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Syllabus (Fall 2010)

Page history last edited by nathan rein 13 years, 7 months ago

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The Protestant Reformation

Fall 2010
TuTh 3-4:15pm, Bomberger 128
Instructor: Nathan Rein (nrein at ursinus dot edu, office: 610-409-3571, mobile: 610-973-7186)

Note: things that have changed since the beginning of the semester are highlighted below.



Course description
The Protestant Reformation was one of the great turning points in the emergence of modern religion and culture. Its effects extended deep into the fabric of ordinary life, and the power of the ideas it set in motion can still be felt today, both in Christian and secular contexts. In this course, you will be introduced to the major actors on the Reformation stage: Luther, Erasmus, Zwingli, Calvin, and others (with a primary focus on Luther); and you will read, discuss, and write about their theological works. In addition, you will read other contemporary sources: eyewitness accounts of events of the Reformation period; official documents published by governments and church authorities; hymns and prayers; and the like. The most important goal of this course is to get you to think about the Reformation the way a historian does: to take in its complexity, to think about the connections that it reveals between abstract thinking and everyday experience, and to read historical sources with a curious and critical eye. The overarching questions that define this course are:

  • For the people we are studying, what is at the heart of the Christian life? What is Christian, and what is secular?
  • How should we best understand the relationship between individual religious belief and experience on the one hand, and historical change and historical forces on the other?

This will be a seminar-style, discussion-based course. Most of your work will consist of reading, talking about, and writing about historical primary sources. For the most part, there will be no lecturing.

Course goals
In this course, you are asked to:

  • Develop a basic familiarity with the people, ideas, and historical context of the Protestant Reformation
  • Read theological and non-theological texts of the sixteenth century closely and critically
  • Analyze documentary evidence from the period, and synthesize the results of your analysis in writing, discussions, and oral presentations

There are no prerequisites for this course.

Assignments and grading
There will be five graded assignments in this course. I will weight them as follows in determining your final grade:

  • First paper (1200-1500 words), due 9/30: 10%       
  • Second paper (1500-2000 w.), due 10/28: 15%       
  • First in-class presentation: 10%       
  • Second in-class presentation: 15%       
  • Take-home final, during finals period: 25%    

Classroom participation (including informal writing; see below) will account for 25% of the final grade.

You will have the opportunity to revise your formal papers. Due dates for revisions will be established when your paper is returned to you. In general, you will have between five and seven days to revise.

Informal writing
This course also requires regular informal writing. This falls into three categories: focus papers; reading notes and discussion questions; and peer responses to formal papers. The work you do on these assignments will be reflected in your participation grade.

Each week (except weeks when formal, graded papers are due) you will need to hand in a focus paper (guidelines below). Since these informal writing assignments are used as preparation for in-class discussion, no late work will be accepted. Ten such papers are required over the course of the semester.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you are asked to prepare for our meetings by bringing brief written notes and discussion questions to class. (By “discussion questions,” I mean questions that require discussion—such as “What was really at stake in the conflict between Luther and Zwingli?” Questions that have a simple factual answer, such as “Who was Albrecht of Mainz?,” can be answered using reference books in the library, such as the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation or the New Catholic Encyclopedia.)

Finally, you are asked to submit peer responses to four of your classmates’ papers (two for the first paper, two for the second). All papers will be available to the entire class. Within a week from the due date of each paper, each of you will be responsible for choosing two papers you find particularly interesting and writing a short response (a few paragraphs) in the form of a letter to the paper’s author. These responses will also be available to the class.

Guidelines for focus papers
The purpose of these assignments is to help you focus your reading (that’s why I call them focus papers). A focus paper has two components. First, identify and give a precise summary of some element of the week’s primary-source reading assignment (i.e., not chosen from the textbook; you may use anything else, including materials from the sourcebook). You can choose a particular passage that struck you as interesting or problematic; you can describe a recurring theme; you can give a capsule summary of the author’s argument; etc. Second, give your own perspective on what you have just identified and summarized: a critical analysis of what you find interesting or compelling. In writing your analysis, ask yourself questions that probe into the underlying meanings and problems in the texts. Examples might include:

  • What is the author’s unstated agenda? Is he/she trustworthy?
  • What is at stake in this text? Is there some underlying conflict?
  • What historical conditions or causes might explain the author’s point of view? Would I have written something like this given same circumstances? Why or why not?

Focus on the assigned readings, not on other texts or ideas you may be aware of. Length: approx. 300 words (usually about a page or a little more).  

Guidelines for in-class presentations
Everyone in the class will present twice during the semester. The presenter’s responsibilities are to (1) introduce the texts for the day and (2) act as a discussion leader and “resource person” for the rest of the hour. This can take many forms, but in general, you should plan to speak for ten to fifteen minutes at the start of class, giving a basic introduction to the day’s assigned material. This can mean, among other things:

  • identifying major themes;
  • providing helpful context for understanding the reading;
  • pointing out connections between different texts or different ideas, or between the primary sources and the textbook reading;
  • showing how the day’s readings represent a continuation of or a departure from themes and positions we’ve seen before;
  • drawing the class’s attention to significant, confusing, difficult, or problematic areas for discussion.

You should be as comfortable with the day’s readings as possible. This may involve some library research, but it doesn’t have to. You don’t have to have a perfect understanding of the texts for the day; but if there’s something you don’t understand, be honest about it. Come to class prepared to talk about what you found interesting or confusing, give us the benefit of your ideas, and ask your classmates what they thought.
You will also lead the day’s discussion. Determine what you think are the most central questions that the class needs to talk about. Bring a list of questions and of the most important themes and quotations from the reading. (Since everyone in the class is responsible for bringing ideas and questions to class, you won’t be completely on your own.) A handout may be very helpful. It is highly recommended that you a short meeting with me several days before your presentation is scheduled so that we can go over your ideas.  
Your grade for this assignment will be based on your engagement with and insight into the readings, as reflected by your introduction and the questions you raise for discussion.

A note on the readings
As you’ll notice, the readings in this class may be very different from what you’ve done in other courses. You will often be reading collections of short (less than a page each) historical documents and sources. This may be difficult to get accustomed to at first. Keep in mind that you are learning to use historical materials as a historian does: by trying to synthesize, or fit together, a complicated composite picture using a collection of fragmentary documents. If you are presenting, part of your job will be to communicate your version of that picture to the class. You will be asked to read harsh polemical texts that you may find disturbing or offensive; you will also be reading a fair amount of theology, which is probably a very unfamiliar type of writing, though you may also find some of what you read profoundly moving. Pay attention to those reactions, write them down, and try to ascertain what it is about the texts that provokes them. Your reactions provide a clue about the historical distance that separates you from what you’re reading. Many of the texts will make more sense on a second reading. In general, you will be asked to read a relatively small amount of primary documents, but to read them with extreme care and attention.

You should also be watching closely for themes that connect the readings throughout the course. Your take-home final exam will ask you to comment on such overarching themes. Some of the ones to bear in mind include: the importance of individual piety and experience versus the demands of the community or church; the value of belief contrasted with that of morality or actions; the sacraments (especially baptism and communion); the question of authority (where does religious truth come from?); human freedom and predestination; and others that you may discover as the semester progresses.

Assigned texts
Five texts have been ordered for purchase. The following three are required. Be sure to get the edition listed here.

  • Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations. Second edition. Oxford: Wiley, 2010.
  • Carter Lindberg, ed. The European Reformations Sourcebook. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.  (The two Lindberg texts are sold together, as a bundle from Wiley, with the ISBN 1444319388.)
  • Hans Hillerbrand, ed. The Protestant Reformation. Revised edition. San Francisco: Harper, 1968. (ISBN 0061148474.)

The following is optional, but recommended:

  • John Dillenberger, ed. Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings. NY: Anchor / Doubleday, 1961. (ISBN 0385098766.) (We will be reading around 120 pages of this text. If you don't want to buy it, you'll be able to get a copy from the library and Xerox the parts you need.)

You may also find a copy of the Bible (preferably the New Revised Standard version) extremely useful.
Additional readings have been collected into a course reader; others are posted online. You are responsible for printing the online readings and bringing them to class with you.

The fine print
Written work: All written work must be submitted in order to receive a passing grade for the class. Late papers will be penalized by one grade-step (from B+ to B, etc.) for each day they are late, unless you have arranged with me for an extension well in advance of the due date.
Attendance: This is a seminar, and attendance matters. Your attendance record will affect your participation grade. Missing two class meetings may result in the issuance of an academic warning slip. Missing more than four meetings may result in a failing grade for the course.
Academic honesty: Plagiarism is a serious offence. In written work, all quotations must be properly attributed and appear in quotation marks. But at least as importantly, any time you are drawing on someone else’s work you must cite it! This includes paraphrases, summaries, or any time you make use of an idea that’s not your own. Anything else is plagiarism and can result in one or both of the following: (1) a failing grade for the course or (2) College-level disciplinary action, including expulsion. If you have questions about the proper use of sources, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Either parenthetical citations or footnotes are appropriate.
Inclement weather: In the event that class must be cancelled due to inclement weather, an announcement to that effect will be recorded on my office answering machine.

Course schedule
The following schedule is subject to change. Please complete all reading by the date listed.

Abbreviations: L=Lindberg, The European Reformations; H=Hillerbrand (ed.), The Protestant Reformation; S=Lindberg (ed.), The European Reformations Sourcebook; O=online, R=course reader.

Tu 8/31
Introduction to the course

Th 9/2
What is church history?
L, ch. 1. Optional: H, Introduction
Close-reading a historical text: Luther’s own memory of the Reformation
NT: Romans
Luther, “Preface to the Latin writings,” (Dillenberger 3-11; also O)

Tu 9/7
The anxious life of the late medieval Christian
L ch. 2; S 1.1-1.17; Carmina Burana selections and Papal bulls Clericis laicos and Unam Sanctam (O)

Th 9/9
S 1.18-1.31; Selections from Imitatio Christi and Kolde, Speculum Christiani (O)

Tu 9/14
The humanist critique of the late-medieval church
Erasmus, Praise of Folly (O) and Hutten’s letter to Frederick (R 6-7)

Th 9/16
The humanist redefinition of religion
Erasmus, Enchiridion and Paracelsis (handout)

Tu 9/21
Young Monk Luther
L 54-67, S 2.3, 2.4; Luther’s memories of monastic life; revisit his account of his breakthrough (O); Johann Kessler’s encounter with Luther in disguise (R 16-18)

Th 9/23
The indulgence controversy and its consequences
L 67-86; S 2.5-2.9, 2.11-2.13; Myconius’s account of indulgence-selling; The 95 Theses; Papal bulls Salvator Noster and Unigenitus; Luther’s letter to Albrecht of Mainz (O)
For discussion: construct a case in favor of the indulgence system, using your knowledge of popular piety from week 2.

Tu 9/28
Luther’s condemnation
S 2.18, 2.20-2.22; Luther’s account of the Leipzig debate; papal bulls Exsurge Domine and Decet Romanum; Luther’s speech before the Diet; humanist and popular reactions to Luther (all O)
For discussion: Identify the primary issue in the dispute between Luther and his opponents. Is it primarily concerned with theology, or with authority? Can they be separated? Why or why not?

Th 9/30
Translating the scripture, reforming the churches
L 87-99; S 3.3-3.12; Luther’s introduction to the NT, H 66-72
For discussion: What does Luther mean by grace? by law?

Tu 10/5
Karlstadt and Luther
L 99-107; S 3.13-3.18
For discussion: The concepts of justification and sanctification. Which is more important for early modern Christian practice?

First paper due (rescheduled)


Th 10/7
Reform takes hold: abolition of the mass, popular propaganda
Handout of short sources (download a PDF here)
For discussion: What do we learn from these sources about ordinary peoples’ understanding of the historical events taking place around them?

Tu 10/12
NT: Gospel of John, Romans (again), Galatians

Heidelberg theses, Dillenberger 501-503; Invocavit sermons, H 59-66; Freedom of a Christian, H 31-59; Preface to Romans, Dillenberger 19-35; Commentary on Galatians, H 123-37 (full edn.: Dillenberger 99-165) (copies of the Dillenberger readings are here)

Th 10/14
Luther, "Two Kinds of Righteousness"
Cajetan, On Faith and Works (O)

Tu 10/19
No class (Fall holiday)

Th 10/21
Erasmus, On the Freedom of the Will (R 27-58. Selections TBA)

Tu 10/26
Luther, On the Bondage of the Will (Dillenberger, 166-203)

Th 10/28
Luther, On Governmental Authority, H 73-92 and To the Christian Nobility, Dillenberger 403-488 (selections TBA)
Second paper due

From this point on, dates have been revised


Tu 11/9
L ch. 6; S 5.1-5.8, 5.13-5.14, 5.17-5.21; Müntzer, “Sermon Before the Princes” (R 59-70); H 93-122 (“Twelve Articles” and “Admonition to Peace”); “Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes” (R 71-74)

Th 11/11
L ch. 7; S 6.4-6.6, 6.10, 6.16-6.18, 6.20-6.23; “On True and False Religion” (O); contrasting reports of the Marburg Colloquy (O)

Tu 11/16
L 188-203; S 7.1, 7.2, 7.5-7.9; H 163-172; Luther confronts Karlstadt (O)

Th 11/18
L 203-213; S 7.11-7.21; H 172-182, 194-202

Tu 11/23
L ch. 9; S 8.2-8.7, 8.12, 8.14, 8.15-8.22

Second paper due

Th 11/25
No class (Thanksgiving holiday)


Tu 11/30
L 234-247; S 9.1-9.4; Calvin’s autobiographical Preface on the Psalms (O)

Th 12/2
L 247-259; S 9.5-9.16; Calvin's “Reply to Sadoleto” (O)

Tu 12/7
Knowledge of God, self, and sin
Sels. from the Institutes I and II (O)
H 213-244 (on predestination)

Th 12/9
The life of the church
H 205-213; plus other selections from the Institutes (O).
L ch. 14; The Council of Trent’s decree on justification and selections from St. Ignatius of Loyola (O)

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