The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society

The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society

by Brad S. Gregory


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In a work that is as much about the present as the past, Brad Gregory identifies the unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation and traces the way it shaped the modern condition over the course of the following five centuries. A hyperpluralism of religious and secular beliefs, an absence of any substantive common good, the triumph of capitalism and its driver, consumerism—all these, Gregory argues, were long-term effects of a movement that marked the end of more than a millennium during which Christianity provided a framework for shared intellectual, social, and moral life in the West.

Before the Protestant Reformation, Western Christianity was an institutionalized worldview laden with expectations of security for earthly societies and hopes of eternal salvation for individuals. The Reformation’s protagonists sought to advance the realization of this vision, not disrupt it. But a complex web of rejections, retentions, and transformations of medieval Christianity gradually replaced the religious fabric that bound societies together in the West. Today, what we are left with are fragments: intellectual disagreements that splinter into ever finer fractals of specialized discourse; a notion that modern science—as the source of all truth—necessarily undermines religious belief; a pervasive resort to a therapeutic vision of religion; a set of smuggled moral values with which we try to fertilize a sterile liberalism; and the institutionalized assumption that only secular universities can pursue knowledge.

The Unintended Reformation asks what propelled the West into this trajectory of pluralism and polarization, and finds answers deep in our medieval Christian past.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674088054
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 11/16/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 592
Sales rank: 284,724
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Brad S. Gregory is Dorothy G. Griffin Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Notre Dame.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The World We Have Lost? 1

1 Excluding God 25

2 Relativizing Doctrines 74

3 Controlling the Churches 129

4 Subjectivizing Morality 180

5 Manufacturing the Goods Life 235

6 Secularizing Knowledge 298

Conclusion: Against Nostalgia 365

Abbreviations 389

Notes 391

Acknowledgments 537

Index 541

What People are Saying About This

Thomas A. Brady

A work of deep moral seriousness. Gregory's greatest contribution is his portrayal of the Reformation of Christianity as a central moment of disturbance and creativity in the modern Western world. In this endeavor, he has no equal among living authors. The Unintended Reformation is simply the most intelligent treatment of the subject by a contemporary author. It is also the most unconventional and most stirring engagement I know with the problem of how the West has dealt with its heritage of plural religions and concepts of values and happiness.
Thomas A. Brady, Jr., author of German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400-1650

Anthony Grafton

A strikingly brave and wide-ranging work, in which a distinguished historian of early modern Europe interprets the contemporary world. The precision and clarity with which Gregory lays out his evidence and the accuracy with which he handles materials in many different languages and of many different kinds give this original book extraordinary credibility. It's rare for a book to attain this level of scholarship nowadays. An astonishing achievement.
Anthony Grafton, author of Worlds Made by Words

Alasdair MacIntyre

Gregory's insightful and compelling narrative invites us to recognize the surprising extent to which we are still what the Protestant Reformation and its heirs made us, a society of conflicting and contested truth claims. As he spells out the consequences--and the interest is in the detail--we become more sharply aware of sometimes unrecognized aspects of our present condition.
Alasdair MacIntyre, author of God, Philosophy, Universities

Carlos Eire

A revisionist manifesto, sharp-edged and provocative, The Unintended Reformation analyzes the legacy of the Protestant Reformation with an eye firmly fixed on the present. Gregory challenges many revered assumptions and does so with verve and brilliance. Bound to stir debate for years to come, this magisterial history of the early modern era belongs on the shelf right next to Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and Charles Taylor's A Secular Age.
Carlos Eire, author of A Very Brief History of Eternity

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