Our (Imaginary) Reformations Roundtable, and How We Ended Up Where We Are
October 26, 2017—On January 22, scholars and lifelong learners will converge on the Columbia Seminary campus to begin looking at the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s experience of the freedom of conscience is finding fresh expression in contemporary issues related to preaching, biblical studies, education, marriage, inclusion, sexuality, and racism. Keynote speakers for this event (Reformations Then & Now) are Kirsi Stjerna and Brooks Schramm.
We decided to present Kirsi and Brooks with a few questions so we could get to know them a little better. Here’s how that “conversation” went:
Q: We can’t recall having a married couple co-present a conference here before – thanks for agreeing to do this. What’s it like working together, on books, presentations, and such? How does being a two-coast/international couple of scholars work?
Kirsi: It has been very typical for our kids to find us locked in work by the kitchen table with our laptops facing each other. Once they commented that it looked like we were playing Battleship!
I consider myself very lucky and blessed to have a spouse who has shared interests in scholarship and teaching – and human interests in general. Our methodologies and expertise work well together, complementing each other, we can rely on each other and also have straightforward dialogue, not always in agreement, also in front of students.
We travel a lot, work in different places, love meeting different people and learning about their contexts. Together we have become international in our work – both in terms of where we work and whom we work with.
Lately people have been asking us to come together to speak at different places and in different states – that is really lovely, a gift really.
Distance is not so pleasant but it is temporary. Also, we can’t really complain: we taught together 15 years and airplanes work really well. The distance adds to the perspectives we have, on life and our scholarship and teaching. New conversation partners have entered our daily discussions.
We get to travel together a lot and meet fascinating people, that and our shared love of languages and books – and our common while distinct interest in Luther – make our partnership rich and fun.
In the classroom, we work well together given our different personalities and disciplinary foci.
Honestly, I could not imagine a better partner than Brooks, whether it be in teaching, writing, or in parenting, and life.
Brooks: I can second everything that Kirsi has said here, and especially the part about me being the ideal partner.
Q: How did you first get interested in theology, biblical studies and the Reformations?
Kirsi: I had all these big questions of life, universe, meaning, and God. I wanted to “know”, then I was going to figure out my profession. So I applied to study theology at the University of Helsinki. The inquiry, learning-listening-teaching-writing, became my profession.
I’ve always been interested in stories and human nature, and the Reformation history is a fantastic field in that regard. I was very close to choosing biblical studies and the biblical language as my bread and butter, the Old Testament in particular, but there were some exciting developments happening in the ecumenical-theological department at the time and Luther’s Angst intrigued me, so there I went.
I was afraid of history because of the dates… Then I had a “feminist awakening” and thought, “I’ve been fooled! Where are the women?”
It is a long story but I ended up traveling to Boston to study feminist methodology. I was privileged to work with great historians and theologians there who supported my work and let me try different things (Boston University, Boston College, Harvard Divinity School) and I took a long “feminist excursion through the Middle Ages” with some fantastic female visionaries, and eventually found my way back to Luther and the Reformation, equipped with methodological tools and confidence that, yes, we can take a new look at Luther, while we should also dig deep to explore the experience of women during the reformations and as a consequence of the reformation theologies.
I realize, in retrospect, that I had some really good instincts, but I was young and the field was developing. Now we are in a very different place which make study of the Reformations and Luther so exciting and promising, across the disciplines.
Brooks: I was a History and German major in college. I went to seminary as an inquirer, a searcher. It was there that I began studying with a truly wonderful collection of faculty members. Greek was a blast, and I ate it up. But then I started learning Hebrew, and that was pure love – sheer delight. Since Aug 1981 it has been an every day part of my life.
Q If you could gather a group of the “saints of the Reformations” for a meal, who would you invite? What might you want to talk about?
- Luther of course and his wife, Katharina.
- Argula von Grumbach and Katharina Schütz Zell, Marie Dentiere – women writers and proto-feminists and biblical interpreters.
- Rene of Ferrara and Jeanne d’Albret: a crypto-Calvinist and an openly Huguenot leader, who both protected the Huguenots, and Jews.
- Andreas Osiander and Andreas Karlstadt – each in their own way radical and perhaps misunderstood?
- Teresa of Avila, a visionary reformer of the Catholic Church.
- Menno Simons, father of the Anabaptists.
- Josel of Rosheim, a spokesperson for the Jews in Germany.
- Mikael Agricola, the leader of the Finnish reformations.
- Elizabeth of England – and her mother Anne Boleyn.
This is already a big table but these individuals would represent different aspects of the reformations, each very brave in their own way. I would ask them to reflect on “grace and courage”, how it played in their lives. From the Protestant reformation saints, I’d ask, what exactly got them personally “in” with the reformation movements, what was it in the theology or the communities or … that got them involved? I would like each of the individuals to name what was central to their faith and how they “saw” or experienced God.
- Luther and Katie, of course.
- Frederick the Wise
- Caspar Schwenckfeld (because Luther called him “Stinckfelfd”, and I’d like to investigate that)
- Johannes Eck
- Sebastian Münster
- Wolfgang Capito
- Andreas Osiander
- Josel of Rosheim
- Anthonius Margaritha
- John Calvin
Kirsi’s questions are excellent ones.
I would want to know: “What elements of the Reformation(s) in your primary tradition most resonate with you/do you value and why?”, and “How do you see those elements of the Reformation(s) at work in the Church and the world today?” (Exact wording to come).
For me, it is Luther’s understanding of the nature and the power (and the vulnerability) of faith. In my view, this is where Luther was at his most radical, and it’s why reading him – even in a post-Enlightenment world – never gets old.
Reformations Then and Now, January 22 – 25, 2018, is open for registration HERE. Early-bird rates are in effect until November 22, so register today for this enlightening and lively event.