Jonathan Sheehan

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2015/2016
discipline History
Professor University of California Berkeley, History Department

Research project

The Heterodoxy of Christianity: Sacrifice, Theology, and Sacred History


Christianity has never been as Christian as all that, and there is no clearer witness to this than sacrifice. From the beginning of the tradition, sacrifice has been Christianity’s stumbling block, both the theological center to the enterprise, yet also deeply inimical to it. My project for the Wissenschaftskolleg will take up the Christian troubles with sacrifice. It will argue that these troubles came a head in the early modern period, when Protestants and Catholics fought viciously over Christian theology and worship. From the Eucharist to the mass to the atonement: the entire sacrificial apparatus of the Church was subject to scathing examination. These polemics and controversies inserted a wedge between “Christianity as it was” and “Christianity as it should be,” a wedge between past and future that opened up spaces for new forms of sacred and secular knowledge. As the heat of religious war cooled, the polemic theology of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was disaggregated, and out of its pieces a new organization of knowledge created, centered around a distinction between a properly sacred discipline (theology) and the properly secular ones. The book, in short, offers both a new history of early modern Christianity, and a new genealogy of the modern human sciences.




Jonathan Sheehan is an historian of early modern European religion, science, scholarship, and philosophy. He is Professor in the History Department & Director of the Center for the Study of Religions of the University of California, Berkeley. He holds a PhD in History from the same University.


His main research interest are the cultural and intellectual history of early modern Europe, with particular interest in the history of religion, science, and scholarship. Other areas include: the history of secularism and secularization, Jewish-Christian relations, the history of the disciplines, the afterlife of the Protestant Reformation, and the history of reading and print culture.



Selected publications


Invisible Hands: Self-Organization in the Eighteenth Century, with D. Wahrman, University of Chicago Press, 2015.


'Assenting to the Law: Sacrifice and Punishment at the Dawn of Secularism', in W. Sullivan et al. (eds), After Secular Law, Stanford University Press, 2011.


'When Was Disenchantment? History and the Secular Age', in C. Calhoun, M. Warner & J. Van Antwerpen (eds), Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2010, pp. 217-242.


'When is a Sacrifice Not a Sacrifice?', in W. Schweidler (ed.), Opfer in Leben und Tod, Akademia

Verlag, 2009, pp. 83-101.


'Sacrifice Before the Secular', Representations, vol. 105, Winter, 2008, pp. 12-36.


The Enlightenment Bible: Translation, Scholarship, Culture, Princeton University Press, 2005.




senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Environmental Biology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Social Anthropology