With a new semester underway, Candler’s Pitts Theology Library begins the second year of its Kessler Conversations program, which offers online interviews with leading church historians and theologians addressing the relevance of the Protestant Reformation for contemporary communities.

“We started the Kessler Conversations to connect these books from five centuries ago to the issues facing communities today,” says Richard Manly “Bo” Adams, Jr., library director and the Margaret A. Pitts Assistant Professor in the Practice of Theological Bibliography. “Our argument is that the conversations of the Reformation era can shed light, in ways both positive and negative, on the challenges that today’s Christians face.”

Named after the library’s world-renowned Richard C. Kessler Reformation Collection, the conversations focus each semester on a single contemporary theme and trace it back to the Reformers. So far, Adams says, each set of conversations has carried forward to influence the subsequent theme. This is no different for the fall 2021 trio of presentations centered around “Luther and the Other.”

The inaugural fall 2020 discussions addressed the concept of pandemic—which, Adams notes, “seemed novel to us, but which history shows people have been dealing with for centuries.” Spring 2021 then moved to address issues of wealth and poverty, long-existing inequities that COVID-19 has brought into starker light. The outcome of those talks, Adams says, has spurred this next slate of conversations, which will delve more deeply into the tensions between the Reformers and those they considered different.

“In an attempt to define their theologies and communities as ‘new,’ they often spoke harshly and violently about those who were not with them,” Adams says. “What results are texts and theologies within the Reformation that we are either faced with explaining or—more often—brush under the rug. Instead of hiding these problems, we want to face them head on. This semester, we’ll hear from scholars who have done just that.”

Each of the three fall conversations will take place via webinar at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time and run for 30 to 45 minutes. The conversations are free and open to the public with advance registration required. An archive will be available here.

dean-bateza.jpgOctober 6: “At Least Germans Are Honest? Martin Luther’s Appeals to Ethnic Identity and Implications for Social Justice”
Speaker: Anthony Bateza, assistant professor of religion, St. Olaf College

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Martin Luther’s comments about ethnic and cultural differences between German-speaking peoples and their European neighbors often seem quaint or parochial. In this conversation, Dr. Anthony Bateza will explore the logic of Luther’s views, placing them within the context of his approach to moral formation and political action. Attending to the German reformer’s 16th century view of identity offers valuable insights and important lessons for those of us seeking to critically engage the challenges of the 21st century.

david-grafton.jpgOctober 20: “Luther and Islam”

Speaker: David Grafton, academic dean and professor of Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations, Hartford Theological Seminary

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Martin Luther wrote directly about Islam on only six occasions during his life and yet references to Muslims and Islam run throughout all his work. Islam is ever present in the background. He saw “The Turk,” his common term for a Muslim, as a threat to the family, the state, and the church. And yet, Luther praised Muslims for their piety and prayer life. What lessons can we learn about Christian-Muslim relations from Luther today?

dean-p-bell-2019.jpgNovember 10: “Luther, Jews, and Judaism: Possibilities for Rethinking Interreligious Engagement”

Speaker: Dean Bell, president and CEO, Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership

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What were Luther’s thoughts on Jews and Judaism, and how did they compare with those of other reformers of the period? We will think together about the implications of and opportunities for considering how we see other religions and engage in interreligious discussions.