Theory and Society

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 189–218 | Cite as

The true citizens of the city of God: the cult of saints, the Catholic social order, and the urban Reformation in Germany

  • Steven PfaffEmail author


Historical scholarship suggests that a robust cult of the saints may have helped some European regions to resist inroads by Protestantism. Based on a neo-Durkheimian theory of rituals and social order, I propose that locally based cults of the saints that included public veneration lowered the odds that Protestantism would displace Catholicism in sixteenth-century German cities. To evaluate this proposition, I first turn to historical and theoretical reflection on the role of the cult of the saints in late medieval history. I then test the hypothesis with a data set of sixteenth-century German cities. Statistical analysis provides additional support for the ritual and social order thesis because even when several important variables identified by materialist accounts of the Reformation in the social scientific literature the presence of shrines as an indicator for the cult of the saints remains large and significant. Although large-scale social change is usually assumed to have politico-economic sources, this analysis suggests that cultural factors may be of equal or greater importance.


Sociology of religion Shrines Rituals Communal integration Conflict 



The author would like to thank Michael J. Halvorson for inspiring this article, Katie Corcoran for research assistance, and Karen Snedker, Katherine Stovel, James Felak, Jason Wollschleger, Marion Goldman, James Wellman and Trey Causey for helpful comments on the article. An early draft benefitted enormously from critical comments at the 34th annual German Studies Conference in 2010.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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