Chris Beneke, Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

Beneke’s work examines the early history of American Christianity and how the country went from religious intolerance in colonies such as Massachusetts and Virginia to tolerance and finally to legislating freedom of religion and celebrating diversity.
He focuses primarily on late 18th century America

Evan Haefeli, New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

Haefeli considers the way in which toleration operated in colonial America by examining the Dutch colony of New Netherland, but he also the colony in both the Atlantic and broader imperial context. He accomplishes this not only by looking at the “Dutch World” (Europe, Brazil, New Netherland, parts of Africa and Asia) but also by evaluating what was happening in the English empire at the same time. While depicting Dutch religious toleration, he aims to show that modern writers have misunderstood their toleration and that it in fact was not synonymous with religious liberty. For the Dutch, there was a crucial difference between an individual’s liberty to believe in a faith and a group’s freedom to worship openly. At the same time, Haefeli critiques historians’ interpretations that religion was secondary to trade and that Dutch tolerance grew out of a pragmatic preference for trade over a desire for religious truth. He asserts that Dutch tolerance was designed to cope with the religious diversity in their communities and not to foster it. The most significant claim that Haefeli makes is about the particularity of their tolerance and that the Dutch made certain modifications to accommodate individual groups at in specific places and times. As a result, Dutch tolerance in New Netherlands was not identical in Dutch Brazil, or in the Dutch Caribbean, or in the Netherlands.

Jonathan Israel and Stuart Schwartz, The Expansion of Tolerance: Religion in Dutch Brazil (1624-1654) (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007).

This volume includes two articles about the variety of religious tolerance in early modern Brazil. The vast majority of historiography on the Dutch in Brazil tends to focus only on the importance of Johan Maurits who was Governor-general 1637-1644. Israel, in his article, asserts that religious toleration in Brazil preceded the arrival of Maurits in 1637 and extended after his departure in 1644. He claims that tolerance in general, rather than the enlightenment of one man, led to the wealth and success of the Brazilian colony. Schwartz, in his contribution, claims that tolerance existed among the common people in Portuguese Brazil before the arrival of the Dutch and was still maintained after the reconquest of Brazil by the Portuguese.

Andrew R. Murphy, Conscience and Community: Revisiting Toleration and Religious Dissent in Early Modern England and America (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University, 2001).

As a political theorist and historian on political thought, Murphy addresses the English Civil War and Revolution and the early histories of Massachusetts (through the religious dissent of Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams and conflicts from early Quaker and Baptist movements) and Pennsylvania (through the dissident Quakers during the Keithian Schism 1692-94). He argues that religious toleration was a political phenomenon and was a political response to dissent within societies. He claims that toleration did not begin as a fight for abstract principles but rather was a struggle between minority religious groups and religious and civil authorities to attain freedom from persecution for practicing their own faith. He asserts that during the debates over toleration, both tolerationists and anti-tolerationists emphasized the need for political stability in communities. The most significant claim that Murphy makes is that early modern tolerationists sought to replace traditional obedience to one faith (thereby ensuring uniformity) with the idea of political unity where members of different faiths working together for the benefit of the political entity or society.


What began as predominantly confessionally-aligned chronicles, historical studies of martyrs and martyrdom had largely fallen out of vogue by the 1970s and 1980s, when secular-minded historians largely ignored martyrdom or went so far as to apply advances in psychology to diagnose historical martyrs as suffering from mental disorders. However, beginning in the 1990s and effervescing with the post-9/11 world’s attention to suicide bombers, historically-minded scholars have renewed their interests in historical memory and the importance of martyrdom in the early modern world to shared religious and cultural identities. Scholars like John Knott and Susan Monta have focused on the literary tradition of martyrologies and their role in enforcing and creating confessional differences while also legitimating certain sects through claims to inheritance of the martyr tradition of the early church. Influenced by Brad Gregory’s groundbreaking work, scholars have begun to produce cross-confessional studies that are sensitive to the parallels in the uses and treatments of martyrdom as well as the way that religious conflicts were understood and were given sanguinary urgency through their appeals to divergent martyr traditions. This work, however, tends to be Anglo-centric, and more attention to the significance of martyrdom outside of the British Atlantic context, such as Renaldo Cymbalista’s provocative work on the Jesuits and Tupi natives in Brazil, is needed. Furthermore, while most historians have pursued questions about the meaning of martyrdom and martyrologies to Christian identity, performance studies scholars have focused their interests on the act of martyrdom itself and have brought new insight to the role that ritual and violence played in contests over crown and state authority.

Castelli, Elizabeth. Martyrdom and Memory: Early Christian Culture Making. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

In a study of the early Church, Castelli asserts that martyrs’ accounts, martyrologies, and the cults of martyrs created a collective memory of persecution which helped to solidify Christian culture and to identify it with persecution and unjust suffering. Like those who study Reformation era martyrdom, Castelli probes how martyrs’ acts and the texts and images which transmit them challenge authority by inverting the spectacle of execution to focus on the willingness and righteousness of the martyr. Her attention to gender warrants particular attention as she demonstrates how even female martyrs were described using traditional masculine tropes in order to assert the virtue of their deaths in a way that fit within the existing Roman culture. Her final chapter on a student killed at Columbine High School asserts that her theory of martyrdom—that the propagation of the execution and its absorption into collective memory determines its cultural significance—may be applied beyond the temporal scope of the early Christian Church.

Cymbalista, Renato. “The Presence of the Martyrs: Jesuit Martyrdom and the Christianisation of Portuguese America.” International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 10.4 (2010): 287-305.

Responding to the relative paucity of attention to martyrdom outside of the Europe, Cymbalista investigates the role of martyrdom in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Brazil. He treats martyrdom and the relics of martyrs as the underpinning of a dialogue between Jesuits and the native Tupi people, whose culture venerated a proud death at the hands of one’s enemies and practiced sacrificial rites. At the same time that martyrdom helped Jesuits claim new world territories as Catholic lands, it also served as the vocabulary that allowed the two cultures to engage in cultural mediation.

Dillon, Anne. The Construction of Martyrdom in the English Catholic Community, 1535-1603. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2002.

Dillon integrates visual and textual sources in order to understand how conceptions of Catholic martyrdom evolved during the English persecution. She notes how contemporary Catholics began to focus on the exemplary life and heroic death of these martyrs—a move away from the medieval emphasis on posthumous miracles and one which was in line with developing Protestant martyrologies. A strength of this study is its geographic scope, which cites broadsheets and other accounts of English Catholic martyrdom produced on the continent to assert the importance of the events to the identity and mobilization of the larger Catholic community.

Freeman, Thomas S., and Thomas F. Mayer, eds. Martyrs and Martyrdom in England c. 1400-1700. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2007.

This fine collection of essays offers work by some of the field’s top scholars (Brad Gregory, John Coffey, and Freeman himself among others). It attempts to integrate Lollards, Protestants, and Catholics within a single English martyr tradition, and a final part extends this tradition through its politicization to the so-called political martyrs such as Charles I and Henry Vane.

Knott, John R. Discourses of Martyrdom in English Literature, 1563-1694. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Knott examines martyrologies—particularly John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments—and examines their impacts on representations of resistance, persecution, and suffering in contemporary literature. He offers a careful reading of Foxe that is sensitive to Foxe’s claim to the Protestant inheritance of the older Catholic martyr tradition and his suppression of doctrinal differences among the martyrs in an effort to present a Protestant unity.

Meyers, W. Benjamin. “The Stage and the Stake: Sixteenth-Century Anabaptist Martyrdom as Resistance to Violent Spectacle.” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies 5.3 (2009).

Based on a detailed reading of the text and visuals of Thieleman J. Van Braght’s Martyrs’ Mirror, Meyers looks at the performance and meaning of Anabaptist execution in the Low Countries. Seeing execution as a performance of punishment that demonstrates state hegemony and the “dysymmetry of power,” he then reads martyrs’ willingness and even joy to face death as “subversive spectacles” that challenge that authority and wrest control of “the conversion of pain into power” from the domain of the state.

Monta, Susannah Brietz. Martyrdom and Literature in Early Modern England. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Through a cross-confessional study of martyrologies, Monta illuminates how the English “grappled with religious change and conflict.” She notes that while Catholic and Protestant accounts attempted to differentiate themselves, they often resembled one another. This was particularly problematic for Monta’s authors because, with less focus on posthumous miracles, they were faced with the similar worldly appearance of sinners and saints. Her careful reading of martyrologies is driven by her assertion that they produce and don’t just record confessional differences and therefore cannot be accepted at face value.

Nicholls, David. “The Theatre of Martyrdom in the French Reformation.” Past and Present 121.1 (1988): 49-73.

Nicholls examines the French ritual of public execution meant to degrade the executed, to portray (and in so doing to reinforce) a unified orthodox community, and to approximate civic cleansing rites. In this ritual context, he sees Protestant non-resistance as a pointed critique, one which denies the ritual’s premise of state authority by opting out. He argues that the ritual power and indeed the very enactment of these executions broke down during the religious wars as community religious tensions exploded and as it became more difficult to assert that martyrs were outsiders to a unified Catholic community.

Weimer, Adrian Chastain. Martyr’s Mirror: Persecution and Holiness in Early New England. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Weimer studies the flexibility of the martyrdom tradition in Protestant New England. She traces how folklore and the “historical imagination” of martyrdom in Marian England combined with a distinctly New World conception of martyrdom which extended the title to those with will and the pious New England fathers who faced the trials of the wilderness. This claim to the inheritance of the martyr tradition legitimated Puritans as inheritors of the true church and their memory of persecution allowed them, even as the region’s dominant religion, to paint even minority sects such as Quakers as persecutors of their pure church. This flexibility of the martyrdom concept is extended to two other discussions: the separatists who are able to accept episcopal, Marian era martyrs by nature of their understanding of “progressive revelation,” and the Native Americans during King Phillip’s War who could be categorized both as “praying Indian” martyrs and as the antichrist.