Throne and altar: Halle Pietism and the Hohenzollerns. A contribution to the history of church state relations in eighteenth-century Brandenburg-Prussia

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Germany, Church-state relations, Halle Pietism, Hohenzollerns, Brandenburg-Prussia, Eighteenth century

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | European History | History


The dissertation uses Halle Pietism, an influential movement for church and social reform in 17 th and 18 th century Germany, to examine church-state relations in 18 th century Brandenburg-Prussia. Halle Pietism has long been a foil for historians who discuss Lutheranism's role in fostering political and social quietism. This historiographic tradition represents Halle Pietism as defending the Hohenzollerns' absolutist pretensions and inculcating political passivity. Coupling this tradition with Michel Foucault's notion of discipline, contemporary historians argue that religious confessionalization was a key component of absolutist state-building and that pastors involved in both imposed social discipline on the unruly "common man" of early-modern Europe.

My overarching conclusion is that although the Halle Pietists and the Hohenzollern monarchs collaborated in furthering two converging and sometimes also conflicting agendas, the Pietists did not trade their independence for influence. The Halle Pietists' agenda was to reform the church and society by implementing "practical Christianity," a movement that sought to overcome the confessional divide, increase personal piety through spiritual rebirth, and involve the laity more actively in church administration. In pursuit of this, they retained a stout commitment to an independent church and pastorate and refused to grant the prince a dominating role in ecclesiastical or doctrinal matters.

The dissertation also explores the practical effects of a Halle education. Using their domination of the university at Halle and the Halle Institutes, which together formed the center of a network of theologians, pastors, and royal officials dedicated to reform, the Halle Pietists developed a pedagogic program designed to create a spiritually revivified pastorate capable of leading the reform. These new pastors dedicated themselves to leading their parishioners to rebirth. The ideal Halle pastor was fearless man who castigated the moral, ethical, and spiritual failings of all his parishioners regardless of rank.

King Frederick William I, who valued the Pietists for their devoutness, confessional open-mindedness, and social works, granted the Halle theological faculty a legal monopoly over pastoral training and certification, which served to protect their independence and expand the influence of their educational program. My study questions the consensus view of the alliance between throne and altar in Germany, and I hope it will help to prompt rethinking the relationship between religion and politics in German history.


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