Workshop Humour and Religion in the Early Modern World (15-16 January 2021)

deadline for submissions: 
June 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Utrecht University
contact email: 


Humour and Religion in the Early Modern World

Universiteit Utrecht 15-16 January 2021



In recent decades, early modern conceptions of both humour and religion have received much scholarly attention. Humour has been studied as a rhetorical instrument, as an important aspect of theatrical and political culture, and for its role in shaping notions of class, race, gender and other social identities. Similarly, the renewed interest in religion that is part of the ‘turn to religion’ in early modern cultural history has yielded new insights into sensory, emotive, affective, and various other aspects of religious experience. At the same time, however, the mutual relationships between humour and religion as equally complex and pervasive features of early modern society have received significantly less attention. This workshop, which is intended to be informal and explorative in nature, aims to investigate the variety of ways in which humour and religion interacted with each other in the early modern period.

It has often been argued that during the Protestant Reformation, the mixing of humour and faith was suppressed in the form of strictures and injunctions, leading to the conclusion that the Reformation caused a de facto separation between the two. Yet the abundant presence of religious themes in jest books and comedic drama and of satire in religious polemic shows the persistent correlation between humour and religion. Likewise, contemporary condemnations of the use of humour in sermons suggest that this practice had not disappeared. In addition, early moderns were acutely aware of humour as a double-edged sword. Jesting, wit and comedy could relieve tensions, ease melancholy and create a sense of community, but also antagonize, hurt and exclude others. Bearing this in mind, this workshop seeks to explore early modern reflections on and concrete examples of the use of wit in religious contexts and of sacred themes in comedic genres. In so doing, we aim to reach a clearer understanding of the way in which the Reformation affected the appreciation of humour and how humour was used to address questions of religion and belief. The workshop will bring literary scholars, historians, and art historians into dialogue with each other in the hope that an interdisciplinary approach will expand and enhance our understanding of the topic.


Participants are asked to prepare 20-minute papers on topics that include (but are not limited to):

  • Religious satire
  • Laughter and religious polemic
  • Anti-clerical, anti-Catholic and anti-Protestant humour
  • Wit and humour in sermons
  • Sacred parody
  • Humour as a coping mechanism for religious anxiety
  • Religious themes in comedy
  • Humour, gender and religion
  • Reformation discourse on laughter and mirth
  • Humour and death
  • Humour and non-Christian religions
  • Humanist perspectives on the relationship between humour and religion
  • Humour and Puritanism

The workshop will likely take the form of five panels of two or three papers, each allowing substantial time for discussion, and a closing discussion. 


Deadline for abstracts: 15 June 2020

Please send your abstract to:


Organizing committee: Dr Lieke Stelling (Universiteit Utrecht), Dr Sonja Kleij (Universiteit Utrecht), Professor Johan Verberckmoes (KU Leuven)