Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Religious Reform: Also Known as Literacy's Birth

Often in our Mormon culture we tend to associate conflict with "contention," which as the scriptures say, "is of the devil." It may be because contention sometimes ensues from a conflict between multiple parties—or maybe just because the word have a similar sound and root word. But whatever the reason, these words are rarely seen in a positive light or context.

Yet in the midst of the 16th century's most contentious conflict, aka the Reformation, an unexpected good great thing came to pass: people started to read for themselves. Scholars have attributed this emergence of literacy to the fact that, "Protestantism, much more than Catholicism, was the religion of the Word, and therefore of reading, and because it insisted on every individual's right—indeed his Christian obligation—to experience the Word for himself" (Gawthrop & Straus). And while this emergence of literacy moved slowly and at times still excluded the lower classes, it did contribute to our society's widespread belief that literacy is crucial for a progressive society.

The single narrative or interpretation of many stories and doctrines taught from The Bible all of a sudden were accessible to the common folk and the traditional interpretations came under fire. The reconstruction of the mind as a result of literacy resulted in the deconstruction of religion as it was known in the 15th century. It's fascinating to see how change, specifically in religion here, came about from a conflict that, while contentious at times, yielded the most significant conflict-resolution tool: literacy.

Works Cited:

Gawthrop, Richard, and Gerald Strauss. "Protestantism And Literacy In Early Modern Germany."                    Past and Present 104.1 (1984): 31-30. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.


  1. It's amazing that the eventual acceptance of personal Bible study had a greater effect on the world than most of everything else that happened in the Restoration, yet it was one of the slowest-moving aspects of the movement. Why did it take people so long to fight for the opportunity to read? Such an interesting part of history.

  2. I was thinking about literacy, too. When and where and how did people learn? At what point did we go from the illiteracy of the Middle Ages to reading being more of a common thing?

    1. I think that a lot of that had to do with simply the availability of printed materials from the printing press, namely religious tracts and texts. Since they had already heard the preachings of the Bible their whole lives, it was easier for them to learn to read them in the Bible.

  3. There was a section in our reading describing the churches reasoning behind keeping the bible exclusive to the religiously educated. They were afraid of misinterpretation and heresy. There is validity to this thought process. I mean, why do we go to seminary and sunday school? To get the necessary tools to understand the text. The slow growth of education might have played a role in the slow growth of personal Bible study.