The History of Christianity II: From the Reformation to the Modern Megachurch
Molly Worthen is an Assistant Professor of History at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received her B.A. in History as well as her M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale. Dr. Worthen taught briefly at the University of Toronto before going to Chapel Hill in 2012.
Dr. Worthen's first book, The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost: The Grand Strategy of Charles Hill, is a backstage account of American foreign policy and higher education told through the biography of a diplomat turned professor. In 2013, she published Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism, an intellectual history of American evangelicals and the culture wars since 1945
Dr. Worthen teaches courses on North American intellectual history and global Christianity, including a popular course titled "Sin and Evil in Modern America." She has lectured widely around the United States and Canada on evangelical history and the culture wars. Dr. Worthen's research focuses on the tensions between traditional religion and modernity. She has written numerous articles for newspapers and magazines and is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, where she covers religion, politics, and higher education.
01: Prophets of Reform before Protestantism
Start your journey in Renaissance Italy where—right in the pope’s backyard—two men gave very different yet powerful critiques of the church, years before the Reformation. By examining these representative figures, Professor Worthen unpacks several key themes running through Christianity for the past 500 years.
02: Luther and the Dawn of Protestantism
Delve into the early Reformation, which begins with Martin Luther and his 95 Theses. An original thinker and an outlaw to Catholic authorities of the time, Luther was also surprisingly conservative in many ways. Review his critique of the church and his theology in the context of the 16th century.
03: Zwingli, Calvin, and the Reformed Tradition
Continue your study of the Reformation with a look at several thinkers who were more radical than Martin Luther. Here, you'll explore the ideas of Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and others who advanced their own theological and political critiques of the church. You'll also consider Henry VIII's quarrel with Rome and the founding of the Church of England.
04: The Anabaptist Radicals
In this third lecture on the Protestant Reformation, you’ll meet the most radical of rebels, the Anabaptists. Based on the slogan sola scriptura—the Bible alone—the Anabaptists wanted to cut ties completely between church and state, making them politically as well as theologically dangerous.
05: The Catholic Reformation
Protestants weren't the only ones fighting to reform Christianity. While Luther, Calvin, and others were breaking from Rome and founding independent churches, leaders within the Catholic Church pushed to consolidate the power of their ideas and institutions. Survey the founding of the Jesuits and the role of education in the Catholic Reformation.
06: The Church Militant in the Spanish Empire
One key theme from this course is the way religious motives are often inseparable from political and economic ambitions. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than Spain in the 16th century. See how Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand joined forces to create a unified Catholic nation, and how they worked to spread Catholicism into the Americas.
07: War and Witchcraft in the Holy Roman Empire
The Thirty Years' War is one of the most confusing episodes in world history. Was it truly a religious war, in which Protestants battled for religious tolerance and freedom, or was it a political ploy to depose kings and change the balance of political power? As you delve into this messy conflict, you'll discover that the war unfolded in the midst of witch-hunting hysteria across Europe.
08: Puritans, Kings, and Theology in Practice
The Reformation opened the door for radicals to challenge traditional authority. Follow the Puritans from England, where they pushed King James to authorize a new translation of the Bible, to the New World, where they tried to build a Christian Zion and wrestled with theology on their own terms.
09: Religious Dissent and the English Civil War
Survey the fascinating history of the English Civil war, from the rise of Charles I, his battles with Parliament and eventual beheading, to the rule of Oliver Cromwell and the Restoration of Charles II. This political tumult allowed a profusion of radical sects to flourish, from the proto-communist Diggers to the apocalyptic Fifth Monarchy Men.
10: Eastern Orthodoxy: From Byzantium to Russia
Shift your attention from the Protestant Reformation to another schism. Centuries before Martin Luther, Orthodox Christians in the East broke with Rome and developed their own theology. Reflect on the principles of Orthodox Christianity and see what role it played in the rise of the Russian Empire.
11: Christians under Muslim Rule
Like the church in the West, Eastern Christianity has given rise to a range of diverse cultures and clashing theological opinions. Here, you'll discover the history of Christians in the Middle East, particularly Coptic Christians in Egypt and Syriac Christians in the Middle East. Find out what life was like under Muslim rule, and reflect on the legacy of the Ottoman Empire.
12: The Church and the Scientific Revolution
Are religion and science always at odds? Reflect on this lightning-rod issue as you trace the history of the Scientific Revolution from the medieval worldview through the remarkable discoveries of the 16th and 17th centuries. Find out what really troubled the church about Galileo's proposition that the Earth was not at the center of the universe.
13: The Enlightenment Quest for Reasonable Faith
On the heels of the Scientific Revolution, the "Enlightenment," as Professor Worthen explains, was not one single movement but rather a constellation of ideas and philosophers who debated the relationship between faith and reason. Explore the theories and worldviews of Diderot, Voltaire, Locke, and other Enlightenment thinkers.
14: Pietist Revival in Europe
In the ongoing clash between faith and reason, some Protestants embraced carefully reasoned arguments, but in the 17th century, another group of thinkers chose to emphasize heart over head. Survey the rise of Pietist communities and see how they responded to the historical context of the 17th and 18th centuries.
15: The First Great Awakening
Meet George Whitefield, an Anglican evangelist who experienced a "new birth" and led a series of religious revivals up and down the East Coast. Here, you will consider the context of religious revivals, examine controversies over evangelism, and reflect on the impact revivals had on American political culture.
16: Religion and Revolution in the 18th Century
Is America a “Christian” country? Did the Founding Fathers use the Bible as a blueprint for government? What about France—how did revolutionaries there both oppress and adopt religion to advance their cause? In both cases, history is so much more complicated than culture-war slogans.
17: The Second Great Awakening
During the 19th century, a second wave of revivals swept North America and Britain, and this "Second Great Awakening" had tremendous consequences for Christianity in the West. After reviewing the origins of Methodism, Professor Worthen surveys the new approach to revivals and shows how America became a majority-Christian country.
18: The Mormons: A True American Faith
Despite TV shows like Big Love, the Broadway hit The Book of Mormon, and the political career of Mitt Romney, Mormonism remains somewhat mysterious to those outside the religion. Uncover the origins and practices of this American faith, and find out how it has grown so large so quickly.
19: Slave Religion in the Americas
Although historical records are relatively scarce, the clever detective work of some enterprising scholars has revealed the rich religious world of enslaved Africans, and highlights Christianity's role in both oppression and liberation. Trace the evolution of religion among slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries, and consider how they made "white man's religion" their own.
20: Christian Missions and Moral Reform
How do you make people and a society Christian? What does it mean to "convert" foreign lands for Christ? In this lecture, Professor Worthen tackles these difficult questions. After reviewing early missions in Africa, she examines the role of women (particularly abolitionists) in the process of Christian reform.
21: The Church’s Encounter with Modern Learning
Dig into the rise of the modern university and its influence on the history of Christianity. By examining modern biblical scholarship in Germany and Britain as well as advancements in 19th century science and the theory of evolution, you will gain a greater understanding of the battle between faith and reason.
22: The Social Gospel
In the 19th century, Christians debated whether to focus on saving souls, or to try to save society first. Here, learn about Protestant activists in Britain and North America who preached the “Social Gospel,” a mission to help the poor, push for social services, and effect political reform—and learn why some failed while others succeeded.
23: Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism
Reflect on the rise of Pentecostalism, which exploded into an international revival, and Fundamentalism, a movement that became far more influential in America than anywhere else. Fundamentalists and Pentecostals clashed over doctrine and worship, but Professor Worthen shows how both groups responded to the same anxieties of modernity.
24: Apocalyptic Faith in the 1800s and Beyond
Christianity started as an apocalyptic religion, and prophecies of "end times" have endured. Take a look at different strands of apocalyptic thinking and their relationship to the Bible and to society. Then unpack how apocalyptic preaching became so popular and examine how several churches and evangelists preached about the last days.
25: The Church and the Russian Revolution
The Russian Revolution of 1917 is arguably the single most cataclysmic event in the history of religion in the 20th century. After surveying the landscape of religion in Russia in the early 20th century, including the various Christian minorities, take a look at the Bolshevik coup and Lenin and Stalin's subsequent efforts to stamp out religion.
26: The Rival Gods of the Cold War
Continue your exploration of Soviet religious persecution and consider life behind the Iron Curtain. In this lecture, you will see how Khrushchev and Brezhnev continued Stalin-era pro-atheist policies. Then turn to the persistence of the Catholic Church in Eastern Europe—particularly Poland, home of Pope John Paul II.
27: Rebellion and Reform in Latin America
Trace the history of religion in Latin America from the 18th century through today. After reviewing the history of colonialism and revolution, you will reflect on the relationship between the church and liberation theology in Mexico, Argentina, and elsewhere. See how Jorge Bergoglio—a.k.a. Pope Francis—struggled to balance pragmatism and idealism in politics.
28: Vatican II and Global Renewal
In 1962, thousands of bishops gathered in Rome to convene the Second Vatican Council. Here, they debated how the church should respond to the challenges of modernity. Explore the high drama of these debates and see how Catholic reforms in worship, church authority, and doctrines of sexuality made real-life impact everywhere from America to the Philippines.
29: Secularism and the Death of God
For Western Christians, the 20th century seemed to bring growing secularization. Professor Worthen unpacks this term and places it in the historical context of the 1950s and 1960s. See how religion has increasingly become a private business, one worldview among many, and theologians proclaimed the death of God—despite Billy Graham’s booming revivals.
30: The Gospel and Global Civil Rights
One theme we've seen again and again is the morally complex role of churches in social change. Here, you'll reflect on the stories of the American civil rights movement and the South African battle over apartheid to explore the ambivalent role of Christian institutions and ideas in the 20th century's global struggle for human rights.
31: Culture Wars and the Christian Right
Along with secularization and changes in Christian faith and practice, the second half of the 20th century also witnessed the eruption of today’s “culture wars”—the clash between traditional religious morality and secular pluralism. Explore this tension in American society and politics, and then see how the culture war is a global phenomenon, playing out in religious debates around the world.
32: Liberation Theologies in Latin America
Revisit Latin America to examine the role of Protestant missionaries and their rivalry with the established Catholic Church. After surveying politics and culture in Latin America over the past century, you'll see how Catholic leaders responded to evolving societies. The lecture concludes with a look at liberation theology and the impact of the Christian Right.
33: Prophetic Religion in Modern Africa
Christianity today is a truly global religion. Even as church attendance declines in America and Western Europe, Christianity is growing rapidly around the world. Here, Professor Worthen reviews the explosion of controversial revival movements in Africa, as well as the promise—and peril—they offer to struggling believers trying to survive times of political upheaval.
34: Chinese Christianity: Missionaries to Mao
Continue your study of contemporary global Christianity. In China, the rise of Christianity has met with an uneasy mix of enthusiasm and suspicion. After reviewing early Christian contact with China, Professor Worthen traces 19th and 20th century missions, delves into the brutal Cultural Revolution, and reflects on religious tensions under the Communist regime.
35: Revival and Repression in Korea
After the United States and Brazil, South Korea sends more missionaries into the world than any other country. Find out how Christianity became such a thriving faith in this relatively small nation—while fellow believers to the north suffer savage repression, and Pyongyang enforces a state religion devoted to the worship of former dictator Kim Il-sung.
36: The Challenge of 21st-Century Christianity
In this final lecture, consider three challenges for Christians in the 21st century: their encounters with the world of Islam, their attitude toward global capitalism, and their reaction to the forces of secularization. Discover how understanding the past 500 years of history can help us better understand these challenges today—and how to prepare for the future.