Separating Tares from Wheat: Making an Anabaptist Minority in Early Modern Switzerland

My book manuscript examines the experience of a nonconformist religious community in order to address broad questions about how early modern Europeans dealt with religious difference. This project responds to an incongruity: the scholarly emphasis on Swiss Anabaptists’ retreat into isolation, an inevitable reaction to state violence, set against copious archival evidence of Anabaptists’ ongoing embeddedness in rural society. Drawing on unpublished archival collections from Switzerland, Germany, and France, I conclude that the confrontation that often marked interreligious interaction resulted from Anabaptists’ social integration, not their isolation. Rather than a product of irreconcilable confessional difference, conflict stemmed from ongoing attempts to differentiate dissenters from their neighbours, a minority making process to which both Anabaptists and Reformed authorities contributed.

This project illuminates the social, cultural, and political features of Anabaptist-Reformed encounters in Zurich’s rural hinterlands. It shows how social practices of toleration among villagers mitigated official efforts to marginalize dissenters. It sets these practices against processes of boundary-setting and -crossing, which sought to heighten the visibility of Anabaptist nonconformity. I understand patterns of conflict focused on social manifestations of Anabaptist religious culture–illicit mobility, the narration of conversion, rough speech, and clandestine marriage–as attempts to redraw and reinforce limits of acceptable belief and behaviour. This official project of minoritization–a process of distinguishing and subordinating Anabaptists within Reformed society–did not achieve full realization until the group’s eradication in Zurich’s territory.

The effect of this analysis is to historicize Anabaptist separation. In examining the experience of a religious minority surviving under conditions of repression for more than a century, this study expands appreciation of dynamics of coexistence in early modern Europe. It offers historical perspective on escalating tensions and violence that mark majority-minority interactions in our own time.

Anabaptist Archival Cultures and Practices

In this project, I apply recent findings from the archival turn in early modern European historiography to the source collections on which Anabaptist scholarship rests.

This study proceeds along three lines. First, I examine the archival cultures and practices that have produced and organized official collections of Anabaptist records, and the interests embedded in them. By examining the generation and reproduction of knowledge about Anabaptists over time through this lens, I hope to shed new light on questions long settled in Anabaptist historiography, such as the nature of Anabaptist separatism.

Second, I explore the ways in which European governments’ record-producing and -keeping practices shaped the interactions of Anabaptists and members of territorial churches already during the early modern period. Specifically, I am interested in tracing the ways that document production and storage served to intensify conflict.

Finally, I investigate the sub-archival documentary practices of Anabaptists themselves. A better understanding of these practices will demonstrate why Anabaptists’ interactions with members of the majority triggered a documentary response and show how this impacted nonconformists’ alternative religious culture, their self-understanding, and their ability to survive repressive conditions.

Published Work


“‘So weit […] wie der Aktenbefund es gebietet”: Achivierungs-Logiken in täuferischen Quellensammlungen,” Mennonitica Helvetica 43 (2020): 59-83.

(with Cory D. Davis) “Thinking with the Early Modern Past: The Relevance of our Scholarship,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 50, no. 1 (2019): 212-18.

“‘Ihr hand dergleichen Leuht auch under Euch’: Gemeindedisziplin unter Zürcher Täufern im siebzehnten Jahrhundert,” Mennonitica Helvetica 39 (2016): 34-46.

Articles (in progress)

“Early Swiss Anabaptism,” in T&T Clark Companion to Anabaptism, ed. Brian Brewer (London and New York: T&T Clark, forthcoming)

Review Essay

“Arnold Snyder’s ‘In Search of the Swiss Brethren’: A Response,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 90, no. 4 (2016): 385-90.

Book Reviews

“Review of Later Writings of the Swiss Anabaptists, 1529-1592, edited by C. Arnold Snyder, translated by H. S. Bender, C. J. Dyck, Abraham Friesen, Leonard Gross, Sydney Penner, Walter Klaassen, C. Arnold Snyder, and J. C. Wenger,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 92, no. 4 (2018): 595-97.

“Review of European Mennonites and the Challenge of Modernity over Five Centuries: Contributors, Detractors, and Adapters, edited by Mark Jantzen, Mary S. Sprunger, and John D. Thiesen,” Conrad Grebel Review 35, no. 2 (2017): 211-13.

Other Publications

(with Randolph C. Head) “Switzerland,” in Oxford Bibliographies Online: Renaissance and Reformation, ed. Margaret King (New York: Oxford University Press),