CFP for panels at the next Renaissance Society Annual Conference in San Juan (Puerto Rico), March 9-11, 2023

Making and Contesting Religious Diversity: Practices of Comparison (1350-1700)

EMoDiR is an international research group focusing on the history of religious dissent, radicalism, and minorities in early modern times ( Since 2011, the group has organized panels at the RSA annual conferences on practices and conceptual frameworks of religious conflict, heresy, and groups of radical dissent. The panels are characterized by a multiplicity of methodological and theoretical approaches.

EMoDiR is now planning a series of panels discussing practices of comparisons in the context of religious dissent for the upcoming RSA conference in San Juan (March-9-11, 2023).

What was “religious dissent”? How was the “dissenter” or the member of a “religious minority group” different from other believers? And how did difference become dissent? How was it turned into deviance? Since the early years of EMoDiR, we have discussed the role of categories and reflected on the intersection of contemporary and scholarly categorization processes in establishing  “early modern dissent” as a subject of study. Through our research and collaboration, we have emphasized the need to distinguish between internal and external perspectives (emic /etic) and to account for the mutability of categories over time. This relational perspective has helped us to uncover a certain fluidity of categorical identifications and to explore ambiguity in terms of deliberate strategy and non-intended effect. In doing so, we have implicitly or explicitly compared different religious groups with each other, both synchronically and diachronically. In observing “religious dissent”, we relied partly on how contemporaries distinguished between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, between orthopraxis and heteropraxis.

On this basis, we would now like to invite contributions that explicitly focus on practices of comparison from a historical perspective: how exactly did people compare religious groups in the late Middle Ages and the Early Modern period? How did they establish similarities and differences, unity and diversity? What elements were chosen as meaningful categories for assessing religious differences? What doctrinal, communicative, and practical means did they have at their disposal to conceptualize and handle religious diversity? What topoi and rhetorical strategies were deployed? What role did space and time play in the positioning of other groups? By exploring practices of comparison in a broad temporal framework (1350-1700), we also want to re-visit the usual periodization schemes prevalent in histories of comparatism to explore how Reformation-era comparisons and categories relate to comparative practices that had emerged in the context of humanism and earlier medieval religious debates. What changes can we observe around the alleged watershed moment of 1500? How did growing global connections and colonial ventures feed into practices of comparison in the religious field?

Focusing on historical comparisons renders visible the multiplicity of past categories and the relationality of categorization work. From this vantage point, a critical view of our own comparative undertakings becomes possible. We thus hope to enrich recent historiographical considerations on comparative approaches in a global context by investigating historical forms and alternative modes of comparison.

We invite contributions and papers which investigate and analyse:

  • archives of comparison: heresiologies, lists, catalogues as comparative practices
  • mediating comparison: iconographies, formatting, and materiality
  • practices of comparison and/in translation
  • polemical comparisons: comparisons in religious controversies and their audiences
  • gender as an element of religious comparative practices
  • temporalization and concepts of time and history
  • theories of genealogies: polygenetic and monogenetic approaches
  • beyond the binary: comparative operations and concepts of diversity in the religious field

Proposals should be submitted by July 15, 2022 by email to Stefano Villani ( and with full name, current affiliation, and email address; a paper title (15-word maximum), an abstract (150-word maximum), keywords, Ph.D. completion date (past or expected), and a brief CV (150 words maximum). Inquiries about the content of the CFP can be directed to Christina Brauner ( and/or Xenia von Tippelskirch (

Selected Bibliography:

Christina Brauner, Polemical Comparisons in Discourses of Religious Diversity. Conceptual Remarks and Reflexive Perspectives, in: Entangled Religions 11.4 (2020), DOI:

Renaud Gagné, Simon Goldhill, Geoffrey Lloyd (eds.), Regimes of comparatism : frameworks of comparison in history, religion and anthropology, Leiden/Boston 2018.Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most (eds.), Canonical Texts and Scholarly Practices: A Global Comparative Approach, Cambridge UP 2016.

Sophie Houdard, Adelisa Malena and Xenia von Tippelskirch, “Langages dissidents: performances et contestations religieuses à l’époque moderne”, Études Épistémè [Online], 31 | 2017; DOI:

van der Veer, Peter, The value of comparison, Durham, NC 2016
Vincent Goossaert and Peter Van der Veer, « Introduction », Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 193 | 2021, 11-24.

Caroline Walker Bynum, Interrogating “Likeness”. Fake Friends, Similia Similibus, and Heavenly Crowns, in: Historische Anthropologie 28 (2020),

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