Freie Universität Berlin

Service Navigation

FU-BEST 32: The Reformation Heritage in Germany and Europe

InstructorLuise Baur
Credit Points5 ECTS / 3 U.S. credits


This course explores the legacy of the Protestant Reformation on Germany and Europe in light of its upcoming 500th commemoration. It discusses the linkages between the intellectual and religious dynamics of the epoch of the Augustinian monk Martin Luther and those of our modern society. In doing so, it explores the basic question to what extent we can interpret modern aspects of and changes in the realms of religion, politics, economics, science, and art as a demonstrable outgrowth of the Reformation and its aftermath. The aim of this course is not to present an uncritical Reformation history with Martin Luther as some kind of comprehensive “initiator of modern times”, but to inquire into the political, societal, and religious transformation that began in the 16th century and (perhaps) still shapes our age.

The course begins with a historical, theological, and literary overview of the 16th century and an exploration of the historical roots of Reformation ideas in England and Bohemia. Luther´s main theses are presented as well as the connections between the Humanist movement, the Renaissance, and the Reformation. The course then explores several aspects of Reformation ideas and asks in five thematic sessions, whether or where the long-term impact of the historical transformation wrought or ignited by the Reformation becomes visible. Each session gives an overview of Reformation-related literature, provides the historical setting, and presents the main theses of modern thinkers, such as Max Weber, Thomas Luckmann or Peter Berger. Themes such as changes in the realm of religion due to the Protestant Reformation are applied to current societal questions. Special attention is given to international differences with respect to the legacy of the Reformation, i.e., the contrasting traditions that can be identified between Germany and selected other European countries, as well as developments in the former East Germany within the general German context.

We also focus on ambivalent aspects associated with the Reformation and its legacy, ranging from its ecumenical aspects to Luther´s stance on the Jews and the Turks. In the last session we broach the issue of today´s use and abuse of Reformation ideas and discuss the need for a properly reflected application of the Reformation’s heritage in our contemporary Western secular societies.