Encyclopedia of Martin Luther and the Reformation, 2 Volume Set
- ISBN: 9781442271586
- Published By: Rowman & Littlefield
- Published: August 2017
The student of the Reformation today has ample opportunity for both bewilderment and excitement. The sheer number of English publications on Martin Luther in 2017 alone, including numerous biographies, museum exhibition catalogues, and reference works, can leave you gasping for air. Faced with piles of books on Luther, where should you begin? One of the best places to get acquainted with Luther and the field of Luther studies is now the two-volume Encyclopedia of Martin Luther and the Reformation (EMLAR).
The collaborators, advisors, and endorsers of EMLAR are some of the most reputable scholars in the field of the Reformation studies. A brief survey of the institutions that the advisors and collaborators belong to indicates that many, if not most, of them are not Lutherans. This is one of the features that sets EMLAR apart from the recent (and cheaper) Dictionary of Luther and the Lutheran Traditions (DLALT), which presents “the scholarship of Lutherans from around the world” (Timothy Wengert, ed., Baker, 2017, xxiv). The board of editorial advisors for EMLAR includes twenty-one people from diverse research universities and seminaries, and there are 180 contributors. The contributors include well-known names like Andrew Pettegree, Kirsi Stjerna, David Whitford, Michelle Sanchez, and G. Sujin Pak, as well as lesser known figures. Thirty-eight of the contributors (21%) are women (based on the she/her pronouns used in their biographical sketches).
Volume two contains a bibliography of Luther studies, five appendices, two indexes, and biographical sketches of the contributors. The bibliography was compiled by three Harvard doctoral students under the auspices of Michelle Sanchez and serves as very helpful introduction to the field. A look at the categorization of entries by theme (one of the five appendices) helps to give a general orientation to the scope, unique features, and aims of the encyclopedia. Here are the thirteen themes listed in descending numerical order: “Since the Reformation: Luther’s Legacies – Protestantism and Its Branches” (105); “Luther’s Colleagues and Contemporaries” (75); “Luther’s Theology” (60); “Reformation by Country, Land, or City” (38); “Organizing the Lutheran Church” (37); “Luther, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Holy Roman Empire” (34); “Precursors to the Reformation” (32); “Luther’s Writings and Translations” (19); “Lead-in Introductions” (14)’ “Why the Reformation Matters” (14); “Luther’s Hymns” (13); “Start and Emergence of the Reformation” (12); and “Luther’s Life” (12). The fact that Luther’s legacy has by far the most entries shows that the encyclopedia is not only trying to illuminate Luther’s immediate context, but also his import in shaping the modern world. In this category, there is even an entry on the Russian Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky by Knut Alsvåg that explores connections between Lossky and Luther (1:440). As Alsvåg’s entry evidences, EMLAR engages Nordic research on Luther that has challenged the antimetaphycial biases of Neo-Kantian philosophy and dialectical theology (see entries under Finnish). The fourteen entries on “Why the Reformation Matters” are a novel feature of EMLAR; so too are the entries on the impact of the Reformation on thirty-nine countries, lands, or cities.
At times the encyclopedia is difficult to navigate. For instance, seven of the fourteen entries on contemporary women are listed under “von,” as in “von Bora, Katharina.” In fact, all of the entries under “von” are women. Why are people like Nicholas von Amsdorf or Andreas Bodenstein von Karstadt listed differently? The problem of finding entries is further complicated by the fact that there are no cross-references (a plus for the competing DLALT). If a student was researching Luther and the Jews, they would naturally turn to the entry “Jews/Judaism.” But, from there it would be hard to know that separate entries exist for “That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew” and “Concerning the Jews and their Lies.” If you have not searched the theme “Luther’s Writings and Translations” in Appendix A, you would not know about the entries on these specific treatises. Or, if you were to look up “mysticism” it would be hard to know that a separate entry also exists under “German Mysticism.” Therefore, in order to make the most of EMLAR you should spend some time purveying the index of entries to learn how they are catalogued.
On a more serious note, the title Martin Luther and the Reformation and the approach of the encyclopedia can unwittingly foster the myth that Luther single handedly ushered in the Reformation and thus the modern world. The preface states that the work intends to be “a unique study of the way in which one man was able to change the direction of Christian theology and history” (1:xxi; emphasis mine); hence the 105 entries on Luther’s legacies. This is an important and unique feature of EMLAR, but such an approach can unintentionally lead to treating Luther and the Reformation as synonymous. The best recent Luther biographies, like those of Scott Hendrix (Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer, Yale University Press, 2015) and Volker Leppin (Martin Luther: A Late Medieval Life, Baker Academic, 2017), have worked hard at demythologizing Protestant characterizations of Luther as “the isolated hero.”
EMLAR is an impressive accomplishment of some of the best scholars working on the Reformation today. I highly recommend it not only as an introduction to Luther, but also for a general orientation on why people are still interested in Luther today.
Samuel Dubbelman is a doctoral student in the History of Christianity at Boston University.Samuel DubbelmanDate Of Review:March 2, 2018