The Age of Enlightenment made an epochal paradigm shift in the assessment of Luther. This upheaval is exemplified in brief case studies from the literature, historiography, and theology of that period. These studies show that the German Enlightenment overcame the fixation on Luther’s theology, which was limited to its own time, while it formed a structural discipleship—doing in that context what Luther had done in his—of Luther. In this way, it could recognize its own historical responsibility with critical autonomy while still invoking Luther’s spirit and character.
The term “Neoclassicism” refers to an era when a large number of artists and scholars across Europe in the 18th century took inspiration from the history and material remains of classical antiquity, which was defined as ancient Greece and Rome. While Neoclassicism is often considered a stylistic trend, artists worked across stylistic categories, yet they were all part of a broad milieu that responded to profound societal changes by seeking out classical precedents for questions posed by Enlightenment thinkers. These questions included the purpose of religion in society, where philosophers including John Locke (1632–1704) and François-Marie Arouet Voltaire (1694–1778) theorized new spiritual modes to examine human existence. Many religious painters of the 18th century studied at the French Academy of Painting and Sculpture established in Paris in 1648 under royal sponsorship that dictated taste, and these artists were championed for their ability to depict grand expressions of human emotion learned from antiquity and from classicizing Renaissance and Baroque artists, including French painter Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), who popularized the Roman concept of exempla virtutis. Jean- Baptiste Colbert, the First Minister to King Louis XIV and Vice-Protector of the Academy, promoted this grand classicizing Baroque style as the elevated style of the aristocracy, which laid the foundation for Neoclassicism. For French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–1784), art could provide pleasure, but a superior artwork provided a visual beauty that inspired virtuous behavior; thus, while not all art served a religious function, artworks often showed examples of virtue. For example, Diderot, who reported on the biennial exhibitions sponsored by the Academy in Paris, praised Jacques-Louis David’s (1748–1825) Oath of the Horatii (1784, Louvre Museum, Paris), a depiction of a 7th-century bce Roman legend, for its demonstration of patriotic sacrifice. Many of these moralizing narratives drew upon stories from classical antiquity, learned by artists trained at the French Academy in Rome (established in 1666) during a period of study sometimes called the Grand Tour. Neoclassical art was also shaped by the intense cultural questioning that arose with the French Revolution, and it found fertile ground during the Industrial Revolution. Religious art had a complicated historical development in the 18th century given the dramatic changes that disrupted religious institutions and church patronage in favor of secular patrons and new subjects. Nonetheless, the moralizing tendencies of Neoclassicism and the academic favoring of historical painting continued to provide a place for religious art and architecture throughout the 18th century, much of which deserves further study.
Maia Wellington Gahtan
Much of the art housed in Western museums is religious in nature—the result of how these museum collections were assembled and merged with differing displays over time. The origins of museums and their exhibition activities lie in the vast and myriad collecting histories of ancient, medieval, and Early Modern times, when the avenues of acquisition and display were often intertwined with sacred purposes. As empires, international trade, and missionaries encouraged the movement of people, objects, and ideas, they ensured that the monumental containers meant to preserve and display these collections took on meanings ever more distinct from the original meanings and functions of the individual objects they housed, religious or otherwise. Collections also evolved into “contact zones” between peoples and objects. While the history of display is different from that of museums, because it is premised more on a visiting public than on preservation and study efforts, these approaches to objects merge in the 16th century so that visual comparison and the ordering of displays are seen as a means to develop further knowledge from a collection. What had been a gradual and eclectic accumulation process was accelerated in the 18th century with a raft of Enlightenment museum projects that identified new political and aesthetic ends for art collections, further decontextualizing objects from their religious and cultural origins and embedding them in more prominent ideological and often aesthetic narratives—what some scholars have referred to as “iconoclasm without destruction.” As more objects became “art” and the concept of art engendered ever more elaborate theorization, the idea of different kinds of visitorship—that an object might be visited for either religious or secular purposes—also took hold. Critics of large Enlightenment museum projects, especially the Louvre, lamented decontextualization on historical grounds, just as the closure of religious institutions left scars in their communities while bolstering attention to the newly formed museum collections. Such events precipitated the spread of the “museum eyes” to which all religious art, even that in situ or in museums associated with religious institutions, was subject. Recent decades have witnessed museum efforts to recontextualize objects by reclaiming the voices of source communities, identifying shared heritage, and recognizing objects as active interlocutors. Such mediation efforts are meant to restore some of the religious meanings of art while often maintaining secular approaches to museum governance and display. The increasingly broad and nuanced recognition of the intangible dimension of material heritage in general and of religion in particular has enhanced these recontextualization efforts. Ultimately the issues at stake revolve around perceived ownership and the role of the museum in society: Can a secular museum ever fully own a religious object? If not, how can that ownership be effectively shared? Does or should the status of the object and its owner(s) impact its museum audience, which may include a broad swath of society with different backgrounds, beliefs, and expectations?
Historians most often use the term primitivism to refer to the attempt to reconstruct a religious tradition’s original theology, structure, or beliefs. Primitivists believe that the earliest expressions of the faith are the most efficacious, powerful, and valid, and hence they attempt to recapture them in as complete a form as it is possible for them to imagine. Thus, they frequently dissent from established religious traditions, believing that those constructed under the primitive impulse achieve superior purity. Of course, these attempts are normally incomplete or inaccurate, reflecting the desires or needs of the group doing the restoring more than the original version of whatever faith is involved. Primitivism has taken on a number of forms throughout American history. This essay follows a chronological approach, but uses Richard Hughes’s designations of “ethical,” “ecclesiastical,” and “experiential” primitivism to distinguish among various movements and provide some order to the narrative. These are common impulses in American religion, particularly in the years immediately following the American Revolution commonly called the Second Great Awakening. The language of primitivism has provided Americans with the weight of historical authority, often invoked to overturn established hierarchies and replace them with forms of religious practice deemed, alternately, more democratic, more biblical, more conducive to religious experience, or more ethically demanding. Whatever the case, primitivism has spoken to the American impulse toward reform, resistance to institution, and individual capacity.
Conrad L. Donakowski
A variety of economic, ideological, aesthetic, and nationalist forces shape Christian worship in its varied manifestations today. Historical perspectives and areas of knowledge which are too often discussed in compartmentalized fashion are presented here as acting with and on each other and often serving each other’s purposes. Liturgical, musical, artistic, and architectural expressions are shown to be inextricably bound not only to theology, philosophy, and ecclesial hierarchy but also to political and socioeconomic structural change, technological innovation, and—not least—the culture and the human need for authentic spiritual experience. The Enlightenment “Age of Reason,” Romanticism, the nation-state, and the Industrial Revolution from the 17th through the 19th centuries affected religious practices that were the only mass medium that reached into every town, house, and heart. Connections are established with not only overtly religious events such as urban Evangelism, preservation of old architecture, the Oxford movement, and tradition versus innovation but also socialistic communal experiments and ethnic conflict among US immigrants.
Carol S. Anderson
The Buddhist teaching known in English as the four noble truths is most often understood as the single most important teaching of the historical buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who taught in northern India during the 5th century bce. —Sanskrit duḥkha and Pali dukkha (pain), samudayo (arising), nirodho (ending), and maggo (path) or dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā (way leading to the ending of pain)—are recorded in the languages of Pali and Sanskrit in the different Buddhist canons, and the literary traditions have been very consistent in how they remember the teaching. These teachings are explained in the Sutta on the Turning of the Dhamma Wheel (Dhamma-cakka-ppavattana Sutta in Pali) and in a handful of different formulations in different suttas, abhidhamma analysis, and in the vinaya sections of the canonical texts. Despite the widespread awareness of the four truths, the complexities associated with this teaching are not usually recognized. While the bulk of the scholarship on the four noble truths analyzes them as they appear in the Pali canon, recent scholarship traces them through Buddhist canons that are extant in the Chinese Tripitaka.
J. Brent Crosson
Contrary to many of the predictions of secularization theory, religion seems to be at the heart of political contests in avowedly secular nation-states. While religious identities seem to define many modern polities or political orientations, “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) has arisen as a growing identification that eschews these forms of “organized religion.” The politics of the spiritual in contemporary worlds points toward neoliberal emphases on flexible labor and self-making, but also indexes a longer genealogy of the categories of religion and superstition in colonial contexts. From Reformation invectives against superstition to colonial regulations against superstitious practices, a history of the distinction between “true” and “false” religion has informed the more recent separation of spirituality from religion proper. Emerging in the 19th century, movements emphasizing personal spirituality in opposition to organized religion both extended post-Reformation visions of true religion while also adopting some of the very practices that European reformers had deemed false religion. To complicate matters further, the notion of religion that spirituality came to oppose also contradicted what scholars have deemed a “Protestant” theological bias in the formation of the modern category of religion. This bias asserts that personal dispositions rather than outward manifestations are the essence of religion, but the “organized religion” that spirituality opposes is defined precisely by outward manifestations of structure and power. In this way, spirituality both extends and rejects the contradictory poles of the modern category of religion as both the essence of community and an eminently personal affair. Spirituality does not simply foreground these shifting poles of religion and not-religion in the modern era, but also highlights contemporary transformations in the category of politics itself. The emphasis on personal experience and self-transformation in “spiritual but not religious” movements points toward a similarly therapeutic register in movements for restorative justice or human rights. No longer confined to the realm of collective contests for state power, contemporary politics often speaks in the psycho-juridical register of spirituality.
It would not be possible to say that the Lutheran tradition has led to the post-Christian world that is Europe today, the causes of which must be multifarious. Nevertheless, it is thinkers in the Lutheran tradition, as in no other, who have tackled the question as to what the coming of modernity means for the truth of Christian claims. It may be said that Luther himself and those around him took a large step from a Catholic, Aristotelian world into modernity. In the Enlightenment, it was notably German thinkers who had come out of a Lutheran context among them, Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, and Ludwig Feuerbach, who advanced a demythologized interpretation of scripture, seeing the Christian myth as a projection of human self-understanding; the form that their secularizing position took being profoundly influenced by their Lutheran context. Meanwhile, the basic paradigm of Lutheranism, a Christocentic faith set over against reason or works, allowed other Lutheran thinkers to proclaim a Christian apologetic in the face of the Enlightenment (Søren Kierkegaard), and 20th-century secularity (Rudolf Bultmann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer). The Lutheran Christocentric apologetic would seem to have ended in incoherence, or to have become irrelevant, in a post-Christian context. It fits ill with forms of post-Christian spirituality. This notwithstanding, it remains the case that ways of thinking that derive from Lutheran thought have profoundly affected the modern world, its philosophy, culture, and psychoanalytic thought. It should be a cause for admiration, not derision, that those who have stood in this tradition—from Luther forward—have been ready to face the intellectual issues of their day and the challenges posed to Christianity. This stands in marked contrast with the comparative failure of the Catholic tradition in this regard.