The German Reformation: The Role of Local Governments in Evangelical Reform Movements

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Janis Gibbs, Hope College

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This research was supported by a Pagenkopf History Research Scholarship.


In his classic essay entitled “Imperial Cities and the Reformation,” Bernd Moeller states that “the Reformation was never the work of a town council,” arguing that during the Reformation, city governments did not impose religious change without the consent of those they governed. The research tested this hypothesis in order to see if in any known case, evangelical movements with popular support were successfully resisted by the government. By examining secondary sources on the factors that affected the spread of evangelical ideas in southern and western Germany, it became evident that Moeller was correct. Although the cases studied showed no town council successfully resisting a popular evangelical movement, the councils’ roles may be divided into three groups: those that aided popular evangelical movements, those that opposed evangelical movements that had little popular support, and those that led their city to adopt the Reformation by introducing evangelical ideas where they had not previously seen popular support. These cases also provided Professor Gibbs with a basis of comparison for her work on the failure of the Reformation in Cologne.

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