On Reformation and Refugees – Dr. Maximilian Scholz talked to Kendra Jade Evers

Max Scholz

What got you involved in studying the history of Christianity and the Protestant Reformation in particular?

I grew up in a Christian household and regularly went to church and Sunday school. But college was the first time I encountered Christianity in an academic setting, and I was enthralled. What a rich, fascinating, and confusing religion! I took a course on the Reformation, and I was hooked. The Reformation was the birth of modern Christianity as we know it today.

What about your college experience? Did you enter university expecting to come out with a PhD? 

 Yes and no. I knew I wanted to continue reading and writing about the Reformation, and I relished grad school (in history not religious studies), because it gave me the opportunity to do both.

How would you describe the process of attaining a Doctorate?

When I started my doctorate, I believed that graduate courses were the hardest thing ever. More advanced students disagreed and told me that the dissertation was the real challenge. They were right! After finishing course work, graduate school sets you loose to pursue your own research project and write a dissertation. This freedom is lovely, but it is also challenging. You must be self-motivated and diligent.

If you had to pick one fact or anecdote that you think captures what it is to study Christianity, what would you pick?

In one class on the Reformation, I had a student remark, "Dr. Scholz, how could the people back then have gotten Christianity so wrong?" This question struck me. The student assumed that Christianity as he recognized it today was the norm--that the religion had always called for weekly Eucharist, Bible reading, and tolerance of others. All three are relatively recent developments in Christian history. So many different people have practiced Christianity in so many different ways that it is challenging to even talk about the religion as a single tradition.

Many of the questions I deal with come from an idea of continuity, of projecting the values of our present back onto the past. I think humans are programmed to search for similarities and embrace these. Similarities make us feel comfortable. When we look at the past, we do the same. The true difficulty of studying history is the realization of how different things were. Historians need to emphasize historical difference.

I hear you recently had some good news. Would you like to go into detail on that?

Thank you for asking. I won a DAAD Grant from the German federal government. The DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst) supports research projects in Germany. My project is titled “Refugee Accommodation and the Construction of States in Early Modern Germany, 1550-1700,” and it explores the ways in which refugees reshaped the landscapes of early modern Germany. After all, history is not merely a thing inflicted upon a people but something that we shape.