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Level 5

5AAT2024 Martin Luther & the German Reformation

THIS MODULE IS RUNNING IN 2019-20

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

Credits: 15
Module tutor: Dr David Crankshaw
Assessment: One 2,000 word essay (40%) and one two-hour exam (60%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: Two-hour weekly classes over ten weeks.
Pre-requisites: none

Martin Luther (1483–1546), initially a devout Roman Catholic monk and later a reluctant revolutionary, was a colossus of modern European history, and anybody interested in Christianity since the early sixteenth century needs to know about him. He is a classic example of the pivotal influence of the ‘great man’, for, although more an incisive responder to immediate problems than a systematic thinker, his prolific output and that of his followers, as well as their brilliant use of printing, flooded much of Europe with evangelical material, including fascinating and scurrilous pictorial propaganda, to the extent that we might justifiably speak of a media revolution, leading to the novel emergence of something like ‘public opinion’. But the danger of stressing the role of the ‘great man’ is that it can push everything else into the background. This module, taught through a combination of lectures and seminars, avoids that trap. While recognizing Luther’s seminal contribution, it seeks properly to grasp it through contextualization.

  • How far was Luther a product of his age?
  • What was his relationship to late medieval scholasticism (especially the theology of salvation) and to popular piety?
  • To what degree did Renaissance Humanism influence him and help his campaign?

Luther should be seen as an embattled figure, faced on one side by Roman Catholic controversialists and on the other by individuals constituting what is conventionally termed the ‘Radical Reformation’, such as the anabaptists. Yet he also had to contend with rival evangelical theologians, who, like him, fell into the category of ‘Magisterial Reformers’ because their ideas were institutionalized by the secular magistracy, whether at territorial or at city level. For instance, Switzerland’s Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) offered a rival vision of ‘true religion’, not least over the eucharist.

This module aims to enable students to understand the nature and significance of key aspects of the content and context of the early German Reformation; to promote critical engagement with historians’ divergent interpretations of that history; and to allow analysis of selected primary sources (in English) upon which such interpretations are based. A mixture of theology and the social history of religion, the module attempts to highlight the issues at stake and to bring Luther and his contemporaries back to life.

Further information

Module aims
  • to facilitate an understanding of the nature and significance of key features of the early German Reformation, and particularly of Martin Luther’s contribution to it, in relation to various contexts.
  • to encourage students to develop the capacity critically to assess modern historians’ interpretations of the early German Reformation.
  • to encourage students to develop the capacity critically to assess selected primary sources.
  • to encourage students to improve their analytical, argumentative and presentational skills, both orally and on paper.
  • to provide a foundation for those students who wish to take other modules in religious history, particularly of the Reformation period.
Learning outcomes

Generic skills

  • The capacity to plan and execute research at a level appropriate to a Level 5 module.
  • The capacity to engage critically with primary and secondary sources.
  • The capacity to present well-reasoned and well-structured historical arguments, supported by relevant evidence, both orally and on paper

Module-specific skills

  • The capacity to identify, and to explain the significance of, key features of the early German Reformation, and particularly of Luther’s contribution to it, in relation to various contexts.
  • The capacity critically to assess modern historians’ interpretations of the early German Reformation.
  • The capacity critically to assess selected primary sources.
Past syllabi
Previous syllabus document available on request from trs@kcl.ac.uk

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.
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