Centennial Professor of History
Professor of German Studies; Member, Graduate Department of Religion
Joel Harrington is a historian of Europe, specializing in the Reformation and early modern Germany, with research interests in various legal and religious aspects of social history. His most recent book is Dangerous Mystic: Meister Eckhart’s Path to the God Within (Penguin Press, 2018; forthcoming in German from Siedler Verlag in 2020). In 2020, Dangerous Mystic was honored with a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His previous monograph, The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013), has been translated into thirteen languages and was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by The Telegraph and History Today. Other publications include The Unwanted Child: The Fate of Foundlings, Orphans, and Juvenile Criminals in Early Modern Germany (University of Chicago Press, 2009), winner of the 2010 Roland H. Bainton Prize for History; Reordering Marriage and Society in Reformation Germany (Cambridge University Press, 1995; paperback 2005), one of Choice’s Outstanding Academic Titles of 1996; and three edited books on names in early modern Germany, a sixteenth-century executioner's journal, and the history of western Christianity. Projects currently underway include a study of the sixteenth-century mercenary Hans Staden, who published an influential account of his captivity among the Tupinambá of Brazil, including graphic accounts of ritual cannibalism.
Harrington has been awarded fellowships from--among others--the J.S. Guggenheim Foundation, the Fulbright-Hayes Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the American Philosophical Society. He has lectured widely in North America and Europe and he has resided as a visiting fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel), Institut für Geschichte der Medizin (Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg), and Clare College (Cambridge).
He has served in leadership positions in various professional organizations, including as president of the Frühe Neuzeit Interdisziplinär and as an executive board member of the Comité Internationale des Sciences Historiques (since 2015). He is currently on the editorial board of five journals, including the Journal of Modern History and the Renaissance Quarterly. Harrington has also served in a variety of administrative positions at Vanderbilt, most notably as Chair of the History Department (2014-2018), Associate Provost for Global Strategy (2004-2011), and Director of the Center for European Studies (2000-2004).
Professor Harrington has taught a variety of undergraduate courses at Vanderbilt since his arrival in 1989, including the History of Christian Traditions, Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Europe, Religion and the Occult in Early Modern Europe, and Reformation Europe, as well as various graduate courses in social and religious history.