Luther Lecture

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Luther Lecture - Dr. Nicholas Terpstra

This year’s Luther Lecturer was Dr. Nicholas Terpstra, Professor of History, University of Toronto. His lecture was titled "Reframing the Reformation: Religious Refugees in the Early Modern World" and was held on Monday, October 30, 2017 in the Rex Schneider Auditorium at Luther College at the University of Regina.

The year 2017 is being marked as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Martin Luther’s 1517 protest against indulgences set in motion a series of events that led to the fracturing of the Roman Catholic Church and the rise of many different protestant denominations around Europe and across the globe. The Reformation has often been seen as marking the dawn of the modern era and inspiring an expansion of intellectual and political freedoms. Yet it is sobering to realize that it was also the time when the religious refugee became a mass phenomenon. Does the period and its significance look different if we look at it from the viewpoint of religious refugees? How did movements for religious reform create new numbers of refugees while also creating new ways of sheltering them and providing new forms of religious life? What might the Reformation mean for us today, when the number of refugees is again growing rapidly, and when many of the global conflicts that have set them on the road are rooted at least in part in religious divisions?


Dr. Nicholas Terpstra was born in 1956, and received his BA and MA from McMaster University, and his PhD in History in 1989 from the University of Toronto. In 1987, while still completing his doctoral dissertation, Dr. Terpstra accepted an appointment at Luther College, University of Regina, and spent eleven years as a professor of history, with cross-appointments in Women’s Studies and Religious Studies. During his time at Luther, Dr. Terpstra also received a Fellowship at the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti in Florence, to carry out the research on Renaissance Italian lay confraternities that would become the subject of his first book, Lay Confraternities and Civic Religion in Renaissance Bologna, published by Cambridge University Press in 1995.

In 1998, Dr. Terpstra accepted an appointment in the Department of History at the University of Toronto, moving back to Ontario with his wife, Angela (who also taught English at Luther), and their three young children: Nigel, Christopher, and Alison. Since moving to Toronto, he has published four more books—one of which, Lost Girls: Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence (2010) was translated into Korean in 2015 (as Visiting Back Alleys of the Renaissance: Mysteries of Lost Girls in Florence)—and has edited or co-edited nine collections of essays, served as guest editor for several journal issues, and has published numerous articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries on topics as diverse as Italian lay confraternities, care of orphans and young women during the Renaissance, public executions in Italy, and, most recently, on religious refugees during the Reformation.

Although he is firmly rooted in Toronto, Dr. Terpstra still maintains strong ties with Villa I Tatti, and has also served as either a visiting professor or a visiting fellow at universities in Australia (Sydney University), England (Warwick University), Israel (Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University, Jerusalem), and the United States (University of Arizona, Tucson and University of Northern Colorado, Greely). He has also received numerous awards for his writing and his teaching including, in 2014, being elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Currently, Dr. Terpstra is working on three research projects: they are, in his words, “a digital mapping project based around concepts of urban space and sensory boundaries in sixteenth-century Florence…an assessment of the extent and significance of exile, expulsion, and other forms of forced migration (refugees and others) in the early modern period; and a study of the changing theological, literary, dramatic, and visual depictions of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents from the early Christian era to the end of the Ancien Régime.”

While Dr. Terpstra’s intellectual home base remains in the Italian Renaissance, his perspective is very much focused on what the particular culture of early modern Italy can teach us about our own attitudes toward social justice, and the intersection between religious and secular institutions dedicated to helping society’s most marginalized.

The Luther Lecture was established by Luther College at the University of Regina in 1977 with the purpose of making a distinctive and stimulating contribution to the life of the University and the general community. Annually, a distinguished scholar or leader of note is invited to give a public talk on matters of spiritual and social importance.

The 2017 Luther Lecture is provided in part through a generous grant from the members of Faith Life Financial and the James Kurtz Memorial Trust Fund.