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  • Thursday, March 9, 2017
  • 3:30 PM–4:30 PM
  • Calvin Theological Seminary Chapel
  • This event is open to:
    • General Public

What would it look like to tell the story of the Reformation from the perspective of its refugees? Learn more at the Meeter Center's Spring Lecture with Professor Nicholas Terpstra, Professor and Chair of History at Victoria College, University of Toronto.

"Broadening the ‘Reformation of the Refugees’:  Forced Migration and the Meaning of Reformation"

The Reformation period saw the emergence of the religious refugee as a mass phenomenon.  Hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of people were forced to migrate for reasons of religious identity.  How might our view of the Reformation’s chronology and character change if we approached it with this fact uppermost in our minds?  Might we find new ways to incorporate Jews and even Muslims into the Reformation narrative?  This was a period when concerns about purity, contagion, and purgation resonated across all religious groups, and shaped their thought, their worship life, and their social actions.  The various celebrations taking place in 2017 to mark the 500th anniversary of Luther’s protest against indulgences emphasize one approach to religious reform in the early modern period, but taking the refugee experience as our starting point may open up an alternative history of the Reformation.


Nicholas Terpstra is Professor and Chair of History at Victoria College, University of Toronto, teaching Renaissance and early modern social history. In his research he has explored how civil society and social capital operate in Renaissance European society, and asks why this period of humanity and freedom also sees poverty, harsh discipline, and the emergence of the religious refugee as a mass phenomenon. The drive to work imaginatively across borders—geographic, intellectual, institutional—is most conspicuous in all his work.

In the past few years, Terpstra has focused on how Renaissance cities handled orphans, abandoned children, and poor in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A recent book, Cultures of Charity won the Gordan Book Prize of the Renaissance Society of America and the Howard Marraro Prize of the American Historical Association. His most recent book, Religious Refugees in the Early Modern World explores exclusion and exile in the period of the Reformation. An ongoing project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada is DECIMA (Digitally Encoded Census Information and Mapping Archive) an on-line digital tool that maps social, sensory, and built environments in Renaissance Florence. He is also Editor of Renaissance Quarterly, the leading academic journal for interdisciplinary studies in the Renaissance.

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