Winds of Doctrine: Europe in the Age of the Reformation

Sophomore and above—Year

In the 16th century, Europe entered upon a religious crisis that was to permanently alter the character of Western Christianity. Between 1520 and 1580, the religious unity of Catholic Christendom was destroyed, as believers throughout Central and Northern Europe severed their ties with the papacy to form new “Protestant” communities. But the impact of the religious crisis was by no means confined to the emergence of the churches of the Reformation. Luther’s revolt against the Roman church ushered in an era of soaring religious creativity and savage religious conflict that lasted for nearly two centuries and revolutionized thought, art, music—and politics. The modern state is ultimately a product of the Reformation crisis, as is the system of international law that still governs the relations among sovereign states. Students in this course will examine multiple aspects of the religious, intellectual, and political history of Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. Our reading will focus attention on the diversity of religious thinking and religious experience in this era. Besides tracing the rise of the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican churches and the complex history of the “radical Reformation,” we will consider forms of belief independent of any church and new varieties of skepticism and doubt. We also will devote considerable attention to the reform movements that transformed Roman Catholicism during these two centuries and the upsurge of missionary energy and mystical spirituality that accompanied them. We will investigate the effects of the Reformation crisis on politics and the state and on the social order that Europe inherited from the Middle Ages. To this purpose, we will look at a number of political struggles waged in the name of religion, including the Peasants’ Revolt and Thirty Years War in Germany, the Dutch revolt against Spain, the French Wars of Religion, and the English Revolution.