How Luther went Viral


A 2011 article from the Economist (listen to audio, above) compares Martin Luther’s use of the then new medium of print in the Reformation, and the use of Facebook in the so-called “Arab Spring.”

In looking at Luther’s use of new media forms and practices from an educational perspective, however, one thing that stands out is his use of print in a rather different way. One startling example is his repurposing of the ancient medium and practice of the catechism. Luther’s Smaller Catechism was also a viral cultural phenomenon. The point was not to convert or persuade but to teach, re-form or indoctrinate:

the Lutheran experiment in mass indoctrination [was] a conscious, systematic, and vigorous effort… to change the human personality through pedagogical conditioning. The chief¬†instrument of this process was the catechism. (Strauss, 1978, p. 175)

How did the catechism accomplish this exactly? And what’s the relationship of this pedagogical technique or technology to education today (or even before Luther, for that matter)? Find out in a short paper I presented recently at AERA (and that interprets Luther and others in the light of some Foucauldian categories and constructions).

See: Catechism and the Self-Dialog as Technologies of the Self (.pdf)

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