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Reformation 500th commemoration events conclude with symposium

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Dr. Brad Gregory from the University of Notre Dame delivers the plenary address at the symposium.

Dr. Brad Gregory from the University of Notre Dame delivers the plenary address at the symposium.

Karl Nycklemoe (‘18) | Chips

Karl Nycklemoe (‘18) | Chips

Dr. Brad Gregory from the University of Notre Dame delivers the plenary address at the symposium.

Karl Nycklemoe, Staff Writer

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Luther College concluded the events commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with a symposium held on Oct. 31 titled “The Reformation of Everything.” The symposium invited past and current faculty, students, alumni, and guest speakers to present on topics related to the Reformation. Students had no classes so that they could attend events.

The event started with the opening convocation featuring University of Notre Dame Professor Brad Gregory. Gregory is the author of “Rebel in the Ranks,” a recently published book that explores the Reformation and its lasting impacts.

The convocation kicked off at 9 a.m. in the Center for Faith and Life (CFL) with President Paula Carlson, who spoke about Luther’s commitment to dialogue, debate, and persistent questioning. Gregory’s lecture was titled “Why the Reformation Still Matters (Whether we Want It or Not).”

Gregory’s lecture was divided into four distinct parts: Martin Luther as a reluctant rebel, the early German Reformation, how the Reformation defined a troubled era, and the Reformation’s impact on modernity. Gregory, as a Catholic, neither celebrated nor denounced the Reformation but simply analyzed the Reformation and its impact.

According to Associate Professor of History Robert Christman, the purpose of Gregory’s lecture was to present a thesis on how the Reformation impacts us today and offer a view of the Reformation outside of Protestantism.

“Luther College is not a college that preferences one religious confession over another — or religion at all — but seeks to provide a platform for all different views,” Christman said. “We didn’t want to indoctrinate anyone, we wanted students and faculty to understand what the Reformation was and how it impacts our lives.”

Gregory focused was on the secularization of society and the privatization of religion in daily life because of the Reformation. Essentially, Gregory argued that the Wars of Religion and religious persecution of the era were due to the Reformation splintering Christianity. According to Gregory, when people got tired of this constant conflict, they sought to create society off something other than religion. This allowed consumerism to become a ruling aspect of Western society, as the U.S. and England followed the example of the mercantile, radically tolerant Dutch Republic. Religion’s presence in the private sphere of life, the disagreement among Christianity, and secularized society (i.e. separation of church and state), can be linked back to the Reformation.

Attendee Alexis Olson (‘20) enjoyed Gregory’s lecture, but found that his point was lost in the sheer amount of background information.

“He spent a lot of time talking about the back story of the Reformation, and everything that happened, which is useful for people who have no idea [what the Reformation is],” Olson said. “But by the time he got to his main thesis point, it was a lot harder to get into it. That was the most interesting part, but I felt all that background information dulled his thesis.”

After the convocation, around 30 presentations followed in two sessions. Topics included beer brewing practices of the Reformation era, lay religion, and Islam and the Reformation, to name a few. Samuel Scheidt (‘18), who was also a speaker on ecumenism in the symposium, believes having an event like this is important to increase understanding and the drive to find the truth.

“Understanding the inner workings of the Reformation can help inform us about where we are today and inspire us to continue to challenge our perspectives and continue to dig deeper to search for the truth,” Scheidt said. “At the heart of it, I believe that is what the reformers were genuinely after. When else throughout history have we seen people so courageously defend their ideas in the search for truth?”

Moving forward, Christman hopes that the event will generate more conversation about the role of religion in society, as the Reformation was a critical point in Western Christianity.

“I hope that [Reformation Day] helps students to think of the role of religion in society and, more specifically, on this campus,” Christman said. “Religion is a powerful force in the world, and I think to know a little bit more about it will be essential for students in the twenty first century as it’s proving to be already. I hope [students] will be inspired to look at the Reformation more closely and to use it as a jumping off point to look at the role of religion in our world today.”

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The student news site of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa