Cultural diversity and deviance within the legal system of the early modern Holy Roman Empire

Completed Research Project

The project analyses how the legal system of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation dealt with cultural diversity in the early modern period. Although the society of orders (Ständegesellschaft) was based on political and social inequality, the Empire was characterized by increasing cultural diversity regarding the spread of various religions/’confessions’, migration and the growth of social and ‘ethnic’ minorities. The legal system of the Empire prescribed and protected cultural diversity, but also aimed to control, criminalize, persecute or exclude cultural behavior and the respective groups that deviated from the society of orders and its dominating culture. The project analyses these ambiguous functions with regard to:

  • the maintenance of estate based cultural differences through privileges, judicial autonomy, legal protection or tolerance;
  • the regulation of conflicts resulting from cultural and legal diversity;
  • the labeling and criminalization of cultural diversity and deviance and the control, persecution or exclusion of the respective groups.

The main aim is to explore the interdependences between cultural diversity, deviance and criminal law/justice. This will be studied in detail for the following exemplary topics:

  • religious deviance related to culturally different groups, in particular the Jews and so called ‘sects’;
  • marginal/migrating groups such as ‘vagrants’ or the Gypsies.

Regarding the ambiguous functions of the legal system, the project attempts to cover the entire spectrum of norms and instruments, which ranged from criminalization, prosecution and punishment to privileges and judicial autonomy. A focus is placed on the actors and their ‘legal agency’ (including cultural practices, knowledge, arguments) to use the legal system as well as extrajudicial/infrajudicial modes to manage cultural diversity.

Go to Editor View