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Level 5

5AAGB415 The German Reformation

Module value: 15 credits
Module tutor: Dr Anna Linton 
Assessment: One 1,500-word essay (35%); one 2,500-word essay (65%)
Teaching pattern: Two hours per week
Reassessment: Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt

This module is taught in English, using English-language sources and translations; no prior knowledge of German is required.

Module description


This module explores the period ca. 1520–1555, using close textual analysis to provide an account of some major issues of this period. It is open to both non-German speakers and those with a good reading knowledge of German: English translations of texts will be used alongside the German.

The module will begin with a consideration of the cultural climate in the early sixteenth century, with Luther’s writings set in the political context of tensions within the Holy Roman Empire and in the intellectual context of Humanism. This will be followed by a discussion of the central Lutheran doctrines of justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers, and an examination of two key works by Luther: Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen (On the Freedom of the Christian) and An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation (Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation).  The latter work will also provide the starting point for a discussion of Luther’s attitudes to secular authority, particularly against the background of the Peasants’ War (1524-25). The debates surrounding the sacraments will be considered, with attention given not only to the Lutheran and Catholic positions, but also to the Reformed views of Zwingli and Calvin. 

Luther’s Bible translation, and the controversy surrounding it, will form the basis of the next part of the module. We shall consider Hieronymus Emser’s response and read Luther’s subsequent defence of his translation, Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen (Open Letter on Translating). These discussions will be followed by a study of Reformation visual propaganda from various sides of the religious divide(s), concentrating particularly on broadsheets and polemical woodcuts, and looking at the interplay between text and image. We shall also discuss textual propaganda, in the form of Reformation dialogues and poems, and hymns, and we shall consider women’s contributions to the Reformation debates.

The module will conclude with the impact of the Reformation on attitudes towards death and dying. We shall discuss the Purgatory debates, and consider Luther’s ‘Sermon von der Bereitung zum Sterben’ (‘A Sermon on Preparing to Die’) in conjunction with examples of ars moriendi, handbooks providing practical guidance for the dying. 

In all cases there will be intensive study of texts in classes, and the module may include a study trip to the British Library to see and handle original sixteenth-century publications. The teaching will be geared both to understanding the texts and to interpreting/evaluating them.

Educational aims and objectives

The module aims to give an insight into the events and controversies of the early German Reformation through texts and images. The individual lectures and seminars will provide background context, and will also encourage close textual analysis. The students will, at the end, be able to demonstrate a good understanding of sixteenth-century German culture and of the developments of the Reformation, and will be able to translate this understanding into critical essays.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate intellectual and practical skills appropriate to a level 5 module. In particular, they will be able to demonstrate a good understanding of the debates central to the German Reformation; demonstrate a familiarity with critical terminology; demonstrate skills in the close reading and analysis of texts; be able better to appreciate the complex interplay between literature, society and culture; show the capacity to analyse and critically examine diverse forms of discourse; present their views in class discussion, and in written form in response to essay questions; and independently research a chosen topic, thus developing their skills at managing resources.

Core texts

  • Euan Cameron, The European Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1991).
  • Scott Dixon, The German Reformation: the essential readings (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999).
  • Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), with accompanying sourcebook (1999).
  • Martin Luther: EITHER: An den Christlichen Adel deutscher Nation. Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen. Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, 2nd edn. (Stuttgart: Reclam, 2006) OR Three Treatises, 2nd edn. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970).
  • Donald McKim (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther (Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  • The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism , ed. by Jill Kraye (Cambridge University Press, 1996),
  • R. W Scribner and Scott Dixon, The German Reformation, 2nd ed. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)

Students will need to acquire a copy of one of the following books, depending on whether or not they can read German:

  • EITHER Martin Luther, An den Christlichen Adel deutscher Nation. Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen. Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, 2nd edn. (Stuttgart: Reclam, 2006)
  • OR Martin Luther, Three Treatises, 2nd edn. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970).

The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.



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