1517-1545 The Northern Experience
Antwerp (Belgique)

In the second quarter of the sixteenth century eruptions of religious upheaval brought to light simmering doctrinal and church political conflicts that had been bound to erupt. All that was needed was a triggering event. When Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses in Wittenberg in 1517, he formulated a fundamental censure of the teachings of the Western Church that led to lasting divisions within the Christian world. Only in 1545, with the start of the Council of Trent (1545?1563), did the Catholic Church start to respond in a coordinated manner to the challenges of Lutheranism as well as to the acknowledged need for internal reform. From that time on, the authorities engaged in a comprehensive and centralized effort to reform the Church on all levels. Both Luther and the Counter-Reformation have had a polarizing effect on scholarly efforts; consequently, the importance of the intermediate phase has been insufficiently recognized and studied. The period from 1517?1545 is characterized by turbulence, uncertainty, strife and transformation. Scattered, uncoordinated initiatives emerged, the outcome of which nobody could foresee.
To understand this period, it is important to distinguish between the phenomena of Counter Reformation and Catholic reform. The earlier Catholic reform movement was aimed at stifling the Protestant reform movement by showing that sincere spirituality was still alive and well within the Catholic tradition. It was a highly fluid phenomenon in which the forces of Catholic self-affirmation and renewal are difficult to distinguish from those of rejection and condemnation of Lutheran novelties. Within this Catholic reform movement the mystical life had its radically spiritual niche. A region where the push for Catholic reform through rekindled interiority was particularly strong stretches from the Duchy of Guelders (or Gelre) in the Low Countries « with the principal city of Arnhem » down to the urban center of Cologne in the adjacent Rhineland. Key spiritual centers were the Saint Agnes convent in Arnhem and the Charterhouse in Cologne. The sisters lived a life of mystical spirituality, reinventing mysticism on the basis of the fourteenth-century classics of mysticism. Only of late the importance of Arnhem as an important center in the re-invention of mystical life has come to light. The Cologne Carthusians supported the turn inward by providing editions of classic and contemporaneous mystical texts. The influence of the mystical sisters’ life and works and the Carthusians’ initiatives radiated well beyond the region and their own time.
The identification of this center of mystical culture « a veritable short-lived mystical renaissance » within the context of sixteenthcentury Catholic Reform, provides the impetus to broaden the scope of research, and to consider its relation to other developments in the wider Northern-European context of the Low Countries and Germany. What manifestations of transformation and change occurred in other domains’ Were there parallel expressions of this Catholic mystical spirituality in art, in devotional practices and in book culture? How, again, did Lutheranism respond to it’ The complex phenomenom of this transitional phase must by studied from the perspective of literary studies, (art-)history,
and religious studies. Only by integrating these different but complementary viewpoints will it be possible to gain in-depth understanding of this key period in the Northern regions of the Christian West.
Objective and Programme
With scholarly attention focused primarily on the great events of the Lutheran reformation (1517) and the ensuing Counter-Reformation (1545), the intermediary period has been somewhat overlooked. On the one hand there is a vast body of literature on Luther and Lutheranism. On the other hand, discussions of the Catholic response to Lutheranism often only start with the Counter-Reformation. It is the objective of the conference to fill this lacuna. The focus of attention is on the « Northern Experience »: the mystical, experiential spirituality that evolved during this period in The Low Countries and the Rhineland. It will be considered in the context of manuscripts and books, works of art, devotional practices and Lutheranism.
The conference will bring together specialists from different disciplines who will shed light on related aspects of this period of transformation between late-medieval and early-modern spirituality.
Keynote speakers include Bernard McGinn (Chicago), and Volker Leppin (Tübingen).
Call for papers
We invite scholars, both starting and established, to present their research related to « The Northern Experience ». Abstracts of max. 400 words for a proposed 30 minute talk should be submitted by 15 May 2011. Apart from the keynote speakers, we plan to have three additional presentations in each discipline. Papers (both presented and not-presented) will be published in a volume (publisher
yet to be decided).

Organizing committee
Prof. dr. Kees Schepers
Ruusbroec Institute, University of Antwerp, Belgium
Prof. dr. Thom Mertens
Ruusbroec Institute, University of Antwerp, Belgium
Prof. dr. Frank Willaert
University of Antwerp, Belgium
Prof. dr. Johan Oosterman
Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Dr. Hans Kienhorst
Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Prof. dr. Youri Desplenter
Ghent University, Belgium
Daniëlle Prochowski M.A.
Junior Researcher, Ruusbroec Institute
Markus Polzer M.A.
Junior Researcher, Ruusbroec Institute
For further info and to submit abstracts, please contact:
Markus Polzer M.A.
Universiteit Antwerpen
Prinsstraat 13

be-2000 Antwerpen