Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



The issues of religious toleration and confessionalism are complex, with deep roots and unresolved, enduring legacies. This project takes a look on one sustained attempt to tackle this problem by looking at the Habsburg Empire after the death of Joseph II (r. 1780-1790), whose far-reaching reforms established extensive state control over the Catholic Church and introduced toleration for Protestants, Orthodox Christians and, in a more limited way, to Jews. Yet ultimately, religious toleration was one of the many factors that caused Joseph’s reign to end in failure. In addition, the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars created conditions that promoted confessionalism, and the problem of religious tolerance remained, even in the nineteenth century. As a result, confessional states emerged throughout Europe, and Catholicism experienced an ultramontane revival across the West. Yet, Joseph’s conservative successors did not follow this path. Instead, they preserved his religious policies and even expanded them. This dissertation focuses on confessionalism and religious toleration in the Habsburg Empire from 1792 until 1867 and argues that the Austrian Empire in this period, until 1848, was a non-confessional state and one that sought to institutionalize religious toleration. This project encompasses the Balkans, Galicia (western Ukraine and southern Poland), Transylvania, Austria, Bohemia, northern Italy, and Hungary and incorporates analysis of the state’s day-to-day interactions with Protestants, Jews, Orthodox Christians and Greek Catholics. Officials mediated conflict in such contentious questions as mixed marriages and conversions. In addition, Joseph’s successors retained the regulations he had imposed on the Church and worked to rein in zealous Catholics. The government’s policies aimed at taming religious passions, which could become unpredictable and incite riots. The state also imposed censorship in order to squelch pubic opinion, which it feared; above all, the goal was stability, but religious toleration was instrumental to that stability. The Habsburgs enjoy a reputation today for benevolent rule. Yet religious toleration, one of the key origins of human rights, only took hold during the conservative regime that ruled the monarchy from 1792-1848. For the only time in its history, the Habsburg monarchy was a non-confessional state during these years, and it expanded the boundaries of toleration. Catholicism had traditionally been a pillar of Habsburg governance, and it was one that the new regime would again lean upon after the upheaval of the 1848 revolutions.



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Committee Chair

Marchand, Suzanne



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