Atlas of the European Reformations

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Tim Dowley
  • Minneapolis, MN: 
    Fortress Press
    , October
     160 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


With such easy access to abundant digital resources, students and even instructors may not recognize the value of an atlas these days. Tim Dowley’s Atlas of the European Reformations should change their minds. This visually rich volume pairs historical commentary with sixty maps that illuminate not only the key people, movements, and events of the European Reformations, but the cultural and political contexts that gave shape and momentum to the varied theo-political mobilizations of that epoch.

Organized both chronologically and geographically, the volume has four sections. The first describes the pre-Reformation context and the reform movements of late medieval society.  The second and most robust section traces the emergence and expansion of the central Reformations, with stops in Germany, Switzerland, France, Scandinavia, Scotland, England, and Poland. The third section presents the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation, including its global missionary activity. The fourth and final section illustrates the early modern conflicts and explorations that arose out of the reforming energies of the prior century. As indicated by the plural “Reformations” in the title, the volume strives to present the array of reforming impulses that circulated in Europe from the early fourteenth century through the mid-seventeenth century—and, crucially, the intersections of those movements.

The volume is visually engaging. Each of the sixty maps is accompanied by a facing page of prose, comprehensive yet accessible, that offers a brief overview of the person, event, movement, or context in question. The maps are clear and well marked. Helpfully, there is consistency of colors and legends across the various maps, which contributes to ease of comprehension as one moves through the volume. A gazetteer plus an index provide two different types of reference for ready access to targeted information. There is also a detailed timeline at the beginning of the volume. Informative and aesthetically pleasing, it would have had even greater impact as a fold-out instead of being split across pages.

A real strength of this volume is its usefulness for a wide range of audiences. While a handy reference and refresher for scholars and graduate students, it will also fruitfully support seminary and undergraduate courses in the history of the Reformations. With adequate supplementation, the volume could even work well in a high-school World or Western Civilizations course and in church-based Christian education curricula, such as catechism classes.

There are a couple gifts the volume brings to millennial students (and younger) in particular. Studies show that both geographic and cartographic literacy are in rapid decline. Inviting students to engage the history of the Reformations through maps may encourage them to appreciate the unique insights cartography can provide. In this case, maps illustrate the real dynamism of history, its literal movement, both chronologically and geographically.

Instructors who have spent any amount of time in the classroom are likewise aware that students tend to assume that Christianity (along with other wisdom traditions) are monolithic—despite the evidence of multiple denominations that line the main streets of even the smallest U.S. towns. An equally strong assumption is that religion is a private affair that does, or at least should, stand apart from politics—again despite overwhelming evidence easily gleaned from state, national, and global news. Any religious history course worth its salt addresses both of these misconceptions. This atlas provides a distinctive way to address such lacunae in students’ religious literacy and may help them grasp the concepts more fully. The maps clearly illustrate both the diversity inherent to the Christian tradition, and the inextricability of the religious-theological from the social-political.

Highly recommended, especially as a teaching resource.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Krista Hughes is Director of Muller Center and Associate Professor of Religion at Newberry College.

Date of Review: 
May 18, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Tim Dowley is author of The Christians: An Illustrated History (2008) and The Student Bible Atlas(1990), among many other titles on the history of Christianity and the Bible.



Christopher Ocker

Nice points. Thanks.

Kathryn Reklis

I have long wished for exactly a book like this in teaching massive Christian history surveys. I am grateful to Hughes' review for recommending this one.

Cynthia Eller

This is one of those books that I was loathe to let slip out of my hands when it came through the JAAR books office... really nice volume. And wonderful that we got a reviewer who can explain to everyone why you still need a print atlas even when there's an internet at your fingertips!


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