This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, an act which had complex and enduring effects on most spheres of human activity and thought. In recognition of the anniversary’s importance, HUMS – the Humanities, Medicine and Sciences Programme of the University of Malta – organised an evening symposium on the theme of ‘The Reformation: Impacts and Consequences’ at the Valletta Campus on Wednesday 10 May. The symposium featured perspectives reflecting the cross-disciplinary ethos of HUMS and drawn, for this occasion, from History, Theology, History of Art, Literature, Economics, Sociology and Science. It attracted a large and diverse audience, clearly appreciative of an event that sought to respect the multi-faceted aspects of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation’s place in history and in the present.
Prof. Joseph Cacciottolo, the Coordinator of HUMS and Pro-Rector for Academic Affairs, introduced the evening by speaking briefly about HUMS’s focus on inter- and cross-disciplinary research and outlined Luther’s academic achievements. He was followed by two keynote speakers. In his talk Prof. Dominic Fenech, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Head of the Department of History, placed Martin Luther within the broader religious and political currents of the time, reflecting also on some intriguing correspondences between Europe in the Early Modern world and in the contemporary period. Rev. Prof. Salvino Caruana, who lectures in the Faculty of Theology and is Director of the Augustinian Institute, reflected on some of the theological dimensions of the Reformation, not least concerning the issue of grace. Both talks helped to provide comprehensive points of reference about political and religious considerations concerning the Reformation, against which the subsequent talks could find a nuanced backdrop, and dispelling any doctrinaire or reductive prospect on this key event in history.
This sensitiveness to careful reassessment of the Reformation’s impacts and consequences marked the discussion which followed the keynote addresses. This part of the evening was organised on the basis of five-minute reflections by speakers from different disciplines, chaired and facilitated by Prof. Godfrey Baldacchino, Pro-Rector for International Development. Prof. Keith Sciberras, Head of the Department of History of Art, spoke about how the religious strife occasioned by the Reformation found satiric or, conversely, celebratory representation in iconography and painting from the time. Dr Petra Caruana Dingli, who lectures in the Edward de Bono Institute for the Design and Development of Thinking and also in the Department of English, referred to travel literature from the Early Modern period and the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to show that contemporary accounts of individual travel in Europe attest to greater tolerance and peaceful co-existence, at least in some areas of human activity and exchange, than stock conceptions of Reformation and Counter-Reformation enmities can often lead one to expect. There were intriguing correspondences in the talks by Dr Philip von Brockdorff, from the Department of Economics, and Dr Gillian Martin, from the Department of Sociology, who sought to counter now-stereotypical perspectives in the wake of Max Weber’s writings on the work ethic of Protestant cultures. In reality, as they demonstrated, there is ample evidence to suggest that sharp distinctions between Protestant and Catholic practice in a range of fields – economic, sociocultural and otherwise – cannot be simplistically drawn. The final speaker was Prof. Charles Sammut, Dean of the Faculty of Science, who in keeping with the tone of the other talks spoke about how the Reformation cannot quite be seen as the sharp watershed in the history of science that it is sometimes constructed as being.
Following the panel discussion, Prof. Baldacchino invited reflections from the audience, which drew some interesting points, among others, about the Reformation’s impact on cultures of translation within Biblical and humanistic scholarship and about Martin Luther’s own outlooks on comparative religion, particularly Jewish faith and thought. The symposium was brought to a close with a vote of thanks by Prof. Cacciottolo.
This evening symposium on the Reformation establishes a model for cross-disciplinary debate that HUMS will be taking further in forthcoming events. HUMS has already organised a number of regular events over its five-year history: it has held day symposia at least twice a year; it has organised conferences on science fiction every summer; and in 2015 it co-hosted the conference of the European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSAeu) on the theme of Scale. In addition, members of its Board of Studies have spoken about interdisciplinary issues across the humanities, medicine and the sciences at a number of conferences, including among others the British Society for Literature and Science, and they are active too in publishing research in these fields. Anybody wishing to contact HUMS may do so by writing to Ms Danielle Baldacchino, on firstname.lastname@example.org