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Italian historians Ernesto de Martino and Gabriele de Rosa and by the French historian Jean Delumeau.6 In Delumeau's view, there is no pre-established body of popular religion. On the contrary, popular practices and beliefs are historically constructed. The distinction between official and popular religion is conceived as that between the prescribed religion and the religion vécue, or lived religion: between religion as the church authorities would have it and religion as it was experienced in actual life. Following this thesis, the origin and the legitimacy of popular practices barely matter. On the contrary, it is the encounter and the interplay of the two worlds that constitutes the historical phenomenon of religion. Accordingto Delumeau, early modern 'popular' religion owes its existence to the particular Counter-Reformation context, when the ecclesiastical authorities found themselves obliged to undertake a straightforward offensive against the religion vécue in order to civilize and Christianize (or re-Christianize) their flock, i.e., to bring their livingpractice into conformity with the official, prescribed religion of the church. The result, in Delumeau's eyes, was an enormous campaign for the acculturation ofthe - especially rural -masses, in order to accustom the ordinary people to the rules and regularity of religious practice as ordered by the church.

Clearly, whatever approach one takes to the subject, popular religion must be seen as historically embedded in a process of interaction or negotiation, between experience and prescription, practice and institutionalization. From the top to the bottom of society, individuals work with different repertoires of forms and meanings, historically shaped and transmitted but continuously renewed in the process of appropriation itself. The early modern era appears, in this respect, as a period during which popular religious experience increasingly clashed with institutional religion, and in which the Catholic and Protestant clergies alike attempted to gain control of the popular domain, with the firm intention of confining it to the norms of the established church. Yet from one place to another, and among the major Christian churches themselves, the motives and strategies as well as the outcomes of these attempts, varied substantially.7

Nature, the supernatural, and the sacred

Inasmuch as religious or magical practices were a way of conjuring uncontrolled or evil forces, any recourse to the supernatural presupposed a perception of the specific relations between the natural, the preternatural and the supernatural. But during the early modern period, developments in the religious world and the advent of the scientific revolution brought fundamental

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