Dr. Eric Nelson was recently featured in a news release at news.missouristate.edu.
Winston Churchill once said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Dr. Eric Nelson, professor of history at Missouri State University, recently published a new book, “The Legacy of Iconoclasm: Religious War and the Relic Landscape of Tours, Blois and Vendôme (1550-1750),” which examines the process of restoring peace and establishing religious tolerance after major conflicts – models he believes would benefit many war torn areas of the world today.
“Religious disputes are quite brutal because people have long-held core religious beliefs that they are fighting for and are wrapped up in,” said Nelson. “One thing I’ve always noted about this type of conflict is that it ends up showcasing the resiliency of cultures and of people. Rarely does one side completely prevail, and after lengthy periods of violence, rival communities most often have to come to terms with coexistence, acknowledge wrongs committed by both sides and then put them in the past. The peace that follows goes a long way toward rebuilding.”
For this book, Nelson studied the aftermath of bitter sectarian conflict between Protestants and Catholics in France and the slow emergence of religious coexistence in western cultures. While the initial chapter looks at the act of iconoclasm – deliberate defacement or destruction of religious images of relics because they are seen as false idols, explained Nelson – he thought it most important to focus on how the Catholics of the time moved forward, remembering what happened and celebrating what survived.
“After thirty years of trying to eliminate the other community, Protestants and Catholics had to learn how to live with each other,” he said. “Reestablishing peace was difficult with both having suffered terrible wrongs, but it was achieved in a manner that bears some resemblance to the peaceful transition of power engineered by Nelson Mandela and other leaders in post-Apartheid South Africa.”
Nelson teaches history at the time of the Reformation, and even though on the surface the people his students study are not that unlike themselves, the students often have difficulty grasping the mindset and ideals of the time.
“This is one way I try to teach students about public affairs – by learning about different cultures and understanding these similarities and differences,” noted Nelson. “This period in history is before scientific evolution, before the period of enlightenment. We live now with an understanding that people are created equal – this was not so at the time I study. Instead, society was organized around legal privilege that enshrined inequality. It was a period that lacked a clear understanding of chance or of what causes disease..”
The disparity between the surface familiarity and the deep differences between the United States today and Western Europe half a millennia ago provides an opportunity to explore the belief systems on which cultures are organized and defined, added Nelson.
“The Legacy of Iconoclasm: Religious War and the Relic Landscape of Tours, Blois and Vendôme (1550-1750)” was published in August by University of St. Andrews Press. It is available for download.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) previously named Nelson a 2012 Missouri Professor of the Year.
For more information, contact Nelson at (417) 836-6437.