Elaine Fulton - Research Video

Dr Elaine Fulton discusses her research on the Catholic Reformation.

Title Dr Elaine Fulton
Duration 3.58 mins

Well, my name is Elaine Fulton, I'm the Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History here at the University of Birmingham and I've been here now for about seven years. And my particular research specialism is Catholic Reformation, which happened in largely the 16th and 17th centuries, in Early Modern Europe. And the areas that I particularly focus on centre on, 'What is modern-day Austria and Switzerland'?

And I what is mostly striking about studying the Catholic Reformation is that in many ways things haven't really changed for Catholicism even in the present day. I mean, today as in the early modern period, there are questions concerning clerical immorality, these are very much in the news today and also just questions about the relevance of the church as a whole. Today perhaps can be seen as being in danger of being overtaken by competing faiths and simply by competing sets of social, political and cultural values. In the Early Modern period as well which I study, the Catholic Church was again in difficulty in a similar way. Then the big threat was Protestantism, particularly with the rise of Lutheranism and Calvinism which was a real threat to the survival of the Catholic Church. So as a result I've devoted my research to looking at this particularly difficult and yet formative period for the Catholic Church - and especially really centred round one very big question, which is how did the Catholic Church reform in the 16th and 17th centuries? And as part of this word reform is really meant, how did it hold together, how did it change, how did it adapt, how did it survive and really just how did it withstand the pressures of the time?

Now obviously I'm certainly not the first person to have done this, two real areas have been developed in terms of answering this question of how did the Catholic Church reform in the 16th century. One big answer has come in the shape of the clergy themselves the secular clergy proved they were reformed, there was improved training for priests, so that helped Catholic reform, and also the regular clergy, especially the Jesuits, were reformed in the early 16th century, and they've been described as Storm Troopers of the Catholic reformation - they were really forceful figures. So one way we can look at this change in Catholicism comes trough looking at the clergy.

A second answer that historians have come up with though is to also look at rulers and princes because they wanted some of them wanted the Catholic Church to survive - they wanted to support it and so you get groups especially like the Habsburgs and also the Wittelsbach dynasty in Bavaria who really pushed ahead and who tried to help the Catholic Church reform itself. They gave them funding, they gave them support; sometimes they even drove protestants out of their lands by force.

So those are two very persuasive answers but my view was that they’re not the whole answer and I think there's a third group that's been missing and the group that I have studied and that I think are the real key or the missing piece of the jigsaw in understanding this picture of early modern catholic reform is that of the catholic laity themselves, just the ordinary Catholic people - not the rulers. Not the clergy, but just your general Catholic, ordinary Catholic living in this period. And so I've tried forward the idea of the Catholic laity as a reactive and sustaining force for the Church through these times of real turmoil Again, I'm not the first person to have done this, some excellent work has been done especially in terms of religion from below - that is the religion of the people and popular religion. But what I'm trying to get at is almost more religion from the middle - and it’s the educated catholic laity that I'm trying to access – and a great benefit of this is we’ve more sources because they could write, so that gives us something more to go on.