Fishing for Souls: Multiplex Networks and Contested Influence in the Adoption of the Early Reformation

Steven Pfaff, University of Washington, Seattle
Sascha Becker, Economics, Monash University
Yuan Hsiao, University of Washington, Seattle
Jared Rubin, Economics, Chapman University

Digital methods are opening new opportunities to explain the spread of radical ideologies by allowing researchers to model influence and complex social dynamics. Combining opinion leaders’ correspondence, their printing activity, travel, the dispersion of their followers, and parallel processes of exchange among places through trade routes allow us to conceive of diffusion as a multiplex network process. The spread of radical ideology is often not unidirectional; countervailing influence networks in support of the status quo can suppress adoption. We develop a model of multiple and competing network diffusion and apply it to the contest between Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus, the two most influential intellectuals of 16th Century Europe. Whereas Luther championed a radical reform of the Western Church, Erasmus opposed him, stressing moderation and the unity of the Church. In the early Reformation, these two figures and their networks of followers clashed, shaping which cities in the German-speaking world adopted reform by the time of the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. We focus on this war of words and the public controversy it created in the towns and cities of Central Europe because it is helps to shed light on contested diffusion. Adoption of the innovation takes on the form of a battle between the defenders of established ideas and institutions and those who seek to unseat them. Contested diffusion occurs because of the relative influence of the insurgents, on the one hand, and, on other, the defenders of the status quo on potential adopters. This means that, net of the characteristics of the adopters and the situational context in which they act, the chances of adoption are determined by the weight of social influence on the relevant actors. In this contest, insurgents and defenders like Luther and Erasmus strive to make themselves persuasive through their personal social networks.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 197. Movements and Conflicts in World-Historical Perspectives