Learning to see: discursive strategies in seventeenth-century religious schoolbooks

Birgitte Petra Martens

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)


Religious media cultures in the seventeenth-century Netherlands (1600-1700)

Throughout history, media have always performed crucial societal functions of all kind. Within the social and cultural field, historical analyses and media studies indicate that social and political claims are being shaped to a large extent by the use of specific types of media, as mechanisms of self-definition and group representation come to the foreground in the elaboration of a media culture. In historical research on communication and media, recent lines of inquiry show great interest in media and communicative cultures.

In our PhD-project, a cultural historical inquiry is set forward as we focus on religious communication in the seventeenth-century in the Northern and Southern Netherlands. In general, the seventeenth century is acknowledged to be a turbulent period in European history with continuous religious and political wars. In the former Netherlands, North and South developed highly varying media cultures, the latter being coined as a visual culture opposed to the former being defined as a text culture. Until now, only few systematic attempts have been undertaken to test existing assumptions about Protestant text culture and Catholic visual culture. As a result, research questions with regard to the underlying convictions about the expressive powers of different media or latent assumptions about the cognitive and affective willingness of the public that was meant to be held in a changing and hostile religious setting, have never been formulated. Seventeenth-century writers, especially scholars, blamed miscommunication for being the main cause of misery. Language, meaning and interpretation on the one hand, media and knowledge transmission on the other thus became pre-eminent in political, scientific and religious debate. It is our aim to explore widely differing perceptions of religious ministers about the role of orality, visuals and books in the transmission of religious knowledge (translation of the 17th-century term in use) and to point out the ideological assumptions about knowledge acquisition, knowledge transmission and participatory communication which underpin the elaboration and the evolution of a given media culture. In order to respect the variety of existing, conflicting, opinions within one religious group, we departed from the notions textual communities and communicative cultures. With this objective in mind, we are studying the textual production of two Catholic (Jesuits and Jansenists) and two Protestant (Lutherans and Calvinists) factions by the means of a discourse analysis of polemical texts produced on these matters.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPaper presented at the First European Communication Conference, 24-26 November 2005
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • religious history
  • cultural history
  • early modern period


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