What should we mean by 'Reformation'? Was it a 'paradigm shift' of the kind proposed by Thomas Kuhn, a new set of answers to old questions, a Darwinian moment? Perhaps. For Felipe Fernández-Armesto, whose Reformation was published in 1996, it was not so much an event in the 16th century, or even an extended process, as a constant manifestation of the spirit of Christianity, at least from 1500 to the present day, 'a continuing story, embracing the common religious experiences of Christians of different traditions worldwide'. Other historians, less ambitious, have found that many features of the Protestant Reformation were replicated in the Church which remained Roman Catholic, so that we can speak of the 'Catholic Reformation'. German historians identify a 'Second Reformation', two or three generations after the first, associated especially with Calvinism, or the 'Reformed' tradition. As for English historians, they have begun to talk about 'the Long Reformation', which was still happening into the 19th century. A recent American textbook goes further, telling its readers that the Reformation, far from being uniquely Western, resembles what happened in China in the 11th century, when the brothers Ch'eng I and Ch'eng Hao revived the Confucian philosophy, and the reconstruction of Islam by Muhammad ibn 'Abd-al-Wahhab in the 18th century.
LRB 22 July 2004 | PDF Download