Programme Line: Religion – Key concept: Religious PR
(Florian Schaffenrath, Valerio Sanzotta)

Although Latin remains the official language of the Catholic church today, in the Early Modern Period it had an even greater and more varied importance for religious experience and practice, especially within Christianity. Latin’s reach extended from theology and liturgy to Christian education and the types of personal devotion that found expression, for instance, in calendars of saints and hymn books. In terms of communication, Latin could be used on a more theoretical and intellectual (as e.g. in theological treatises) or on a more emotional and entertaining level (as e.g. in theatre or novels). The former use is aimed at a small group of specialists; the latter at a potentially large audience. The research of the LBI in the programme line Religion has particularly focused on that latter use of Latin as a medium of religious ‘public relations’ ante litteram. Christian institutions and individuals were on the forefront of developing such PR in Latin. They combined a general inclination towards Latin (as time-honoured language of Christianity) with an intended emotional impact to further edification, exhortation, reformation, counter-reformation and similar causes. Religious literature, therefore, turned out to be a very suitable field to study the phenomenon of Latin PR in the early modern period. An emphasis lay on original and innovative genres/media/bodies of texts/individual works which either influenced actual debates or enriched the range of literary and cultural expression (e.g. by re-interpreting traditional genres, by creating new ones, or by providing models for vernacular literature).

In the first phase of the LBI (2011–14) our research has been dedicated mostly to Jesuit theatre and other forms of Catholic school drama, one of the most successful and wide-reaching forms of religious PR in the early modern period. While it is comparatively well studied for the 16th and 17th centuries, however, its late manifestations in the 18th century are barely known, let alone properly understood. Across several projects, we analysed the texts of Jesuit dramas from the beginning of the 18th century (N. Tjoelker) and edited some examples of early-18th-century texts (S. Wirthensohn, V. Sanzotta) from different cultural backgrounds (south German Jesuit circles, the Arcadia in Rome).

Now, in the second phase (2015–17), we are widening our scope and deal with two strongly interrelated topics. The first project picks up on our research on Jesuit drama, but looks at an emphatically religious form of drama left out of account before: the so-called meditationes (or considerationes, 'Fastenmeditationen'). These plays were only performed in sacred places (mostly Jesuit churches) on Sundays in Lent within the framework of the Societies of Our Lady ('Marianische Kongregation'). It was the aim of these plays to excite special emotions (affectus) in the audience concerning regret and penitence. The second project aims at investigating the influence of the Jesuit order in the context of literary production of the Italian academies of the 18th century, especially regarding the connections of the Arcadian poetry with the devotional system and the religious sensitivity of the Jesuits. Although it cannot certainly be asserted that the Arcadia as a whole was dominated by the Jesuits, it can be observed, nonetheless, how in the first half of the 18th century the Society of Jesus successfully attempted to orient the Arcadian reform and academic activities towards their theological, pedagogical, political and and moral demands.

In addition, the programme line Religion pursues also digital initiatives. On the one hand, the source material for all our research should be digitized and made available online. On the other hand (and more ambitiously), we aim to develop a comprehensive database of European Jesuit drama and an associated platform providing digitizations of all available Jesuit periochae (i.e. printed programmes to Jesuit plays – our single most important source for the history of Jesuit drama).