French 245B: Spirituality, Literature and Politics in Early Modern France (1550-1750)

Instructor: Professor Déborah Blocker

In 1598, the Edict of Nantes puts an end to France’s wars of religion. In its wake, Catholicism is revivified, via the founding of a number of Counter-Reformation orders and movements, all competing to rekindle the Catholic faith. These attempts to re-evangelize France hinged on preaching, but were also increasingly dependent on printed works. They were aimed at a lay and even mundane readership, which was increasingly avid of literary works, such as plays, short stories and novels. This seminar examines how Counter-Reformation evangelism shaped France’s emerging literary market, studying how spirituality and literature were thereby configured as separate yet tightly connected practices. Many Counter-Reformation writers pointed to literature as mendacious and corruptive. Yet they exploited its rhetorical and poetical powers for their apologetic purposes, thus pioneering new forms of literature, both fictional and non-fictional. In a monarchy ruled by divine right, this interplay of literature and spirituality also worked to redefine the political contract, by creating a space to question and even redefine power itself.  We read writers from a wide variety of religious and spiritual affiliations, including many of the most famous works of early modern French literature (please see above). We also draw on a provocative body of interdisciplinary secondary works (Henri Brémond, Michel de Certeau, Louis Marin, Jacques Le Brun, etc). The class is taught in English and welcomes students from REMS and the Center on the History of Religion, as well early modernists from all others departments in the humanities. Final papers can be turned in French or English. Texts will be discussed in class in their French originals, but most primary readings and many secondary readings can be done in English. If you would like to take this class but would need most readings to be in English please contact me by email at by January 3, 2017, so the necessary arrangements can be made.

  • Elective Requirement: This course fulfills an elective requirement for the DE in REMS.