The Protestant Reformation: Theology, History, and Modernity
In 1517, the Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed a set of 95 Theses protesting the corruption of the Catholic Church to the door of his local church in Wittenberg, Germany, starting the Protestant Reformation that would radically transform the religious and political landscape of Europe. That, at least, is the usual story. This course complicates that story, looking at the historical causes of the Reformation, the theological doctrines at stake for Luther, John Calvin, and their most famous interlocutors, and the influence of the Reformation beliefs on culture. Questions we’ll address include the following: What were the historical conditions that made Reformation possible—and successful? What were the major disputes and ideas, like justification by faith and predestination, and how radical were they? How did Calvinists committed to the idea of predestination—i.e., that God chooses who will be damned and saved—justify the point of striving to live ethically in the world? Why did zealous followers of the Reformation go through periodic sprees across Europe burning icons and religious art? How did the doctrines of the Reformation give rise to the Peasant Revolt and increased anti-semitism? And, finally, how did Protestant Christianity develop from a seemingly minor dispute to become a dominant force in Western and, indeed, global life—not merely religiously, but as, in Max Weber’s words, the “spirit” of capitalist modernity? Readings will include works by Luther, Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, Peter J. Arnade, and Weber.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 15 — August 05, 2021