As one of the countrys leading political philosophers, Gillespies thoughts on Luther are pioneering for the political philosophy field.
"Professor Gillespie makes the claim that the thought of Martin Luther marked the beginning of the modern age," Political Science Professor Dan Hofrenning said. "Many other interpreters identify the beginning of modernity with other thinkers such as Machievelli."
Gillespie, who was a sabbatical replacement at St. Olaf in 1979-1980, was introduced by one of his former colleagues in the political science department, Professor Charles Umbanhowar Sr.
Umbanhowar praised Gillespie for his research in tracing the themes of modern Western thought, saying he could think of no one better than Professor Gillespie to speak about the influence that Luther has had on modern thought.
Gillespies talk came from a larger project that he is currently working on a book on modernity and the collapse of medieval society. The portion of this project that Gillespie shared with the St. Olaf audience was entitled "Luther and the Origins of Modernity."
In his lecture Gillespie detailed the history of Luthers life and Luthers views about God in Reformation Europe.
Gillespie pointed out that Luthers concept of salvation through faith alone was critical in his split from the medieval Catholic Church and its practice of selling indulgences.
"Reformation thinking remains rooted in Luthers thought," Gillespie said. "Luther however, was concerned with salvation and not politics."
The Lutheran Heritage Endowment, established by Nyles and Ruth Ellefson, funded Gillespies lecture.
"The purpose of the fund is to stimulate students interest in Luther," Hofrenning said. "It funds lectures, conferences, and this year, a writing contest."
"By placing the thought of Luther in a larger and more pivotal historical context, he [Gillespie] elevates the importance of the founder of the Lutheran tradition," Hofrenning said.
Last year, the fund sponsored Professor Gene Outka, an ethicist from Yale University, to speak at St. Olaf, and has brought other leading scholars to the campus.
Gillespie met with St. Olaf students interested in political philosophy and science graduate studies, and also gave another lecture on modernity at Carleton on Mar. 1.