Catholic Seduction or Habsburg Clientele? Confessional Change in Eighteenth-Century Transylvanian Saxon Society

The author of this article brings into discussion after more than eight decades of silence in the historiography the complex phenomenon of conversion to Catholicism among the Transylvanians Saxons during the eighteenth century. Applying the social-anthropological perspective of "borderlines", he addresses the conversion of a Saxon Lutheran and privileged community of East Central Europe in the context of the late Habsburg Counter-Reformation. In the first part, the author revises the thesis of conversion inspired by "pure opportunism". He starts his argument by assuming that conversion was indeed an individual phenomenon, but due to the political and confessional changes which occurred during the early modern period, it was also one that engaged the community. Although it spread slowly and on a minor scale, it encompassed all Saxon social strata: the bourgeois elite of the Saxon towns, common folk and intelligentsia. Moreover, the economic reasons of conversion are also questioned by the author, since the prosperous position of some converted people contradicts the thesis of conversion for "economic reasons". In this way, the author offers an innovative interpretation of the Habsburg Counter-Reformation. Catholicism was not only rejected, but it was also accepted. In the second part of this article, different biographies are presented in order to show the limits of the acceptance and rejection of Catholicism. Thus, it is argued that the post-conversion behavior may explain to a certain extent the authenticity of the confessional change. In this sense, three patterns of post-conversion behaviors are analyzed: "sincere Catholics", "Crypto-Lutherans" and "apostates".