Essay On Year 2075

In his 2009 article ‘(Re)defining the English Reformation’, Peter Marshall described the recent explosion of English Reformation scholarship as something that had become ‘a large and untidy garden, alive with luxuriant foliage, periodic colorful blooms, and a smattering of undesirable weeds’.(1) If the English Reformation is a large, untidy garden, then the scholarship on the broader European Reformation(s) is an estate ranging across forests, fields, bogs, hedges, and rolling hills, encompassing much more than the theological and political shrubbery of decades past. It includes extensive research on musicology, literature, the politics of the crowd, devotional practices, phenomenology and epistemology, art and visual history, gender history, the history of the book, and much more. In the past two years, Oxford and Cambridge University Presses alone have published more than 20 books with the word ‘Reformation’ in their titles. These works vary from the more traditional religious and political histories like Margaret Aston’s Broken Idols of the English Reformation and Robert Bireley’s biography of Emperor Ferdinand II to the more esoteric like Robin Barnes’s Astrology and the Reformation, demonstrating the breadth of current scholarly directions and approaches.

Certainly one of the principal and most vibrant corners of this acreage is the work of Diarmaid MacCulloch, who, over the past thirty years, has proven instrumental in reshaping much of the academic landscape, in particular the relationship of the English reforms to their continental counterparts. From his finely crafted biography Thomas Cranmer: A Life and his many poignant essays that seem to run the entire gamut of Reformation history to his most formidable books Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 1490–1700 and A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, MacCulloch’s writings cast a very large shadow in the foliage of Reformation scholarship. His most recent book All Things Made New: Writings on the Reformation is an intriguing and somewhat unusual addition to these earlier books. In 22 short chapters, MacCulloch revisits the last 20 years of scholarly production, bringing together a collection of previously published pieces into a coherent volume that takes readers from the early reforms of Henry VIII to the development of Anglicanism in the second half of the 17th century.

There is a great deal about All Things Made New that recommends it to both the lay and academic reader. First and foremost, the book is an exceptional example of MacCulloch’s prose. The majority of the essays are wonderfully crafted, balancing erudition and wit, which will be enjoyed both for their scholarly depth as well as their polished style. Second, the collection as a whole echoes the more sustained Reformation narratives that MacCulloch has created in the past and offers his insights into recent works of Reformation historiography, including: John O’Malley’s Trent, Kevin Sharpe’s Selling the Tudor Monarchy, Alexandra Walsham’s and Peter Marshall’s edited volume Angels in the Early Modern World and David Loades’s Mary Tudor. Finally, the book can be read as both an introduction to Reformation scholarship and to MacCulloch’s thought, which can take on a variety of tones. We hear the quippish MacCulloch who can sweepingly characterize Thomas Cranmer as distinctively ‘unAnglican’ (p. 276). When he turns to that most fundamental of Anglican books The Book of Common Prayer, he comments that Cranmer believed that ‘a crowd of ordinary Christians left to themselves were incapable of spontaneously finding appropriate words to approach God in corporate prayer’ (p. 141). Even John Calvin, MacCulloch reminds us, quietly conceded that sola scriptura needed ‘a little glossing’ from time to time, in order that the truth was clearly conveyed to the ignorant masses (p. 60). Readers also get the compelling MacCulloch who, with only a few paragraphs, can induce even the most skeptical reader to rethink their opinion of Henry VIII, who had a deep ‘conviction of his unique relationship with God as his anointed deputy on earth’ (p. 116). The prickly MacCulloch even makes one or two appearances in remarks like ‘A religion claiming to be based on precepts of love and forgiveness cannot but hang its head in shame at the record of inquisitions in the Western Church of the Latin Rite’, reminding readers that nothing so barbaric was ever systematized in the Orthodox Church (p. 79).

All Things Made New is at its best when MacCulloch analyzes the more misunderstood or underappreciated figures of the period. Turning to the royal sisters Mary and Elizabeth, MacCulloch revisits well-trodden terrain with an eye for what truths have stood the test of the historiographical meat grinder through which these two queens have been processed over the past few decades. Both have been excoriated and both have been lauded. Only recently, with the work of David Loades and Eamon Duffy, has Mary received the sort of positive historical assessment that her sister typically has enjoyed over the longue durée of Tudor scholarship. Although he recognizes the importance of the revisionary work on both queens, MacCulloch reminds us that there remains some bedrock truth to the traditional views of these sisters:

Elizabeth was always likely to be more successful than Mary, even if they had been granted an equal number of regnal years. She knew how to make the best of a situation … However much we try to be revisionist about Mary and write down Elizabeth, the personalities of the two monarchs laid on the dissecting table show Elizabeth’s advantage (p. 156).

Most importantly, Elizabeth had the time to create a space, even unofficially, for various groups that did not easily fall into straightforward categories of religious conformity or nonconformity. Elizabeth’s court, itself, became a strange milieu of conforming puritans, Anglicans, and a pocket of surviving Catholics like the artist William Byrd, who was supported by traditional-minded nobles like Robert Cecil, Thomas Sackville, and the Howard family.

The last few chapters that outline the nature of Anglicanism return readers to a topic that has occupied much of MacCulloch’s career. In these chapters, MacCulloch reasserts the importance of Richard Hooker’s Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie (1594) in the history of English reform and the ultimate direction that the Church of England would take in its evolution. This is a book that MacCulloch places nearest to Heinrich Bullinger’s sermons in the Protestant theological spectrum, and he reminds readers that Hooker’s theology is the ‘taproot of a tradition’ (p. 236) that would become the Anglican Communion. Even though he was never much known outside of the British Isles, Hooker was the Master of Temple Church in London, where he made a name for himself opposing puritan leaders like Walter Travers. His Ecclesiastical Politie was a systematic response to the puritan attacks against the episcopal order of the Elizabethan church, and ultimately was a synthesis of broadly-understood Reformed theology and the Book of Common Prayer. It was, however, only at the end of the 17th century that Hooker’s work became essential reading for anyone in British politics or theology. As MacCulloch puts it, ‘anyone in English politics … who wanted to score a debating point for their cause was ready to quote Hooker’, including the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke (p. 310).

At the heart of Hooker’s thought is the question of religious authority, which, MacCulloch argues, ‘gives him a contemporary usefulness’ because even the most modern disputes within Christianity are ultimately a matter of differing opinions over ‘what constitutes authority for Christians’ (p. 319). In fact, authority is a major, if not the major, theme running throughout All Things Made New, as MacCulloch moves from the Council of Trent to the Elizabethan Settlement and ultimately to the development of the Anglican Communion after the Restoration in 1660. Some confessions assert sola scriptura, some cling to a particular theological interpretation of scripture, others stand upon the tradition and authority of the Roman See, and then there is the Church of England, whose authority is not so easily encapsulated for MacCulloch. While some readers may think MacCulloch’s assertion about Christian differences is overly simplistic, he is unapologetic about how the complex nature of what he calls the ‘Eaton Mess of Anglicanism’ is the very thing that makes it so compelling and humane. Anglicanism has no theologian that is easily quotable and upon whose works all Anglicans stand (or fall). It does not cling tightly to too many dogmatic assertions beyond the Nicene Creed. On the contrary, Anglicanism ‘acknowledges that he [God] is often good at remaining silent and provoking more questions than answers’ (p. 362).

Rather than dogma, MacCulloch sees the nature and authority of Anglicanism in the concert of several of its key components. First, although Anglicanism has no Calvin or Luther at the helm of its theology, it remains broadly Reformed. Second, the Book of Common Prayer, that ‘ultimate double helix’ of Christianity, remains for better or worse perhaps the most universal characteristic of Anglican churches around the world. Third, the survival and the intentional preservation of the cathedrals by Elizabethan and Jacobean bishops ‘became a subversion of what was otherwise in essence a fairly typical Reformed Protestant Church’ (p. 161). By the end of the 16th century, the English Protestant church service was a Reformed liturgy captured in the Book of Common Prayer but recited in a way that was reminiscent of Catholic books of hours, performed inside whitewashed walls with portraits in the stained glass windows, and William Byrd’s music filling the air. Finally, the Anglican Church is unique in that it has evolved with both ‘a vigorous external Protestant critique’ (p. 360) from English-speaking dissenter groups as well as an internal rejuvenation of Catholic tradition in the Oxford Movement of the 19th century. It has survived both of these and integrated aspects of both to its traditions.

Compared to his book The Reformation, All Things Made New may seem like a minor contribution, particularly to those readers who expect a tour de force every time MacCulloch picks up his pen. The former provides a systematic narrative of the Reformation; the latter provides snapshots and still lives. The former sits as a mountaintop of Reformation scholarship; the latter is a series of rolling hills. Even without the comparison with his previous books, some of MacCulloch’s most important essays like ‘The myth of the English Reformation’ and ‘The impact of the English Reformation’, as well as his essays on the cathedral city of Worcester (1998) and on Heinrich Bullinger (2006), are conspicuous by their absence. Nor is it entirely clear why they do not make the final cut, particularly the latter two essays which are directly relevant to MacCulloch’s description of Anglicanism. Nevertheless, these are minor flaws within an otherwise valuable summation of MacCulloch’s thought and scholarship over the past two decades. All Things Made New not only distills many of MacCulloch’s contributions to the field into an accessible format, it also explores in a few hundred pages recent developments in Reformation historiography, providing new and old students with something of a map to all of the untidy academic overgrowth of the past few decades.


  1. Peter Marshall, ‘(Re)defining the English Reformation’, Journal of British Studies, 48 (2009), 564.Back to (1)

The author is happy to accept this generous review and does not wish to comment further.

From Chalkboards to Chatboards: What Will eLearning Look Like in 2075?

Albert Einstein said: “Your imagination is a preview of coming attractions.” When we consider education, does this mean that we will eventually live in a world where learning feels more like play and everyone has access to equal education? Will we live in a world where learning is individualized so every student maximally benefits from the learning experience? We might.

Let’s rewind a bit and appreciate how far we have come. Hundreds of years ago, learning was all about copying and memorizing. Learning happened verbally out of a tablet called a Hornbook and eventually on a chalkboard. Back then, it’s unlikely anyone could imagine the internet, let alone MOOCs, virtual reality technology, or any of the mobile devices that exist today and are increasingly utilized in the classroom.

Then learning resources abruptly changed in the late 20th century.

As education spread across the country and infiltrated various socioeconomic groups, technology spread as well. Initially, computers seemed quite removed from the classroom. However, even as far back as the 1960’s, linked computer terminals allowed students to access informational resources while they concurrently listened to a related lecture. With the popularization of the web several decades later, possibilities in elearning grew exponentially.

The elearning domain has evolved over several iterations. At first, a typical instance of elearning involved video clips that demonstrated a task. Learners were prompted to answer multiple choice questions to advance, but this model did not take place of instructor-led training. Next, elearning became more interactive. Advances in graphics and storage allowed for more complicated programs, and learners could start participating in simulations or choosing the path of their lesson. Then came the Social Learning Management System, which allowed for blended learning. For the first time, designers could build courseware that involved content or interaction with experts within any organization, and learners had control over how and when they absorbed the content. Learners could track their progress and improve on past scores. Some courses even replaced the role of instructors, and more and more learning institutions adopted elearning platforms. In just a few years, nearly half of all college classes may be elearning-based. Similarly, over 40% of the global Fortune 500 companies use some form of educational technology to train employees (ELearning Magazine, 2013). So where is all of this going? If we place ourselves in the perspective of the 16th century learners, what could emerge that may not possible be able to imagine today?

Future eLearning Trends

Futuristic elearning will probably involve technologies and platforms that derive from current trends. In this section I will outline some of the recently popular and emerging trends, which could easily develop into exciting, advanced, and helpful learning models.

  1. MOOCs (massive open online courses) are just what they sound like. These open, online courses allow millions of people to take the same course at once from just about anywhere in the world. Someone may be in Australia chatting with their classmate in Canada in real-time. Originally, MOOCs emphasized the open access features such as the open licensing of content, structure, and learning goals. However, newer MOOCs involve closed licensing for course materials, while maintaining free access to students. It is suggested that MOOCs may eventually not be free. However, a $7,000 computer science degree via a series of MOOCs from Georgia Tech sure is a lot more affordable than the actual tuition for four years (Georgia Tech unveils first all-MOOC computer science degree). With this model, learning is possible for just about anyone with an internet connection. Though MOOC providers are still figuring out ways to monetize this platform, free online education will probably just get better and better, become more accessible, and permeate throughout more avenues.
  2. mLearing (Mobile Learning)
    Soon, online courses will become readily accessible on mobile devices. Not only do mobile devices allow you to learn from anywhere, newer devices are equipped with digital compasses, dual cameras, incredible audio, etc. Imagine the learners of the future who will be able to watch a lesson on-the-go while utilizing apps and features of their mobile devices to actually take measurements, do science experiments, or communicate with other learners. For instance, why do a geometry word problem on paper when you can actually go into the field and take measurements and make calculations, such as finding the length of the hypotenuse between the ground and the Statue of Liberty, which they can then input into their mobile device and use as part of the lesson? In 2014, there is a sharp distinction between formal and informal learning. However, elearning, and especially mlearning, makes “informal learning” so accessible that much more “informal learning” could be incorporated into the curriculum. Students will eventually have nearly unlimited access to topics that interest them. Perhaps students will eventually have much more choice about what topics they explore, as long as they are developing necessary skills and meeting a basic set of requirements. mLearning also introduces the possibility of incorporating social media into the learning atmosphere. Why does “social” have to mean sharing cat photos and selfies? Social media could become the primary forum for idea sharing, tutoring, etc. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites share the common attributes of “instantaneous idea sharing.” If those ideas were directed towards academic or training content, we might rethink using Facebook (or other social platforms) in the classroom.
  3. Virtual Technologies
    In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, IMAX and 3D movies gave viewers a somewhat realistic experience. However, futuristic virtual reality technologies could actually put learners in the role of discoverer, astronaut, historical figure, businessman, etc. Technologies like Google Glass and other wearable tech devices might become so readily available that they can permeate throughout learning institutions. Sometimes called “immersive multimedia,” the possibilities of virtual reality are endless (literally), because if you can imagine it, you could virtually design it, interact with it, and incorporate it into the learning experience. CAD software and multimodal devices are advancing rapidly, and so a futuristic learning experience could incorporate recreated sensory experiences including virtual taste, smell, sound, touch, and visuals.
  4. Gamification
    eLearning courses of the future will likely resemble an interactive video game rather than a traditional lecture. Candy Crush and World of Warcraft have taught us a lot about the cognitive psychology behind engagement. Learners like games. They like challenges, interactive elements, and opportunities to develop strategies. They also like mastering concepts (leveling up), immediate feedback, and characters with distinct personalities. Great courses of the future will likely include many of these elements which will make the learning experience so exciting, interactive, and fun that learners can’t wait to participate and reap the benefits by mastering the content.

What Will Happen to Schools and Teachers?

In 1997, Peter Drucker said, “Universities won’t survive. The future is outside the traditional campus, outside the traditional classroom. Distance learning is coming on fast.

Distance learning very well may be the future of schools, but if you’re a teacher, principal, administrator, or professor, don’t get scared quite yet. eLearning certainly will revolutionize our traditional notion of classroom or campus, but that does not mean anyone’s job is on the line. In fact, elearning can be a great resource because it frees up time and provides much richer content, and educators’ roles will evolve to fit the times. Laboratories, social outlets, activity hubs, sports teams etc. may remain as important amenities of schools, but the classroom will function differently. Students may be able to choose a virtual setting for their courses, and this setting may change depending on what they are studying. A teacher may become a facilitator, motivator, and confidante rather than a transmitter of knowledge or disciplinary figure. Teachers may be the people designing the content, organizing the flow of courses, making sure students stay on-track, and supplementing the online content. Also, there may be no such thing as a “class” with thirty or so students, because students may join many different online learning communities with students from all over the world.

Education today is certainly a diamond in the rough and elearning could be the polish that cleans up sub-par teaching, provides equality across socioeconomic groups, and makes learning a whole lot more exciting. In 2014, the possibilities are slowly emerging, but let’s stay true to Albert Einstein’s suggestion, so that in 2075, what we imagine can actually happen.

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