From Reformation to Revolution: The Power of the Book
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Division: The New School for Public Engagement
School: School of Undergraduate Studies
Course Number: NLIT 3903
Course Format: Lecture
Location: NYC campus
Permission Required: No
- Religious Studies
The explosive power of the printed book in the early modern period foreshadowed the digital revolution in our time. Publication of Martin Luther’s Protestant Bible in German (1522) started a translation war between Catholics and their Reformation critics, as each side worked to produce the most authoritative Christian text. Theological dissent was quickly deployed for international political, economic, and territorial advantage. The War of Religion in France, followed by the English Civil War, produced a flood of proposals about God’s intentions for the world that in turn stimulated a vigorous debate about the right to private judgment as the foundation of human freedom. We trace the dramatic twists and turns of the international textual conflict that produced two towering works: John Milton’s magisterial Paradise Lost (1667) and Lucy Hutchinson’s Order and Disorder (1679). The latter was the first epic written in English by a woman and was misattributed to a man for 300 years. We consider a variety of contributions to the great debate over human versus divine law, concluding with utopian expressions that reflect the separation of church and state: Phillis Wheatley’s poetry, the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, and Olympe de Gouge’s Declaration of the Rights of Woman.