Melody of Reason and Reformation: Hymns, Enlightenment, and the Church of England
In 1724, the reverend Henry Abbot preached a sermon in Gloucester Cathedral outlining justifications and spiritual benefits that resulted from the singing of hymns. Abbot’s sermon, dedicated to his patron Lord Bathurst, was a clear defense of music making in the church that reflected the wider contours of the English Reformation and its ongoing effort to define appropriate worship.
Not only this, but the ways in which Abbot crafted his argument corresponded to the opening transformations of Enlightenment thought in England as a whole. Hymns bore a relationship to the sensing process, a sensing process that was also at the core of the Enlightenment definition of knowledge itself.
How can we study belief? What are the longer term implications of religious change in society? These connected questions form the core of our course and our investigation of Early Modern Europe (c. 1450-1789). Indeed, the meaning of belief was the central issue of contention in Europe from the dawn of the Renaissance until the twilight of the eighteenth century and its Revolutions.
The shattering of the Christian consensus and the rise of the empirical frame was a pathway cleared with the twin swords of Humanism’s cry of ad fontes and Luther’s injunction of sola fide. The route uncovered was a journey to the “Modern” in all its beauty and ugliness. Yet, stones lay upon this trail, rocky reminders whose pain and obstacle convey the irony that Europe’s greatest religious revolution resulted in the ultimate secularization of the continent and of the West in general. Still, secularization, caught as it is in a dialectic with Christianity, is a form of belief, and belief remains central.
The effort to experience, define, and understand both acceptable and unacceptable beliefs will be our compass to map Europe’s Early Modern world, the world of unfolding Reformations. This course will consist of primary and secondary readings, lecture, classroom discussion, as well as multiple student writing assignments culminating in a final research based student podcast.
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