Coinciding with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, Religious Change and Print, 1450-1700 explores the period’s fierce debates over religion as well as how early adopters of print used the medium to extend the Roman Catholic Church’s influence—or bypass it altogether. As battles for individuals’ souls played out across Europe and the Americas, the need to connect with audiences inspired innovations in writing, printing, and publishing.
"This exhibition emphasizes the experiences of different groups of people who lived in the tumultuous early modern era,"said David Spadafora, president of the Newberry and co-curator of Religious Change and Print. "Throughout the period, religion remained deeply embedded in everyday life, and the changing religious landscape therefore had profound social, cultural, and political ramifications.
"Whether people welcomed or resisted these religious changes, they all grappled with them. As they did so, the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic or Counter-Reformation, and other religious developments joined the Renaissance and encounters between Europeans and other peoples in transforming the medieval world into the modern.”The proliferation of printed religious material gave many individuals a sense of greater control over their spiritual destinies. With these new feelings of autonomy came hope and exhilaration, as well as fear and anxiety prompted by a loss of stability and tradition."
"Martin Luther himself cleverly used print to speak directly to his fellow Europeans and empower them to seek salvation from their own reading of the Bible rather than from the Church and its sacraments,"said Chris Fletcher, the Newberry’s 2016-17 Mellon Major Projects Fellow. "Print allowed the Reformation, essentially, to go viral.”
Drawn from the Newberry’s extensive collection, the exhibition features widely ranging materials, from Bibles and prayer books to pamphlets and poems to maps and music. Visitors will see a colorful 15th-century proto-graphic-novel about the apocalypse, a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, Martin Luther’s first major treatise attacking the Pope, a 16th-century Mexican prayer book censored by the Spanish Inquisition, and the first Bible printed in North America (not in English but in an Algonquin language used in New England).
Broad in geographic scope, the exhibition addresses the impact of religious change in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, featuring not only internal European religious debates and strife but also the religious interactions of Christians and people of non-European spiritual backgrounds.
Religious Change and Print is part of a Newberry-wide project that explores the exhibition’s themes through public programs and digital resources as well.
"In pursuing the topic of religious change through a variety of activities, we intend to foster collaborations, connections, and conversations between scholars and the public to an extent that wouldn’t otherwise be possible,"said Diane Dillon, Director of Exhibitions and Major Projects and co-curator of this exhibition.
Religious Change and Print, running from September 14 through December 27 in the Newberry’s exhibition galleries, is free and open to the public.