Confessionalization is a concept that is meant to describe a political program pursued by the authorities of the emerging early modern states and the newly founded churches in the Protestant world, as well as the response of the authorities of the Catholic Church and the Catholic territories to this development. This political program involved a variety of elements: One element was the negotiation of agreements or compromises about matters of theological doctrine—a process that, on the side of the Protestants, resulted in a large number of texts that defined what believers were supposed to confess. On the Catholic side, this development was countered by a gradual consolidation of dogma, most prominently during the Council of Trent (1545-1564). Another element of confessionalization went beyond the specifically religious realm and included detailed regulations of social customs and personal habits. A third element, in both Protestant and Catholic contexts, consisted in building up institutions for the close surveillance of religious beliefs and practices in the parishes.
Some leading historians of science have used aspects of confessionalization to explain specifics of early modern natural philosophy, and it has even been suggested that there was something that could be described as the confessionalization of early modern physics. Such claims have triggered weighty criticisms. For instance, it has been argued that some innovative aspects of Jesuit cosmology cannot be understood as outcomes of such homogenizing pressures. Likewise, it has been pointed out that in Protestant natural philosophy one finds a variety of different accounts of the physics of the Eucharist. Also, not all fields of natural philosophy are characterized by confessional differences. For example, the biblical hermeneutics found in Protestant natural histories from the sixteenth century shows significant similarities with the hermeneutics found in their Catholic counterparts. Likewise, the ecumenical idea of developing rational foundations for a common theology was an influential idea both in Protestant and Catholic theories of bodies and minds.
The contributions in this special issue will discuss the controversial question of how early modern natural philosophers responded to the homogenizing pressures of confessionalization. Thematic fields will include the disciplinary identity of natural philosophy, the epistemologies standing behind natural philosophy, central areas of natural philosophy such as astronomy/cosmology, optics, the history of plants and animals, the history of the earth, interdisciplinary areas such as the metaphysics of material substance and its theological implications and the development of physico-theology, as well as the influence of social and political factors connected with confessionalization.