In 1658, Johann(es) Rudolf Werdmüller, a renowned Zurich general and diplomat,
was accused of blasphemy. As it referred to essential religious matters, the accusation
had a considerable public impact. The court files of the case provide evidence of wider
battles over the desirability and nature of religious tolerance. Instead of narrating a case
story this analysis suggests a different approach to the history of religion. The sources
are not taken as documents expressing a discursive system of philosophical points
of view and their appearance in religious polemics. Rather, the court files stand for specific
speech acts, i.e. verbal performances in the linguistic sense. Thus, Werdmüller’s
example is taken to demonstrate that those considered to be blasphemers in the
era of confessionalisation did not simply express religious scepticism in the form of
“discourses,” nor did they rebel against authority figures or resort to forms of magic.
Rather, they provoked their society, discussed religious matters, entertained their
audience and competed wittingly with those interested in religious issues. In conclusion,
it is proposed that the history of religion should not be confined to a history
of ideas and religious doctrines but should integrate linguistic approaches.