Skip to main content Accessibility help
The Reformation of Rights
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 19
  • Export citation
  • Recommend to librarian
  • Buy the print book

Book description

John Calvin developed arresting new teachings on rights and liberties, church and state, and religion and politics that shaped the law of Protestant lands. Calvin's original teachings were periodically challenged by major crises - the French Wars of Religion, Dutch Revolt, the English Civil War, American colonization, and American Revolution. In each such crisis moment, a major Calvinist figure emerged - Theodore Beza, Johannes Althusius, John Milton, John Winthrop, John Adams, and others - who modernized Calvin's teachings and translated them into dramatic new legal and political reforms. This rendered early modern Calvinism one of the driving engines of Western constitutionalism. A number of basic Western laws on religious and political rights, social and confessional pluralism, federalism and constitutionalism, and more owe a great deal to this religious movement. This book is essential reading for scholars and students of history, law, religion, politics, ethics, human rights, and the Protestant Reformation.


'Historians, not to mention philosophers and theologians, have too long overlooked the Calvinist contribution to the human rights tradition. John Witte's superlative study definitively corrects that shortcoming and thereby makes an indispensable contribution to our changing understanding of that tradition.'

David Little - Harvard Divinity School

'John Witte has written a magistral survey of ideas about law, religion and human rights as developed by John Calvin in sixteenth-century Geneva and then developed and adapted by selected intellectual descendants of his in France, the Netherlands, England, and colonial America. These ideas are analyzed with all the clarity and bite one expects of a great historian of thought. They should make a useful and thought-provoking contribution to modern attempts to cope with concepts that are still of fundamental importance.'

Robert M. Kingdon - University of Wisconsin, Madison

'The Reformation of Rights will come as a revelatory jolt to those who embrace the standard history of natural rights, which holds that the idea of such rights was introduced into Western thought by the political philosophers of the Enlightenment. Witte’s argument, developed with meticulous attention to the sources, and always judicious in its conclusions, is that centuries before the Enlightenment, Calvinists were arguing for natural rights, especially natural religious rights: freedom of conscience, freedom of exercise, freedom of the church. The Reformation of Rights is a magisterial contribution to a new narrative of rights.'

Nicholas Wolterstorff - Yale University

'Witte's [The] Reformation of Rights is … [a] cohesive and ambitious book. … Amid the growing number of recent books about the history of religious coexistence in early modern Europe, this one should not be overlooked.'

Source: Journal of Ecclesiastical History

'… essential reading for scholars and students of history, law, religion and politics, ethics and human rights, and the Reformation.'

Source: Journal of Reformed Theology

Refine List

Actions for selected content:

Select all | Deselect all
  • View selected items
  • Export citations
  • Download PDF (zip)
  • Send to Kindle
  • Send to Dropbox
  • Send to Google Drive

Save Search

You can save your searches here and later view and run them again in "My saved searches".

Please provide a title, maximum of 40 characters.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Book summary page views

Total views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between #date#. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.