Adopting a New Religion: the Case of Protestantism in 16th Century Germany


  •  Corresponding author: Davide Cantoni, Seminar für Wirtschaftsgeschichte, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Ludwigstrasse. 33/IV, 80539 Munich, Germany. Email:

  • I thank Antonio Ciccone, Ruixue Jia, Jared Rubin, Joachim Voth, Ludger Woessmann and three anonymous referees for helpful comments, and Regina Baar-Cantoni and Eike Wolgast for expert counselling on the history of German Reformation. Katharina Kube provided outstanding research assistance.


Using a dataset of territories and cities of the Holy Roman Empire in the sixteenth century, this article investigates the determinants of adoption and diffusion of Protestantism as a state religion. A territory's distance to Wittenberg, the city where Martin Luther taught, is a major determinant of adoption. This finding is consistent with a theory of strategic neighbourhood interactions: introducing the Reformation was a risky enterprise for territorial lords and had higher prospects of success if powerful neighbouring states committed to the new faith. The actual spatial and temporal patterns of expansion of Protestantism are analysed in a panel dataset.