Religions and belief systems

The work of the Religions and belief systems research group is anchored in a long tradition of historical research in the Lyon region devoted to the study of the history of Catholicism, Christianity, religions and missionary work. Lyon has long been recognised, both at home and abroad, as a centre of excellence in this field. Members of this group approach the study of religion from a deliberately non-denominational and inter-disciplinary perspective.



Without wishing to rule out comparisons with other religions, the work of the Religions and belief systems research group focuses above all on the fields in which it has specialised and gained a strong academic reputation in the past: the study of Christianity and Islam, as well as the various dissident movements which have developed from them. The geographical perspective adopted is an international one, with an emphasis on comparisons between cultures and religions.

The work of the research group can be sub-divided into four fields: “Religion and identity”; “Norms, knowledge and institutions”; “Cross-cultural contacts and exchanges”; and “Religion and political power”. This research thus engages with a key feature of contemporary life, already present in previous eras: the key role played by religion in the construction of identity, in the norms which structure that identity, in the knowledge and beliefs that underpin it, and finally in the institutions which transmit and enforce it. The members of the group are also interested in the role of cultural and geographical exchanges in all of these areas, as well as the relationship between religion and power. In this way, the Religions and belief systems research group approaches their object of study from the perspective of the global history of religions and belief systems from the sixteenth century to the present.



Research projects

Religion and identity
Many commentators have noted throughout European society (as elsewhere) a rise in the importance of identity politics, often based on religious appartenance. This phenomenon needs to be seen in the long term, and its deep historical roots studied. The question of religious identity is closely linked to the means by which it is established and transmitted: works of piety, prayer-books, etc. The way in which Christianity sees itself and is perceived by others in the contemporary period may also be studied by looking at new media such as graphic novels and comic books. For this project, research will focus on the study of Protestantism, Catholicism (notably in the period since the French Revolution) and Islam.


Norms, knowledge and institutions
Religions and religious beliefs are based on norms which derive from forms of knowledge, which may in turn challenge those norms. Studying religious norms and knowledge, and the institutions which produce them, offers opportunities for collaborative work with other research groups within the LARHRA, notably the “Circulation and transmission of knowledge” group.

The study of religious knowledge by the group concerns an analysis of the religious view of the world, and of intellectual life, with a particular focus on the spatial dimensions of belief. The use of the BHP data model developed by has also allowed the development of a website devoted to the prosopography of French regular clergy between the late fifteenth and and the end of the eighteenth centuries.


Cross-cultural contacts and exchanges
This project aims to contribute to a field of historical research already well-established in the Lyon region, namely the history of missionary work, and the cross-cultural contacts and exchanges involved. This work relates to the concept of “Connected History”, which in turn draws inspiration from comparative world history; moving beyond a binary model of “oppressors” versus “oppressed” or “centre” versus “periphery”. This approach studies rather how different regions and cultures are inter-related; exploring the concrete reality of connections, links and networks between the varying regions and cultures concerned. These include the early modern Hispanic world, and the Middle East and Africa in the modern period.


Religion and political power
The last research topic studied by the Religions and belief systems research group concerns the history of the complex relations between politics and religion. This topic also provides the opportunity for joint research projects with LARHRA’s “Warfare and society” interdisciplinary workshop. Several projects have concerned the study of the French Wars of Religion and the Holy League, but the group has also studied the religious bases of monarchical legitimacy in the early modern and modern periods, as well as the figure of the prince.