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ISSUE 115 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/8/2002

Luther’s politics and modernity explained

By Julie Gunderson
Executive Editor

Friday, March 8, 2002

Michael Gillespie, a former St. Olaf political science professor currently teaching at Duke University, lectured on "Luther and Politics" to St. Olaf students, faculty, and Northfield community members on Feb. 28 in the Sun Room of Buntrock Commons.

As one of the country’s leading political philosophers, Gillespie’s 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.

Gillespie’s 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 Luther’s life and Luther’s views about God in Reformation Europe.

Gillespie pointed out that Luther’s 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 Luther’s thought," Gillespie said. "Luther however, was concerned with salvation and not politics."

The Lutheran Heritage Endowment, established by Nyles and Ruth Ellefson, funded Gillespie’s 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.

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