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Field of Focus III - Funded ProjectsMultiple Reformations?

The Heidelberg-Notre Dame Dialog on the Legacies of the Reformation

Project Leader:

Prof. Dr. Jan Stievermann (Faculty of Theology)

Funding Line:

Cultural Heritage and History


On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the University of Notre Dame and Heidelberg University joined together to explore the significance of the Reformation from an ecumenical point of view, by means of a series of colloquies on various aspects of the Reformation, and on the relationship of the Reformation to the development of modernity.

These colloquies included members of the theology and history faculties of the two universities, along with many international scholars invited to enrich each of our conversations by means of their particular areas of expertise. The central purpose of the Heidelberg-Notre Dame colloquies was to develop an innovative joint research project on the same subject in order to initiate a long-term relationship for the future among the scholars involved and the institutions they represent, in particular the theology and history departments, as well as the American Studies programs at the two universities.  Thus the colloquies themselves had an explicitly ecumenical goal at the heart of their creation.

The goals we set for ourselves have all been achieved. With the help of the funding from FoF 3 and the very generous financial support from various institutions at Notre Dame (amounting to more than 200,000 $), the four colloquies were a resounding success. They enabled very rich and extremely constructive academic debates, the fruits of which are now being gathered in the form of two high-caliber volumes. Under the editorship of Jan Stievermann and Randall Zachman, selected and expanded contributions from the first three colloquies are coming out with Mohr Siebeck as Multiple Reformations: The Many Faces and Legacies of the Reformation. The manuscript will go to the published this April. Publication is scheduled for the fall of 2018. Matthew Ashley and Paul S. Peterson will edit a second volume (they are currently talking to different publishers) that will present the results of the Jerusalem conference. Both sides are currently talking about continuing the collaboration with a project focusing specifically on competing confessional cultures and their divergent pathways into modernity.

Over the course of the two years, the ties between our institutions grew and deepened. Many individual contacts were made and friendships developed. No small thanks to the momentum generated by the colloquies, a bilateral agreement was signed earlier this year between the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame and the faculties associated with the Heidelberg Center for American Studies. This agreement enables the exchange of doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars and gives them the opportunity to teach at the partner institution. Heidelberg’s faculty of theology persuaded the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD) to fund for five years a Wolfgang Huber Guest Professorship for Ecumenical Theology that will allow us to bring over colleagues from Notre Dame. The professorship will be inaugurated on May 24 and the first colleague to hold it will be the former chair Prof. Matthew Ashley.

Description of the Colloquies: We met four times from 2016 to 2018 in Rome, Heidelberg, Notre Dame and Jerusalem. At each of the thematically focused meetings, a core group of Heidelberg and Notre Dame faculty was joined by other international scholars from different disciplines with special expertise in the respective themes. A detailed list of speakers and topics can be found in the appendix.

The colloquies addressed three major questions. a) How do we interpret and assess the Reformation as a historical and theological event, as a historiographic category, and as a cultural myth from the perspective of different disciplines and confessional traditions? b) What are the long-term global legacies of the Reformation as manifest in the development of distinct Christian world religions and competing confessional cultures, producing different types of modernities? Here a specific goal was to revisit the deeply-entrenched understanding that the Reformation was a decisive trigger of the process of modernization, and that Protestant societies and cultures were at the forefront of much that we associate with Western modernity – an understanding that has informed both triumphant glorifications and sharp indictments of Luther and Calvin and their legacies. To compare different confessional modernities, we examined how Catholic and Protestant theologies and lived religions interacted with the development of modern empires and nation-states, with the emergence of the natural, historical and biblical sciences, as well as with divergent legal cultures and traditions in education and social welfare. c) Finally, the colloquia addressed the challenging question regarding how the Reformation should be commemorated (or can be celebrated) from an ecumenical perspective today.

The initial colloquy in Rome addressed the status of the Protestant Reformation in contemporary academic discourse, and considered “the Reformation” as a historiographic and normative challenge. How do we access and assess the Protestant Reformation as a historical and theological event today? One important dimension of this question is: When and how did the developments initiated by Luther and others become the event that we now call the Reformation? Here a special focus was on how constructing “the Reformation” was bound up with subsequent processes of confessionalization and later confessional traditions of historiography. The Rome conference thus featured several presentations on the Reformation as a historiographical construct or as a religious and cultural “myth,” and addressed how we should work with the normative descriptions of these constructs today.

Another important question has to do with how much historical particularity, and how much theological unity, one should grant to the event now referred to as the Protestant Reformation? Thus we discussed issues regarding the multiplicity of Protestant Reformations as well as continuities and discontinuities between these Protestant Reformations and previous or contemporary Catholic reform movements. How did religious reform movements in the late middle ages contribute to the rise of the Protestant Reformation? These questions about the intellectual and religious climate of early modern Europe were addressed again in light of the new academic research that has drawn attention to the spiritual traditions leading to the Reformation and the conciliar-institutional dynamics of reform. But where does this lead us? Was the Protestant Reformation simply another one of these reform movements or was it rather something essentially different? In the context of this colloquy, we also asked whether we should address “the Reformation” in the fuller paradigm of “multiple Reformations.” 

The ramifications of the simultaneity of the Reformation with the global expansion of European civilization was a further question posed by this first conference. This was addressed especially with a view to the issue of ecclesial mission. Here we were particularly concerned with the way in which this mission contributed to the development of Catholicism and Protestantism into new and distinct “world religions.” In this framework, we touched upon a theme which was treated further at the second colloquy in Heidelberg, namely the question about the nature and long-term influence of the fierce competition in which these confessional identities were engaged. At the same time, the New World also became an important center of radical inner-Protestant reform movements that rejected European-derived confessional traditions and sought to restore the unity of “primitive” Christianity. How were these dynamics essential to the primary reforming impulses, and in what way were they new transformations of these traditions.

The central subject of the second colloquy held at Heidelberg University involved the complex interrelationships between the different confessional cultures that emerged in the wake of the Reformation, and the distinct forms of modernity which these cultures produced. Drawing on recent scholarship on confessionalization, modernization, and theories of multiple modernities, our guiding assumption was that there is not one form of modernity as the teleological apex of a historical genealogy that can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation. Instead we conceived of many competing intellectual and cultural and religious frameworks which drew upon and uniquely modified the processes of modernization.

This colloquy critically engaged with influential narratives that have either celebrated or blamed the Reformation, claiming that it was the basic impulse behind Western modernity with its perceived accomplishments or failures. At the same time, we pushed back in this colloquy against the tendency in some scholarship to overlook the important differences between these confessional modernities, and sought instead to promote a comparative perspective on several key areas of modernization. Diverse Catholic and Protestant traditions, as embedded in different regional, social, and political contexts, were examined with regard to how they interacted with the development of modern empires, nation-states and their identities, with the emergence of the natural, historical and biblical sciences, as well as with divergent legal cultures and traditions in education and social welfare. In this way, we hoped to highlight parallel developments as well as crucial divergences. Special attention was given to the dynamic tension of confessionalization (understood as a process of creedal-formation, community-formation and ultimately identity-formation in contradistinction to other confessional creeds, communities and identities) as a productive force, which propelled modernization processes forward through competition.

One aspect of the productive force of confessionalization explored in the Heidelberg colloquy concerned the formation of Protestantism and Catholicism as modern world religions, and the related development of confessional empires, nations, and missions.  We sought to deepen our understanding of a) the formation of Protestantism and Catholicism as modern world religions in the context of globalization; and b) the interrelationship between the different confessional cultures and the movements of nationalism and colonialism, especially as these were related to the expansion of missions around the world. What differences as well as similarities can be observed in the building of Protestant and Catholic empires? Were certain Protestant traditions prone to a closer relationship with the modern nation-state and the ideologies of nationalism and colonialism, as is often assumed? How did the specific relationships with empires and nation-states influence the development of Catholic and Protestant churches as world religions especially with view to their spread across the globe? In what ways did they become bound up with ethnic or racial identity formations and in what ways did they produce resistance to these formations? 

Taking a comparative approach, we also wrestled with the question of where and how the confessional cultures of the post-Reformation period prepared for and pushed forward the critical streams of modern thought represented in the Enlightenment and in the rise of secularization. Where and how did they resist these streams leading to the early Enlightenment? In recent decades the legal, educational, and diaconical dimensions of the Reformation and post-Reformation confessional cultures were newly discovered. Scholarship has drawn attention to specific traditions emerging from different confessional cultures. In addition to this, contemporary debates about the relationship between religion and law in the Western world have been revisited in light of the religious diversification and multiculturalism. This colloquy also sought to expand this research by comparing the role of natural law traditions and academic legal studies in Protestant and Catholic societies. One of the questions here is to what degree the legal traditions in the post-Reformation context were liberating society from the grasp of religion, and to what degree they were a continuation of pre-modern traditions of Roman legal theory. 

The third colloquy held at the University of Notre Dame addressed the issue of the authority and interpretation of Scripture in the Reformation and modern periods.  We posed two questions in particular: a) To what extent can it still be maintained that the Protestant Reformation triggered a revolution in our understanding of the Bible, which, in turn, had a transformative influence on intellectual modernization? Here, a crucial issue to consider is the status of the scriptures in theology, especially with a view to the debates with ecclesial authority structures. In what regard did the scriptures, as interpreted by the individual, acquire a new status of authority over against tradition and ecclesial authority?  We asked: What differences as well as similarities can be observed in the subsequent history of biblical interpretation, as it played out in the different post-Reformation confessional cultures? The impact of particular scientific traditions as well as the increasing number of historical sources was also addressed with a view to their effect on Biblical studies and theology.

The final colloquy in Jerusalem gathered stock of the previous conferences and attempted to lay a new foundation for our academic and ecclesial reflection on the Reformation from an ecumenical perspective. Questions addressed here were: how can the Reformation be understood from a Catholic and a Protestant perspective today? What place should it take in the broader historical narrative of modernity and modernities? In what ways can a culture of remembrance and commemoration be encouraged which acknowledges the failures and violence of the Reformation period while also drawing upon the positive aspects from this period, as resources for the advancement of human flourishing?


Colloquium One: The Many Faces of the Reformation

March 6-9, 2016
University of Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway

List of Speakers and Topics:

  • Emidio Campi (University of Zurich): “The Myth of the Reformation”
  • Scott Dixon (University of Belfast): “The Reformation as Historiographical Construct”
  • Ute Lotz-Heumann (University of Arizona): “Anglo-American and German Historiographical Traditions in Reformation Research”
  • Randall Zachman (Notre Dame): “Who is actually Catholic?  How our traditional categories keep us from understanding the Evangelical Reformations”
  • Euan Cameron (Union Theological Seminary): “Reconsidering Early-Reformation and Catholic-Reform Impulses”
  • John O’Malley (Georgetown University):“The Pastoral Impulse in Post-Reformation Catholicism”
  • Michael Welker (Heidelberg): “Europa Reformata”
  • Jan Stievermann (Heidelberg): “Early American Protestantism and the Confessionalization Paradigm: A Critical Inquiry”
  • Brad Gregory (Notre Dame): “"The Transformation of the Radical Reformation”
  • Christoph Strohm (Heidelberg): “Überlegungen zum Konfessionalisierungsparadigma”
  • Philip Benedict (University of Geneva) “From Christendom to Confessions”
  • Friederike Nüssel (Heidelberg):  “Reformationskonzepte in der neueren protestantischen Dogmatik”
  • Paul S. Peterson: “Commemorating the Reformation from an Ecumenical Perspective”


Colloquium Two: Multiple Modernities? Confessional Cultures and the Many Legacies of the Reformation Age

September 22-25, 2016
Heidelberg University (Heidelberg Center for American Studies)

List of Speakers and Topics:

  • Simon Ditchfield (University of York): “The ‘Making’ of Roman Catholicism as a ‘World Religion’”
  • Jan Stievermann (Heidelberg): “Imagining Global Protestantism in Colonial Boston, ca. 1700”
  • Patrick Griffin (Notre Dame): “The Last War of Religion or the First War for Empire?: Reconsidering the Meaning of The Seven Years’ War in America”
  • Hartmut Lehmann (Kiel): “Nationalism as Poison in the Veins of Western Christianity, c. 1800 – c. 1950”
  • Brad Gregory (Notre Dame): “Disembedding Christianity: The Reformation Era and the Secularization of Western Society”
  • Volker Leppin (Tübingen): “Gogarten revisited: Secularization as a Legitimate Heritage of the Reformation”
  • John Betz (Notre Dame): “The Unfinished Reformation: Johann Georg Hamann as a Metacritic of Enlightenment and Secularization”
  • Klaus Tanner (Heidelberg): “Ernst Troeltsch, Protestantism, and Modernity”
  • Wolfgang Schluchter (Heidelberg): “Fortschritt durch Entzauberung oder Entzauberung des Fortschritts? Ein weberianischer Blick auf die westliche Moderne”
  • Paul S. Peterson (Heidelberg): “The Decline of Established Christianity in the Western World: A Contemporary Echo from Troeltsch’s Church-Sect-Mysticism Typology”
  • Randall Zachman (Notre Dame): “Scripture and Natural Science in the Theology of John Calvin”
  • Matthew Ashley (Notre Dame): “B. B. Warfield and John Zahm on Evolution, Christian Faith, and Divine Agency”
  • Peter Harrison (University of Queensland): “The Protestant Reformation and the Rise of Modern Science”
  • Christoph Strohm (Heidelberg): “Konfession und Recht in der Frühen Neuzeit”
  • Neil Arner (Notre Dame): “Early Modern Protestant Reflections on Natural Law”
  • Elliott Visconsi (Notre Dame): “The Struggle for Civil Religion: Church and State in the 17th Century English World”
  • Johannes Eurich (Heidelberg): “The Influence of Religious Traditions on Social Welfare Development: Observations from the Perspective of Comparative Welfare State Research”


Colloquium Three: Multiple Reformations and the Authority and Interpretation of Scripture

March 12-15, 2017
University of Notre Dame (Mc Kenna Hall)

List of Speakers and Topics:

  • Mark Noll (Notre Dame): "Sola Sriptura as Bane and Blessing"
  • Manfred Oeming (Heidelberg):  “Luther’s Interpretation of the Psalms and ‘the Center of Scripture’:  the Case of Psalm 22      “                             
  • Greta Kroeker (University of Waterloo): “Erasmus and Scripture”
  • Matthias Konradt (Heidelberg): “Sola Scriptura and Historical-Critical Exegesis.”
  • Paul Peterson (Heidelberg):  “The Reformation and Scriptural Authority:  The Historical Emergence of the Teaching and its Contemporary Significance”
  • Susannah Monta (Notre Dame):  “Religion and Poetry: Protestant Psalm Translators' Treatment of the Notion of the Sacrifice of Praise”
  • Sandra Gustafson (Notre Dame): "'By what warrant':  Biblical Arguments against the Colonization of the Americas"
  • Jan Stievermann / Ryan Hoselton (Heidelberg): “Spiritual Meaning in 18th-Century Evangelical-Pietist Exegesis.”
  • Douglas Sweeney (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School): "The Still-Enchanted World of Jonathan Edwards' Exegesis and the Paradox of Modern Evangelical Supernaturalism"
  • Jan Gertz (Heidelberg): "Julius Wellhausen, Max Weber und das Alte Testament"Max Weber's Analysis of the Old Testament's Conception of God”
  • John Fitzgerald (Notre Dame):  “Reception History of Continental (German) Scholarship in America in the 19th Century”
  • Neil Arner (Notre Dame):  “The Use of Scripture in 20th Century Catholic Moral Theology”             
  • William Mattison III (Notre Dame): “The Use of Scripture in 20th Century Protestant Moral Theology”
  • Friederike Nüssel (Heidelberg): “Martin Kähler’s Approach to Biblical Studies”
  • David Lincicum (Notre Dame): “Scriptural Exegesis and Theology in the Protestant Tübingen School”
  • Grant Kaplan (Marquette University): “Where Truth Resides: Johannes Kuhn and the Catholic Response to the Left-Wing Hegelianism of D.F. Strauss”


Colloquium Four: The Legacies of the Reformation: Paths Forward

March 11-14, 2018
Tantur Institute for Ecumenical Studies, Jerusalem, Sunday, March 11 to Wednesday March 14

List of Speakers and Topics:

  • Brian J. Daley (Notre Dame): “A Road to Disappointment? The Promise and the Limitations of Ecumenical Dialogue Today”
  • Michael Welker (Heidelberg):  "The 'Jahrbuch Biblische Theologie' (since 1986) as a Role Model of a Fruitful Protestant-Catholic Ecumenical Dialogue"
  • Susan Wood (Marquette University): “Reception of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification through the Particularity of Confessional Differences
  • Theodor Dieter (Institute for Ecumenical Research, Strasbourg): “Communication and Reception of the Ecumenical Results of the Lutheran--Roman Catholic Ecumenical Dialog”
  • Friederike Nüssel (Heidelberg): “Eucharistic Theology in the Lutheran tradition – soteriological and ecclesiological dimensions”
  • Kimberly Belcher (Notre Dame):  "Thanksgiving, Sacrifice, and the Roman Canon: Seeds for a Restored Synthesis."
  • Klaus Tanner (Heidelberg):  “ The Challenge of Bioethics in Ecumenical Perspective”
  • Gerald McKenny (Notre Dame):  "Biotechnology and Human Nature: An Ecumenical Conversation"
  • Matthew Ashley (Notre Dame), “Reading the Universe Story Ecumenically and Critically: A Reconciled Diversity of Responses”
  • Neil Arner (Notre Dame), “Practical Ecumenism: Theological Responses to the Biologizing of Morality.”
  • Tim Matovina (Notre Dame): “Ecumenism and U.S. Latino Christians”
  • David Campbell (Notre Dame):  “Shifting Alliances: Religious Coalitions in an Age of Polarization”
  • Brian Stanley (University of Edinburgh),   “Ecumenism and the Future of World Christianity” 
  • Manfred Oeming (Heidelberg): “ Are we still ‘the People of the book’? The Importance of Contemporary Israeli Scholarship for the Understanding of the Bible”
  • Barbara Meyer (Tel Aviv University): “The Bible in Contemporary Israeli and Interreligious Discourse”