The Dutch Dissenters Blog features research on the political and cultural activities of Mennonites and related groups in the Dutch Republic from the 16th through the early 19th centuries. I, Prof. Mike Driedger of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, am the organizer of the blog, and the site will feature my research, with occasional entries from other authors.


If you would like to know more about my research, please follow this blog, read the further description of my research below, or contact me directly.

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My future research interests expand upon work that I began in the 1990s on Mennonite political culture in the neighbouring early modern German ports of Hamburg and Altona. That work looked at the dynamics of religious nonconformity and political conformity as experienced by a religious minority community in Lutheran-dominated polities. In the last 15 years I have done research on Anabaptist political and religious dissent in the 16th century, particularly the episode of Anabaptist rule at Münster in the 1530s, and I have also looked at the relationship between Enlightenment associationalism and revolutionary politics among Dutch Mennonites in the later 18th century. My current research involves pulling together years of archival research on the relationship between “the Radical Reformation” and “the Radical Enlightenment” among Dutch and German urban Mennonite communities.

In 2014 I completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada funding cycle for a project on “Mennonite Revolutionaries: Religion, Enlightenment, and Radical Politics in Early Modern Holland.” For it I have collected archival and printed sources on dissenting preachers, writers, publishers, philosophers, club organizers, and political activists in the 18th century, with a focus on Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Leiden. This supplements earlier research I have done on Hamburg-Altona and Krefeld. The subject of Mennonite revolutionaries is significant for several reasons. The most immediate is the way in which it complicates the standard picture of Mennonites as a historic peace church, and another broader reason is the light it sheds on debates about the religious Enlightenment and political activism. My long-term plan is to write a monograph about the subject of revolutionary Mennonites, but for now I am working to share my research online. The reason is that I want to take advantage of the many digital tools for dynamic data manipulation and presentation (e.g., text and bibliographical analysis; network and controversy mapping; scalable timelines, maps, and genealogies) that the fixed format of printed texts do not allow.

While the 18th century is a major subject of my work, I am returning increasingly to 16th– and 17th-century subjects. I am working with Prof. Gary Waite at the University of New Brunswick on a collaborative project entitled “Amsterdamnified! Religious Dissenters, Spiritualist Ideas and Urban Associationalism in the Emergence of the Early Enlightenment in England and the Low Countries, 1540-1700.” Our team includes collaborators from the Netherlands (Amsterdam and Utrecht) and the UK (York). This team-oriented project will be a major part of my plans for new research over the next 5 to 7 years. For the project I will be focusing on two sets of subjects: the affinity between dissenting congregationalism and early Enlightenment associationalism; and the activities of printers, publishers, and booksellers in Amsterdam, with some attention to London, and their role in the emergence of new publics interested in nonconforming ideas. I have already done some preparatory work in this field, with conference presentations and some publications (e.g., my 2007 essay on Spinoza and his Mennonite circle of supporters).

Another ongoing subject of my research is 16th-century Anabaptism, especially the episode of Anabaptist rule at Münster in 1534 and 1535. Since completing a co-authored book on Bernhard Rothmann and the Reformation in Münster, 1530-35 with Willem de Bakker and James Stayer (2009), I have continued to work on this (in)famous but poorly understood episode in Reformation history. This includes a 2016 essay, “Münster, Monster, Modernity: Tracing and Challenging the Meme of Anabaptist Madness,” in which I examine the long traditions of polemically derived accounts of this episode that have shaped influential political histories (e.g., Norman Cohn and Eric Voegelin) and continue to shape numerous accounts today of the medieval roots of contemporary religious violence. In several conference presentations I have argued that a comparative study of medieval and early modern sieges, combined with a critical analysis of polemical sources, allows for a greatly improved understanding of Anabaptist rule at Münster. Together with Dr. Ralf Klötzer and other colleagues at the Universität Münster, I plan to work in the long-term toward a source edition of archival documents related to Anabaptism in Westphalia and the Rhineland in the 16th century. The goal is to publish this material in time for the 500th anniversary of Anabaptist rule. In addition to the source edition, part of my long-term plan is to help curate an online exhibit that will place Anabaptist Münster in a significantly revised context.

Finally, there is a broad framework for my research on Anabaptists and Mennonites. Overall, I see this specialized research as a contribution to knowledge about the dynamic transformation of new religious movements into established institutions – transformations that then also affected later generations as aging institutions encountered new reforming movements. This overall interest has led me to follow scholarship in religious studies, anthropology, and sociology on new religious movements (NRMs). A common claim in this scholarship is that NRMs are of relatively recent origin. In May 2014 I presented a paper at a religious studies conference in Groningen, the Netherlands, in which I tried to convince NRM scholars that the proper scope of their subjects goes back much further than the “modern” era. Over the last 15 years I have already done comparative reading on religious reform and revival movements in the medieval and early modern worlds (e.g., Wycliffism, Hussitism, Sikhism, Shabbatean Judaism, Chinese sectarianism, and Pietist Protestantism, as well as the standard textbook subjects of religious reform movements in 16th-century Europe). My participation in the Research Group in Early Modern Religious Dissents and Radicalism (http://emodir.net) connects me with an international network of mostly young scholars who are working on these kinds of subjects.

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Selected Publications

  • “Thinking inside the Cages: Norman Cohn, Anabaptist Münster, and Polemically Inspired Assumptions about Apocalyptic Violence,” in Nova Religio 21:4 (forthcoming May 2018).
  • “Against ‘the Radical Reformation’: On the Continuity between Early Modern Heresy-Making and Modern Historiography,” in Radicalism and Dissent in the World of Protestant Reform, eds. Bridget Heal and Anorthe Kremers (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017).
  • “Münster, Monster, Modernity: Tracing and Challenging the Meme of Anabaptist Madness,” in Mennonites and the Challenge of Modernity over Five Centuries, eds. Mark Jantzen, Mary Sprunger, and John Thiesen (North Newton, KS: Bethel College Press, 2016).
  • “Mennonites, Gender and the Rise of Civil Society in the Dutch Enlightenment,” in Mirjam van Veen, Piet Visser, Gary K. Waite, Els Kloek, Marion Kobelt-Groch, and Anna Voolstra, eds., Sisters: Myth and Reality of Anabaptist, Mennonite, and Doopsgezind Women ca. 1525-1900 (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 229-249.
  • Co-authored with Willem de Bakker and James Stayer, Bernhard Rothmann and the Reformation in Münster, 1530-35 (Kitchener: Pandora Press, 2009).
  • Co-edited with Anselm Schubert and Astrid von Schlachta. Grenzen des Täufertums / Boundaries of Anabaptism (Neue Forschungen. Schriften des Vereins für Reformationsgeschichte, volume 209) (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2009).
  • “Anabaptists and the Early Modern State: A Long-Term View,” in A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, edited by John D. Roth and James M. Stayer (Leiden: Brill, 2007).
  • “The Intensification of Religious Commitment: Jews, Anabaptists, Radical Reform, and Confessionalization,” in Jews, Judaism, and the Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Germany, edited by D.P. Bell and S.G. Burnett (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006).
  • Obedient Heretics: Mennonite Identities in Lutheran Hamburg and Altona during the Confessional Age (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002).

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