Martin Luther and the Sixteenth-Century Universe (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2006 semester seminar.

Martin Luther, and the Reformation movement forever linked with his name, have often been understood as crucial factors in the rise of “modernity.” Yet Martin Luther was also in a profound sense a product of the later Middle Ages. He interpreted many of the conflicts and struggles of the era in terms of cosmic warfare between the realms of God and the devil. At critical moments in his career he seems to have expected the imminent second coming of Christ. This seminar explored some of the many ways in which the message of Martin Luther and the early Reformation intersects with the natural and supernatural world of the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In successive weeks, participants explored late medieval explanations of misfortune; predictions of the end of time at the eve of the Reformation; the interpretation of portents; the relationship between theological debate and demonology in the Reformation; theories of divine providence; the relationship between Reformation and “disenchantment”; and other themes introduced by participants’ research. Where possible, surviving pamphlets and illustrations from the period and from the Folger’s Stickelberger collection were consulted to illustrate the themes of the seminar. Original source texts were supplied in translation for discussion.

Director: Euan K. Cameron is Henry Luce III Professor of Reformation Church History at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Religion at Columbia University. His publications include The European Reformation (1991), Waldenses: Rejections of Holy Church in Medieval Europe (2000), and Interpreting Christian History (2005).