Religious media cultures in the seventeenth-century Netherlands: self-definition, group representation and perceptions of orality, books and visuals in the process of knowledge acquisition and knowledge transmission
Throughout history, media have always performed crucial societal func- tions of all kinds. Within the social and cultural field, historical analyses and media studies on micro- and macro-level 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 represen tation 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 my PhD-project, a cultural historical inquiry is set forward, focus ing on religious communication in the seventeenth-century in the North ern and Southern Netherlands. In general, the seventeenth century is acknowledged to be a turbulent period in European history with con tinuous 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 historiographical 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. Several seventeenth-century writers, especially scholars, blamed miscommuni cation 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 my contention 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, I chose to study 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. The first results of our analysis show that contemporary views on early modern media cultures ought to be adjusted and contextualized to a large extent.