Conflict and Coexistence between Anabaptists and Reformed in Early Modern Zurich

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. I draw on a rich array of Swiss, German, and French archival sources (interrogation records, official correspondence, court protocols, and clandestine manuscripts) to identify what caused conflict between representatives of minority and majority religious cultures over a period of more than a century. I conclude that while theological disagreements continuously divided these parties, open antagonism between them was sparked when Anabaptists’ convictions manifested themselves in social forms—such as illicit physical mobility, clandestine marriage, and selective withdrawal from communal life.

In examining the experience of a religious minority engaged in visible nonconformity under conditions of repression for nearly a century (1585-1650), this study expands appreciation of the breadth of possibilities for coexistence in early modern Europe. At the same time, it shows how tenuous and cruel coexistence could be. I demonstrate that this arrangement was frequently marred by conflict, the character and severity of which depended on varying configurations of governmental power, solidarities of kinship and neighborliness, and understandings of shared space. Indeed, by drawing attention to when, where, and how nonconformists’ conduct triggered conflict, my work reveals the outlines of religious, cultural, and political boundaries, often hidden from view, that marked the edges of early modern European communities. The results of this research offer new perspective on escalating tensions and violence that mark majority-minority interactions in our current context.

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


(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.

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.