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Reformation, Politics & Rebellion

Context and introduction


The Reformation triggered the single most significant set of transformations in early modern Europe. Religion and confessional allegiance shaped the social, economic and political culture of the Continent for centuries to come. The protagonist of the German Reformation, Martin Luther, is universally recognised as one of the outstanding historical figures of all times.

'Reformation, Politics & Rebellion in Sixteenth-Century Germany' allows in-depth engagement with one of the key issues raised by the core module 'Europe in the Making'. It prepares students for more advanced early modern options in the third year. The module builds on a curriculum for 'Germany in the Age of the Reformation' originally designed by Henry Cohn and assumes no knowledge of other languages (although German materials are available).

At the close of the Middle Ages, the Holy Roman Empire experienced an age of unrest. Luther's new doctrines provided the catalyst for fundamental changes. This module focuses on the political and socio-cultural impact of the Reformation. Particular attention is given to the negotiation of religious change (between church authorities, secular governments and the population at large), dissemination processes (the respective roles of print, visual propaganda and oral communication), the effect on different social groups (Urban / Rural Reformation; Peasants' War; gender relations) and the emergence of confessional identities (Radical Reformation; Catholics; Jews). The course concludes with an assessment of the long-term legacies of the German Reformation.


Team, times and venues

All classes on Fridays: weekly face-to-face lecture 9-10, seminar 1: 2-3, seminar 2: 3-4 (times tbc / venues tba).

Full seminar details appear on our programme page under week 1.


Teaching and learning methods:


This second-year option will be taught through weekly lectures & 1-hour seminars. As in all modules, participants are expected to attend classes, read recommended texts (accessible both on our seminar pages, arranged by author surnames, and on the UL's TALIS reading list, where works are structured by title) in private study and play an active part in seminars. The latter will give opportunities, as appropriate, for brief presentations, preliminary discussion in small groups or formal debates between opposing sides. Students write one shorter and one longer assignment and have the opportunity to reflect on their learning. Individual feedback will be given on these as well as oral participation. A workshop on Reformation resoures is on offer in Term 2 and a revision session in Term 3.


Workload and assessment:

  • Shorter assignment (1,500-words, worth 10%): this takes the form of a book reviewLink opens in a new window
  • Longer assignment (3,000-words; worth 40%): involves the writing of an extended essay on a particular theme (to be finalized early in the Spring Term) like: 'How popular was the Church on the eve of the Reformation?', 'Why did Luther succeed when previous reformers failed?', 'How important was visual communication in the spreading of new religious ideas?', 'Did the Reformation empower women?' - BUT you are encouraged to devise your own topic in consultation with the module tutor. Extensive materials (in English) are available for all of these questions
  • 2-hour, 2-question take-home exam (worth 40%): choose from among 10 topics as illustrated in past HI242 papers
  • Seminar contribution (worth 10%): relates to the general input into our classes (in terms of preparation, quality of contributions, methodological / historiographical observations, listening skills & engagement with other points of view) on the one hand and your ability to reflect on your broader learning experience on the other. At the end of the teaching cycle early in the summer term, students will be asked to self-assess their performance as well as identify what went well/not so well over the course of this module (which might include comments on learning spaces, personal techniques, specific challenges ...) and propose an overall mark to be validated / adjusted by the module tutor (who will take account of both the actual performance and the reflective components). There is no set form, but your submission should take the form of a piece of reflective writing of max. 500 words to be submitted on Tabula by the deadline specified for the assignment.

General information about assessed work including deadline dates and submission information can be found in the 'Assessment' section of the UG handbook.

Please note that there should be no 'significant' overlap with exam questions / extended essay topics in any modules.

The module is based on materials in English, but the department encourages the use of foreign languages in all written work. Consult the module tutor for appropriate topics/materials and see 'Literature in German' under 'General resources'.


Aims & objectives:


This module highlights the key role of religion in pre-industrial society. It provides an in-depth survey of the country which proved seminal for the development of the European Reformation. Students will examine the roots as well as the dramatic socio-cultural effects of changes in theology and ecclesiastical organization. The Reformation divided sixteenth-century communities and affected each social / gender group in particular ways. The module draws on extensive primary and secondary materials to illustrate how the people of Germany experienced and in turn shaped these fundamental transformations.


Intended learning outcomes:


By the end of this module, students will be able to ...

a) demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the importance of religion in early modern society and the socio-cultural impact of confessional change;

b) communicate ideas and findings, adapting to a range of situations, audiences and degrees of complexity;

c) generate ideas through the analysis of a broad range of primary source material, including visual sources and electronic materials, as well as secondary literature;

d) analyse and evaluate the contributions made by existing scholarship, including consideration of different historical sub-disciplines and historiographical debate;

e) act with limited supervision and direction within defined guidelines, accepting responsibility for targeted research, independent writing and achieving deadlines.


Student Research Example

Martin Christ, ‘Negotiating Stability: The Non-Reformation of Schwäbisch Gmünd 1500-1580’

urss_poster_presentation_martin_christ_autumn_11.jpg Erfurt conference

As a HI242 student in 2010-11, Martin embarked on this Reformation project supported by the university's Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme URSS (above left) - see the poster summary Link opens in a new windowfor information on topic, approach and findings; and Martin’s personal reflectionsLink opens in a new window on the experience and benefits of conducting research at undergraduate level. The work culminated in an article published by the Reinvention journalLink opens in a new window and Martin has gone on to do PhD as well as postdoctoral research on Reformation history. In November 2020, during the Covid pandemic, we even appeared on the same panel in a German conference on 'co-spatiality' (above right).


Luther as a Monk by Cranach the Elder

'Luther as a Monk' by Lukas Cranach the Elder (1520) [Picture source]







Module convenor

Beat Kumin

Beat Kümin