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Religion Between 1500 and 1800, GCSE Coursework Example

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GCSE Coursework

Although many people in the United Stated and around the world enjoy the concept of religious freedom today, this is a right that had to be fought for. In 1500 A.D., the world’s view of religion was an extreme opposite of the way we view religion in modern times. This time period marked an era before the Roman Papacy was split in two and religion direct nearly every aspect of daily life. While the city-states of Europe had the right to rule their own people, it was required to be done under the supervision of the pope and the Roman Catholic Church. By year 1800 A.D., the view of the world had changed drastically. The Renaissance had ushered in an age of free thinking and intellect that changed many of the values held by individuals in the late Middle Ages. The Roman Catholic Church had lost power and many individuals favored religious reform. Protestantism became prevalent, and the idea that religious tolerance should be emphasized became widespread (Locke).

Many events that occurred between the years of 1500 and 1800 A.D. triggered the newfound belief in the concept of religious freedom. One of these reasons is that the norms of Christianity became religious and social rather than political. While there are many theories that attempt to explain this, the reasons were primarily economic and political. 1500 A.D. marked the end of the Black Death, which had plagued Europe for decades. As a consequence, Europe’s population had diminished drastically which in turn impacted its social structure. Individuals who were farmhands before the plague were now able to claim available land, which removed a large portion of the peasant class. This power shift impacted the power of the Roman Catholic Church as well. During the height of the plague, many church officials took advantage of the fear of death by gaining payment in exchange for guaranteeing salvation of the sick. Since the Church lost a large number of supporters due to the plague and the peasantry who was opposed to the unethical lifestyle of the clergy came to power, ideas that contrasted the rule of the Roman Catholic Church began to surface. While many individuals remained pious, they doubted the rules that the Roman Catholic Church set fourth were necessarily the rules that Christ intended for them to live by. After many years of dissatisfaction against the church, one man decided to finally speak up.

A second reason that concept of religion shifted from political to social is that Martin Luther actively promoted a separation of religion and society (Luther). Martin Luther famously announced his dissatisfaction regarding the behavior of the Roman Catholic Church by posting a document known as the Ninety-Five Theses in a public space. While this document in no way denounces the sanctity of Christ and God, it does denounce the actions of the Roman Catholic Church. The primary purpose of this document was to argue that salvation could be achieved by faith and prayer alone. In addition, Luther argued against specific church practices such as the sale of indulgences, veneration of relics, and baptism. Initially, the church attempted to claim Luther’s beliefs as false. However, just one year after Pope Leo X’s rebuttal, chapels had begun allowing public than private masses as a recognition that Luther’s arguments were valid. Shortly after Lutheran services took the place of Roman Catholic services in the city of Wittenburg. These acts called more attention to the fact that the church clergy was behaving unjustly towards its followers, which in turn encourage more people to begin following Luther’s interpretation of the bible instead. Since the peasant class had diminished and a large portion of the population had become literate and the movable printing press had been developed, people were able to read the bible on their own for the first time. As a consequence, they were able to form their own interpretations of the text and worship the lord in any manner they chose. This allowed individuals to form many new ideas about Christianity and even more Christian sects formed as a result. This was a pivotal moment in the transition to religious freedom because for the first time individuals were able to decide what to believe and how to practice their beliefs without the intervention of the Roman Catholic Church. Although individual sects were able to establish their own rules, the individual had a choice as to which sect to join and which practices to participate in. By the year 1800 A.D. the number of Christian sects that had been established grew significantly.

A major cause of the evolution of religious freedom was also a consequence of political events. Wars over religion would often not result in a winner. The major conflict up to the 1500s was the Crusades in which many European nations attempted to counter the growing Ottoman Empire. Not only was the Ottoman Empire blocking the ability of Europe to trade with Asia, it was also an Islamic state which was considered disturbing by a then Catholic Europe. As the war waged on, there was little sign that either side would achieve victory. Instead, many lives were lost due to battle and disease. In 1444, the Crusades officially ended after many attempts over the past few centuries to overcome the Ottoman’s. This experience demonstrated that attempts to destroy individuals on the basis of their religion would be futile. The Ottoman Empire was adamant in their Islamic beliefs and would not be converted while the same was true for the involved Europeans (Kaplan). The truce between the Ottoman Empire and Europe led to a period of peace between the two regions. Although co-existence of Catholics and Muslims was not considered ideal for either group, it was found to be preferable over the violence of war. Since there had been significant casualties from the Black Death, the two groups agreed that mutual toleration was preferable.

A fourth factor that allowed a shift between view of religion to occur between 1500 A.D. and 1800 A.D. was that the age of Enlightenment introduced new moral, political, and truth ideas. Rather than continuing to believe that the universe lacked mystery and that understanding of nature could only be achieved through the bible, individuals became interesting in discovering their own truth during the Renaissance. The Renaissance was essentially a period of renewal in interest of ancient Roman and Greek lifestyle which was ushered in by the ability of the average individual to read. This sparked new ideas and interest in ancient texts that had not been present for centuries. Some of these new ideas included scientific discoveries that contrasted some of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. This movement began in the late 1500s, but spread to the remainder of Europe by the 17th and 18th centuries. During this time, individuals such as Francis Bacon revolutionized the way that man thought about the universe. He developed the scientific method which allowed others to develop concrete evidence to explain how the world works. Unfortunately, many of the discoveries found using this method were found to be heretical to the church. This angered many individuals, which diminished popular support of the church even further. By the 1800s, many new scientific discoveries had been made which led to the development and acceptance of more religious beliefs.

The final cause that led to the development of religious tolerance and separation of church and state is a consequence of people’s grassroots actions. During the 1700s, major contributions to religious freedom occurred as a result of the actions taken by free thinkers living in the colonies in the New World and the centuries of religious persecution that had preceded this era (Zagorin). While the colonies were established with the intent of establishing religious freedom, many felt that they were being unrightfully controlled by England and France on many aspects of their lives. As a consequence, the colonists performed many revolutionary actions including the Boston Tea Party and American Revolution in order to protest. Eventually, the colonies gained the right to govern themselves and made it a point to ensure that a primary concern of the new nation would be religious freedom. The model that the American colonists provided for the rest of the world was an expected consequence of the ability to think freely and act on ethical values and the United States continues to be a model for religious freedom today.

References

Kaplan. Divided by Faith. Chapters 1-12.

Locke J. A letter concerning toleration. Chapter 8.

Luther M. On the freedom of a Christian.

Zagorin P. How the idea of religious toleration came to the west”. Chapters 1-7.

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