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Why Luther Is Not a Hero

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  • Thu 29 Nov ’18, 5:30pm – 7:00pm


Victoria University Faculty of Law, Government Buildings, 55 Lambton Quay, Wellington


All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Free Admission

Professor Lyndal Roper on the 500-year Luther Anniversary.

In the run-up to 2017, Luther was front-page news. He made the cover of the Spiegel, he had a supplement in Die Zeit, and his picture looked out from newsstands all over Germany. Yet when the celebrations were finally over, they were generally held to have been a ‘failure’. Numbers visiting the many exhibitions were lower than expected, Luther had not established himself as the ‘first Goethe’, and the hoped-for renewal of the church, especially in the former East, had simply failed to happen.

Since its foundation in the sixteenth century, the Lutheran church has lamented the ignorance and indifference of its flock, so these complaints are nothing new. The phenomenal attention given to Luther suggests that something at least had happened—but it is true that Luther did not become a German hero.

The nineteenth century celebrated the monumental Luther, and installed him in the Berlin cathedral, but in 2017 we had Luther kitsch. Playmobil Luther sold over a million tiny figures, while the Wittenberg Panorama, produced by the artist Yadegar Assisi, offered the 'Luther Experience' in light and sound. This lecture will explore why it was not possible to sell Luther as the ‘inventor of the German language’, and what this tells us about Germany today, the legacy of the DDR, and the Brexit moment.

Professor Lyndal Roper is Regius Professor of History at Oriel College, the University of Oxford.Her latest book Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (2016) is the first historical biography of Luther in English for many decades. She previously worked on the history of witchcraft and she is now writing a history of the German Peasants’ War, the greatest uprising in western Europe before the French Revolution.

Professor Roper is a Fellow of the British Academy, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and the Brandenburg Akademie der Wissenschaften. She is also a member of the International Advisory Board of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. She is in New Zealand as a keynote speaker at the German Studies Association of Australia conference at Victoria University of Wellington

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