From the Cradle to the Grave. Representations of Confessional Identity in Mihály Cserei’s Writings (1667–1747) (A Case Study in Historical Anthropology)

The aim of this paper is to offer, within the limits of a case study, an example revealing the determining relation between performing an identity and/while assimilating a confessional identity pattern in early modern Hungarian Calvinism. Due to the deliberately chosen micro approach, the study focuses upon one individual and his life course. Thus, the essay interprets certain moments from the life of Mihály Cserei (1667-1757), especially those, which have been recorded in writing, so that the author can elucidate how religious and confessional stereotypes, gestures, and representations promoted an identity matrix. The article also reconstructs the impact of Calvinist and English Puritan literary and theological traditions upon the spiritual life of this seventeenth-century individual. The interpretation of the author, as a case study relying on the analysis of Cserei's writing, will not simply enumerate the markers of identification with confessional attributes, but attempts to depict confessionalism as a functional component of Cserei's mental world and social or cultural existence. Mihály Cserei' case is remarkable for several reasons. He was a gifted writer and a diligent reader. Both preoccupations were dedicated to harden his Calvinist belief and religiosity. Consequently, one can decipher the multifaceted functions of reading and producing texts in early modern Hungarian Calvinist piety. Moreover, Mihály Cserei, as a historian of Transylvania proved his outstanding skills as a story teller, sustained also by his numerous narratives promoting the story of his life. Still, his genuine Calvinist education and religiosity influenced the manner and the aim of these narrative, which, no matter whether conceived at an early age or as an old man, were all centered upon a typical Calvinist narrative blueprint, suggesting that Cserei is a martyr-like individual enduring the harshness of life relying solely on his Calvinist creed. In this particular context, the experience of "religious despair" only partially admitted by Cserei, reveals an almost unknown dimension of Hungarian Puritan piety. This case study tries to contribute not only to the research related to the writings and life of Mihály Cserei, but also delivers further arguments sustaining the method and results of historical anthropology for studying the European Reformation in a comparative perspective.