I am a PhD student in Religious Studies under the direction of Dr. Raymond Mentzer at the University of Iowa (The United States). Currently I am writing a dissertation which reassesses the common claim that the Protestant Reformation helped to usher in an age of individualism. I examine Geneva during the lifetime of John Calvin as a test case and investigate not only the place of the individual in Calvin’s theology but also Calvin’s ecclesiastical habits. Further, to shed light on the immediate influence Calvin had on Genevans, I turn to various local records of Geneva (especially consistory records) as well as social histories of Geneva.
I suggest that the Reformation in Geneva placed intense emphasis on the individual, especially on the renewal of one’s interior life. However, the development of individual piety was believed to take place within the public and hierarchical structures of the church, which themselves could at times lean upon existing social and familial hierarchies. Thus, the Reformation in Geneva did not tend to cause individuals to feel a sense of personal freedom or liberty in the development of personal piety but instead caused them to feel individuated or differentiated from one another based upon each person’s unique place within the ecclesiastical, social, and familial hierarchies. Further, Calvin’s theological and pastoral stress upon the way that God providentially ordains the unique experiences, circumstances, and shape of one’s life was an additional individuating influence upon Genevans.
While at the Johannes a Lasco Bibliothek, I was extremely grateful to have ready access to Genevan consistory records as well as the records of Geneva’s company of pastors, Geneva’s city council, and other texts specific to the Reformation in Geneva. I am thankful for and indebted to the library directors and staff who made it possible for me to study at the library and who also made my time in Emden academically fruitful as well as enjoyable.