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Marginalization through historiography. Emergence, development and reception of the historiographical category »Orthodoxy«

As a Heisenberg-Fellow of the German Research Foundation (DFG) as from September 2018 Christian Witt analyzes the emergence, development, and reception of the historiographical category »Orthodoxy« in German Protestant works on Church History since the late 17th century. His research refers to the assumption that Gottfried Arnold’s famous »Unparteiische Kirchen- und Ketzerhistorie« (first published in 1699/1700) implements a new historiographical concept of »Orthodoxy« by giving it a pejorative interpretation. This original and on her part polemic turn of the historiographical category »Orthodoxy« influences the negative perception and description of Lutheran and Reformed academic theology of the 17th and 18th century: in prominent works of Church History written since the 19th century »Orthodoxy« becomes the great opponent of Pietism and Illumination and thus the stronghold of obstinate dogmatism remote from Christian life. And in some ways this perception and its categorical results stay formative until well into the 20th century despite all the research done to rehabilitate thinkers and works ascribed to Lutheran or Reformed »Orthodoxy«.
Remarkably enough, in the 18th century famous German theologians and church historians as representatives of historic-critical thinking do not take up Arnold’s pejorative understanding of »Orthodoxy« and his categorical reshaping. Instead, they reveal the constructivist logic behind the claim and the historiographical use of the category and try to establish other concepts to describe processes of pluralization within the history of early modern Protestantism. To examine that history of the historiographical concept »Orthodoxy« Christian Witt combines the approaches assembled under the headline »Construction of Orthodoxy« with two ideas Reinhart Koselleck developed in the broader context of his famous »Begriffsgeschichte«, namely the ideas of »Semantische Kämpfe« and of »Asymmetrische Gegenbegriffe«. Assuming that »Orthodoxy« is the result of extensive and complex processes of construction aiming to legitimate specific religious phenomena, institutions, or teachings and to oppose deviate movements at once, Kosellecks approaches of »Semantische Kämpfe« and of »Asymmetrische Gegenbegriffe« can help to operationalize the assumption that »Orthodoxy« is constructed on the level of a History of Concepts.