Conference Agenda

10D: Fear and Epidemics in Early Modern Europe
Friday, 10/Sept/2021:
3:00pm - 4:15pm

Session Chair: Prof. Laurinda Abreu, U of Évora, Portugal


Chronicling Epidemics. The relation between medical knowledge and religious practices among non-medical experts in the Low Countries, 1500-1850*

Dekker, Theo

Leiden University, Netherlands, The

Especially with reference to the early modern period the relation between medicine and religion has often been studied as a zero-sum game, in which the 'disenchantment' of the world was a precondition for medical progress and innovation. Using digital methods to analyse a corpus of 300 handwritten chronicles from the Chronicling Novelty project led by prof. dr. Judith Pollmann and dr. Erika Kuijpers, new comparative and long-term research is possible to study the relation between religious and medical practices in the Low Countries among the middle-class. Writing a new 'history from below' by studying chronicles as collections of knowledge enables historians to study religious and medical practices not only side by side, but also in relation to each other, as well as to explore how this relation was perceived by the chroniclers. By examining both Catholic and Protestant authors from the Southern- and Northern Netherlands, this paper will present two perspectives on the changing relation between medicine and religion in the early modern period. First, the causal relation between 'divine' and 'natural' explanations for epidemics among non-medical experts. Secondly, how a group of middle-class authors used religious and medical practices simultaneously. As a result, this paper not only nuances the dichotomy between medicine and religion, but also provides insight in the how Catholics and Protestants reflected upon medical novelties in relation to their faith.

Ferenc Pápai Páriz and the Western and Central European medical tradition

Kerekes, Endre László

University of Debrecen Doctoral School of History and Ethnology, Hungary

Ferenc Pápai Páriz’s work „Pax corporis” published in 1690, he created a sample of medical literature in the Hungarian language. This book has an empirical approach with several religious content. It is also noteworthy that the author discussesd not only the peace of the soul, but also the peace of the body. These are inextricably linked, and he considers the healing of the body’s disease as important as its soul. He rejected speculative methods and adapted his readers to natural remedies. Of particular importance is his chapter on plague, in which, in addition to empirical solutions, he also goes back to obsolete thoughts, including the miasists’ theory that the main cause of the epidemic is bad air.

The aim of my lecture is to place the work of Pápai Páriz, especially his thoughts on the plague, in the context of contemporary medical theses in Western and Central Europe. I compare his theories with the methods of the doctors with whom he met during his studies or important in medical history in Central Europe. Among other things, I use the work of the doctor of the University of Basel, Johannes von Muralt „Kurtze und Grundlich Beschreibung der ansteckenden Pest”. On the other hand, I use the account of physician who worked in the turn of the 17-18th centuries, a Habsburg imperial military doctor Johann Christoph Ausfedt’s text what he wrote during the plague of Szeged in 1708-1711. This work contains apocaliptical visions about the plague and medical methods against the epidemic.

Fear of Plague or a Plague of Fear? The Impact of Pestilential Fear on Medicine, Faith, and Practice during the Great Plague of Marseille, 1720.*

Yates, Rita

Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London, United Kingdom

On May 25, 1720, the Grand Saint-Antoine returned to Marseille from Lebanon, transporting alongside a precious cargo of silks and cottons, a disease considered the most devastating in early modern society: bubonic plague. However, in lieu of the usual, early modern scripts attributing the collapse of the city to the misdeeds of municipal and medical authorities, some observers ascribed the downfall of the city to the spread of ‘pestilential fear.’

Philip Strong’s model of epidemic psychology posits the idea that outbreaks of disease are followed by waves of fear, panic, and suspicion. Strong’s model has two meanings. It not only refers to the social psychology of the epidemic itself – how people respond to the spread of disease – but to the fact that these responses have their own epidemic nature, and like the disease, can spread quickly. The first psycho-social epidemic is fear (collective panic), followed by explanation (theological, medical, and moral conceptions), and proposed action (control strategies), aimed at mitigating the spread of the disease itself and thereby preventing an epidemic of fear.

Taking its cue from Strong’s model, this paper examines how pestilential fear shaped Marseille’s medical and religious discourses in response to bubonic plague. In a period characterised by rapid religious decline, it discusses the extent to which theological concepts of fear, judgement, salvation, and in particular, fear of a ‘sinner’s death,’ intersected with contemporary theories of contagion - the causal relationship between theories of emotion (fear and terror), humoral imbalance, and the disease’s physical symptoms.