The Unintended Reformation

The last decade or so has seen a steady stream of publications seeking to cast light on the roles that theology and religion have played in shaping modern societies, politics, and human self-understanding. Keeping with the spirit of the literature’s dissatisfaction with the present and with the failure of modernity to live up to its promise of an emancipated and happy humanity, Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation traces the absence of any substantive common good, and the triumph of capitalism, consumerism, and individualism to the long-term effects of the Protestant Reformation.

Yet can the social and political ills of modern societies indeed be understood as more or less direct, if unforeseeable, consequences of the Protestant Reformation? What is the contemporary import of thinking of modernity as the degradation of an earlier, more wholesome age? What sort of philosophical or theological premises underlie Gregory’s understanding of history, and how are political and socioeconomic factors to be incorporated into his account of modernization? We have invited scholars to respond to these questions, to evaluate Gregory’s thesis, and to offer their critiques of how his work might fit into broader historical patterns of interpreting the relationship between modernity and its past.