Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Mentzer, Raymond

First Committee Member

Berman, Constance

Second Committee Member

Cates, Diana

Third Committee Member

Holder, Ward

Fourth Committee Member

Moore, Michael


With its slogan "the priesthood of all believers" and with efforts to place vernacular Bibles in the hands of the literate public, it has been long assumed that the Protestant Reformation aided the development of Western individualism. This dissertation reassesses this common and pervasive claim by examining dynamics in Geneva during the lifetime of its most famous minister, John Calvin. To lend new and illuminating lenses to this study, this dissertation not only examines Calvin's theology with enough complexity to note how his proto-individualistic notions were embedded within a larger context of authority and hierarchy, but it also gives consideration to the practical rhythms of daily religious life in Geneva as well as the responses which Genevans gave to his initiatives. This blend of thorough intellectual history and social history offers are more comprehensive image of the subtleties of the Genevan context and permit a more nuanced analysis into the topic.

Certain proto-individualistic notions existed in Calvin's theology. Yet, these proto-individualistic notions were heavily circumscribed by other commitments to ministerial authority and hierarchy. For example, though he placed intense emphasis on the renovation of the individual's interior space in the process of developing piety, he feared individual and private tampering with personal interiority and instead mandated and policed Genevan attendance at public services where trained and authoritative ministers could give oversight to the shaping of Genevans' hearts and minds. Similarly, the rigid and invasive nature of Calvin's church disciplinary system was able to give surveillance to nearly every aspect of Genevans' lives, and they sensed that their development of piety was not their own affair.

Though Calvin's reforms did not encourage Genevans to feel an emerging sense of religious individualism, it established and reinforced various differentiations within the community. At times, Genevans felt differentiated from the rest of the community as unique individuals, but in more cases, they perceived that differentiations were being enforced at a less individualistic level. Such dynamics distinguished pastors from the laity, sinners from the faithful, the honorable from the dishonorable, natives from foreigners, masters from servants, men from women, and so forth.


Calvin, Geneva, Individualism, Reformation


vii, 275 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 267-275).


Copyright 2014 Stephen Joseph Scheperle

Included in

Religion Commons