Researchers set to explore how 16th century religious reformations shape modern lives

  • University of Sheffield researchers set to present series of talks exploring how 16th century religious change still shapes people’s lives today
  • Church of England's historic break from Rome was “like Brexit”, with claims it shaped modern attitudes towards women, sex and power
  • 500 Reformations project collaborates with libraries, schools, and community organisations with specialist speakers available throughout 2018

Vintage engraving of Bishop Latimer presenting the Bible to King Henry VIII

A new series of public talks exploring how radical religious changes in 16th century Europe are still shaping the way many people live their lives today is being launched in South Yorkshire next week. (2 May 2018).

The events, led by researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, are set to examine how challenges issued by German theologian Martin Luther to Europe’s religious and political powers more than 500 years ago still influence people’s lives in modern day Britain.

The challenges partly led to the English Reformation, which saw the Church of England split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century – a move that some regard as the ‘first Brexit.’

Among the claims to be examined at the events are:

  • Henry VIII and his offspring created a precedent for Brexit
  • Religious writers introduced addiction to English
  • Your day-to-day worries are a by-product of religious thinking about time
  • Reformation changed women’s experience of food, sex and power
  • Luther inspired philosophers including Kant, Hegel and Nietszche

The team of speakers has been brought together by Dr Iona Hine, Director of the 500 Reformations project at the University of Sheffield. She explains: “Martin Luther’s protests provided Henry VIII with a case for rejecting the authority of Europe’s religious leadership and forming a Church of England separate from the Roman Catholic Church. Luther’s ideas and Henry’s decision significantly changed religious and political life for everyone.

“Five centuries later, these changes are still shaping people’s lives, from Brexit hopes to people’s attitudes towards women, sex and power. The Reformation changed daily life in all kinds of ways – inspiring music, shaping ethics, dictating what we expect of men and women, even framing how we speak and think about very modern topics like mental health and addictive behaviours. The 500 Reformations project banner hints at the variety of what we’ve learned through our research on the Reformation so far and the kind of stories we’re eager to share with the public through these events.”

The series begins on 2 May 2018 at Sheffield Libraries, with a talk exploring whether the Reformation was the first Brexit.

Professor Anthony Milton from the University’s Department of History is debating the Brexit question. He said: “It has become a bit of a cliché that Brexit ‘recycles the defiant spirit of the Reformation’. By rejecting the authority of the Pope in Rome, Henry VIII and his Church of England supposedly ‘took back control’ in a way that parallels the current rejection of the European Union. But was the English Reformation really about freeing the country from European influence? And does it have anything meaningful to tell us about British identity and Europe, then and now? My talk will discuss these points.”

University of Sheffield historian Dr Sasha Garwood’s expertise centres on women’s experience of reformation, both religious and bodily. Her talk on 3 May 2018 examines the lives of Catherine of Aragon (Henry’s first queen) and Arbella Stuart, a potential heir to the Tudor throne.

She added: “These women both starved themselves as a form of self-assertion in what was very much a man's world. But Catherine was Catholic and Arbella was Protestant. So the reasoning behind their food refusal was quite different. And the shift in power from Rome to the English throne affected what other people thought of their actions, too.”

Drawing on English Literature, PhD student Catherine Evans from the University’s School of English will examine the Reformation’s impact on our state of mind. One of the major Reformation disagreements concerned who God saved and how. Anxiety about what awaited people after death was not new; but instructions on how to use that anxiety took new directions. Evans’ talk will focus on a lesser-known poet, Anne Lock, and her interpretation of Protestant teaching:

“Anne Lock was an innovative poet and translator. In her work, she expresses profound self-doubt in a way that reflects the latest thinking about faith and salvation. What’s surprising is how enduring such doubting habits have become – the Protestant impulse to question yourself remains strong in modern society too,” Evans said.

The series of events hosted by Sheffield Libraries also features historian Jose Cree talking about addiction, and Dr Tom Rutter, a specialist in renaissance drama, reflecting on how Reformation shaped Shakespeare’s plays.

In June, University of Sheffield archaeologist Professor John Moreland is set to share some of his research with the Friends of Bishops' House, Meersbrook. Professor Moreland has been digging into the experience of reformation in the Derbyshire village of Bradbourne, in the south Peaks.

A full list of confirmed events, including ticket information can be found on the 500 Reformations website:

500 Reformations: explore events

Local organisations can also contact the project to arrange for a visiting speaker on any of the 500 Reformations topics. More information about this offer can be found at:

Additional information

Sheffield Libraries are located across the city, running events for everyone. Details can be found at:

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For further information please contact:

Sean Barton
Junior Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852