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TOLERATION: Toleration as a religious experiment in early modern Schleswig-Holstein

Carlsbergfondets internationaliseringsstipendier


In research on tolerance in early modern Christianity, scholarship has favoured a top-down perspective which has been successful in describing toleration as a philosophical and political idea in urban environments. Scholars have, however, not adequately examined how religious communities lived with tolerance and how they themselves practised tolerance.

TOLERATION addresses this gap by focusing on sources which until now have received only little attention, namely, archival records (sermons, pamphlets, chronicles, correspondence, descriptions of processions etc.) and material culture (religious buildings) of religious exiles in the duchy of Schleswig-Holstein from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, based at four sites: Glückstadt, Friedrichstadt, Altona, and the oktroyierte Köge.


The history of toleration in early modern Schleswig-Holstein has been studied before, but not from a bottom-up perspective, not comparatively, and not spanning more centuries. TOLERATION suggests that three scholarly conditions will lead to ground-breaking insights into the idea and practices of toleration and religious exile in the Nordic area:

  1. An intensified focus on the formative period in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
  2. A focus on sources that not only origin in an urban context.
  3. A bottom-up approach, stressing how people lived with toleration rather than how authorities sought to impose toleration


The project is based at the Faculty of Theology at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. Here, I collaborate with leading scholars of early modern church history who are engaged in the discussion of the historical faces of Protestantism.

With Göttingen as my base I travel to archives in Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, in particular the Landesarchiv in Schleswig, the Staatsarchiv in Hamburg, and the Stadtarchiv in Friedrichstadt in order to gain access to the papers of the various religious minority communities in early modern Schleswig-Holstein.

Through a combination of archival records and material culture, I study how communities envisioned their own social and religious status and remembered their history ('selfing'), and their relationship to other communities ('othering').


In today's multicultural Nordic societies, religious plurality and toleration are the norm. It was not always like that. TOLERATION studies possible roots of the tolerant culture by looking at the interplay between religious groups and political authorities in early modern times.

On the other hand, it suggests that while toleration of minorities is often an idea coming from the top of society, it may not always be mirrored in minorities' perception of other minorities.