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European Research Council Projects

Dr Ian Campbell: Advancing knowledge of past religious militancy

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Dr Ian Campbell
Senior lecturer, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics

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ERC Project: War and the Supernatural in Early Modern Europe. A study of the relationship between faith and warfare in 16th and 17th century Europe

What does ‘Holy War’ really mean?

The great religious wars that took place in Europe in the 1600s and 1700s have always fascinated historians. This project investigates what people at the time thought about these holy wars.

Europeans at this time did not possess a secular category: they divided their world between the supernatural, where God intervened directly, and the natural, where humans used the reason God had given them to build their own lives.

The project will focus on two groups of intellectuals – Reformed or Calvinist Protestants and the Franciscan Order of the Catholic Church. Both these groups were accused by contemporaries of extremism; of drawing the supernatural too far into human life. For example, some Franciscans thought it was acceptable to convert Jews and Protestants by force, whereas most Catholics thought this was quite wrong.

A close up of one of the books being researched by Dr Ian Campbell and the "War and the Supernatural in Early Modern Europe" research team on their European Research Council Project

Dr Campbell and his colleagues will concentrate on the Catholic and Protestant teachers at the great Renaissance universities – Oxford, Cambridge, Rome, Salamanca, and Heidelberg – translating their original writings. They will explore the connections between this university teaching and conversation about politics outside the universities.

The project will also track the emergence of more secular ways of thinking during the Enlightenment – which will cast light on our own ideas of the part that faith should play in politics.

Principal Investigator: Dr Ian Campbell

A Senior Lecturer in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Dr Campbell is an historian of early modern Ireland and early modern political thought. After undergraduate and graduate training at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the University of Durham, he spent a year learning Latin at the Centre for Neo-Latin Studies, University College Cork (UCC), before completing his PhD at TCD in 2005.

He completed postdoctoral work at University College Dublin, UCC and the University of Cambridge, before moving to Queen’s in 2014.

 Unpacking the past

    • The team aims to demonstrate that the distinction between nature and supernature provides a good framework for better understanding early modern Europe
    • The project is interested in the relationship between these earlier categories of nature and supernature and the modern category of the secular; the movement from one to another is a crucial transition in European history
    • Dr Campbell and his colleagues work with Latin-language sources – everything that happened in a 16th or 17th century university was recorded in Latin. Real historians are distinguished by their ability to read the original sources, rather than just rely on translations

Impact for today’s world

 As well as advancing understanding of early modern Europe, the project should advance learning of the origins of secularism – which underpins modern Europe. Anything that enhances our understanding of modern notions of governance and the interplay between religion and society is a good thing

The European Research Council funds high-quality scholarship – which in this case takes a long time and involves laboriously translating ancient and lengthy tomes. We live in a world of instant information, but much of that information is of a very low quality. The ERC reminds us that real knowledge takes time and effort to acquire.

The project will host two international conferences at Queen’s. These conferences will draw scholars of both Catholic and Protestant Europe together to compare the relationship between faith and warfare across multiple confessional cultures. Scholars of these different confessions do not engage with each other often enough

The team

Dr Ian Campbell, Dr Todd Rester, Dr Floris Verhaart, Ms Karie Schultz, discussing the work of the "War and the Supernatural in Early Modern Europe" project

ERC funding affords the opportunity to attract high-quality academics from around the world to Queen’s for the lifetime of the project (2016-20). Dr Campbell leads a team of international experts:

    • Dr Floris Verhaart, research fellow. Dr Verhaart’s research interests focus on the intellectual and religious history of Europe, especially in the Dutch Republic, Britain, and France
    • Dr Todd Rester, research fellow. Dr Rester’s specialisms are the development of religious doctrine and practice in the early modern period of Europe from the medieval and patristic philosophical and exegetical traditions
    • Ms Karie Schultz, PhD student. Ms Schultz’s research interests are in the political, religious, and intellectual history of seventeenth-century Britain and continental Europe

Learn more about the work being carried out by Dr Campbell and his colleagues