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.
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.