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For Conscience and Kingdom Martyrs, Monarchs and the Spirit of Modernity in Early Modern England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 April 2019

Clayton Fordahl*
Sociology Department, University of Memphis []
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This article compares the collective commemoration of martyrs to ascertain changes in cultural understandings of the relationship between the ultimate sacrifice offered by an individual and monarchal violence. This historical comparison is used to argue that changes in the nature of Christianity transformed the popular interpretation of sovereign violence from a desecrative to a redemptive force. While cultural individualism and political statism appear in secularized modernity as contradictory impulses, their birth in early modernity was induced by coherent and entirely consistent religious worldview.


Cet article compare différentes commémorations collectives de martyrs pour préciser la manière dont se transforme la compréhension culturelle de la relation entre le sacrifice ultime d’un individu et la violence monarchique. Cette comparaison historique permet d’affirmer que des changements dans la nature de la chrétienté ont contribué à transformer l’interprétation populaire de la violence souveraine comme force profanatrice en une force rédemptrice. Alors que l’individualisme culturel et l’étatisme politique apparaissent dans la modernité sécularisée comme des impulsions contradictoires, leur naissance au début de la modernité a été induite par une vision du monde religieuse entièrement cohérente.


Dieser Beitrag vergleicht verschiedene, für Märtyrer organisierte, kollektive Gedenkfeiern, um darzustellen, auf welche Art und Weise kulturelle Verständnisse die Beziehung zwischen individueller Opferbereitschaft und monarchischer Gewalt verändern. Dieser historische Vergleich verdeutlicht, wie eine sich verändernde Konzeption des Christentums bei der Öffentlichkeit zu einer Neuinterpretation der Gewaltausübung eines Herrschers führt – von einer ruchlosen zu einer erlösenden Gewalt. Obwohl der kulturelle Individualismus und der politische Etatismus in der säkularisierten Moderne als sich widersprechende Impulse verstanden werden, geht ihre Entstehung zu Beginn der Moderne auf eine ganz kohärente, religiöse Weltvorstellung zurück.

Copyright © A.E.S. 2019 

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Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Bryan S. Turner, Saïd Arjomand, Daniel Levy, and Ian Roxborough for their time and valuable feedback. A debt is owed also to Berglind H. Ragnarsdóttir for reading and commenting on this article’s earlier drafts.



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