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Shelf Life

“Shelf Life” is a podcast about the humanities–and the humans behind them. Each episode features a new conversation with the Newberry staff, fellows, and other readers who bring the Newberry’s world-famous collection to life.

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The 95 Theses: You Won't Believe What #32 Is!

When Martin Luther published his 95 Theses 500 years ago this fall, he had little idea it would soon engulf Europe in a historic debate over religious authority. After initially underestimating the power of print to circulate ideas and build far-flung communities, Luther waged a crafty media campaign using cheap pamphlets to reach a wide audience before the Roman Church could even formally condemn him.

In this episode of “Shelf Life,” the Newberry’s major projects fellow, Chris Fletcher, discusses what Luther originally hoped to accomplish with the 95 Theses, how he marketed religion to a larger audience, and why he had some regrets after empowering people to read and interpret the Bible for themselves.

The 95 Theses: You Won't Believe What #32 Is! by Shelf Life, from the Newberry Library

Show Notes

1:58 – Luther’s original goals for the 95 Theses.

4:10 – Today, the 95 Theses look a lot like the sixteenth-century version of a listicle. Was this a common form for presenting theological arguments in those days?

7:07 – A reading of thesis #32.

9:16 – At what point did Luther realize just how revolutionary the 95 Theses were?

11:37 – Print spreads Luther’s ideas much farther than he ever imagined possible.

13:38 – Rome’s response to the 95 Theses.

15:37 – Luther harnesses the power of print to win public opinion and make theological debates accessible to a larger audience.

19:12 – The synergy between the medium (print) and the message (direct access to the Bible).

23:18 – Luther’s regrets after empowering people to read the Bible and giving them a model for sharing their ideas with the world.

This episode of “Shelf Life” has been produced in conjunction with Religious Change, 1450 - 1700, a multidisciplinary project exploring how religion and print made the medieval world modern.

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