Religion and the Rise of History: Martin Luther and the Cultural Revolution in Germany, 1760-1810

By Leonard S. Smith

An intriguing exploration of the influence of Martin Luther on the development of German historiography in the 18th and 19th centuries.

ISBN: 9780227173275


This intellectual history is the first to apply the ideal-type or model-building methodology of Otto Hintze (1861-1940) to Western historical thought or to what R.G. Collingwood called “The Idea of History”. Containing succinct and useful models for understanding and teaching classical, Christian, and modern professional historiography, Religion and the Rise of History is also the first work to suggest that, in addition to his well-known paradoxical and/or “at-the-same-time” way of thinking and viewing life, Martin Luther also held to a way that was deeply incarnational, dynamic, and/or “in-with-and-under”.

This dual vision and a Lutheran ethos strongly influenced Leibniz, Hamann, and Herder, and was therefore a matter of considerable significance for the rise of a distinctly modern form of historical consciousness (commonly called “historicism”) in Protestant Germany. Smith’s essay suggests a new time period for the formative age of modern German thought, culture, and education: “The Cultural Revolution in Germany”. This age began in the early 1760s and culminated in 1810 with the founding of the University of Berlin, the first fully modern and modernising university.

This university first became the recognized center for the study of history, however, through the work of Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886). Here the story shows how a young Ranke derived his individualizing way of thinking and viewing life mainly from Luther, how his life-work is the best example in Western literature of the rise of history from a calling to a profession, and how the three-way discussion between Troeltsch, Meinecke, and Hintze concerning the nature of modern historical thought was of central importance for the reorientation of Western social-historical thought in the twentieth century.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 306

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Leonard S. Smith is Emeritus Professor of History at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, California.



1. A Typology of Classical and Christian Historiography
2. Martin Luther and the Foundations of a Lutheran Ethos
3. Two Forerunners of the Cultural Revolution in Germany and Modern Historical Thought: Leibniz and Chladenius
4. The Cultural Revolution in Germany and the Rise of a New Historical Consciousness, 1760-1810
5. From a Holy Hieroglyph to a Wissenschaft Alone: History as a Calling and a Profession from Ranke to Hintze

Name Index


Endorsements and Reviews

Leonard Smith’s book is, in its origins and goals, a deeply pedagogical work. He addresses a central problem in the history of eighteenth-century German and European thought, the emergence of a new, evolutionary view of history called ‘historicism.’ Enabled by Luther’s incarnational theology, historicism received its first formulation, Smith argues, from Leibniz and his successors and achieved its public place in the new University of Berlin (est. 1810). This book is a splendid marriage of classical themes with new and original insights. Everyone interested in the evolution of European historical thought should read it.
Thomas A. Brady Jr, University of California, Berkeley

This book breaks new ground in showing how Martin Luther shaped the philosophical pioneers of a new worldview based upon the study of history. A textbook for minds curious about a philosophy of history.
Eric W. Gritsch, Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary

A wide-ranging intellectual history of the emergence in Germany of a modern historical consciousness.
Dale A. Johnson, Vanderbilt University