Daniel Owings

Junior Fellow
2019

My dissertation examines the development of rhetoric about idolatry in the 16th century European Christian discourses regarding reform. In my time as a fellow, I hope to develop an answer as to how exactly the notion of an "idol" would have come to Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, through the Latin Christian tradition, as well as how they changed that idea so as to tether it to their respective notions of Reformation. Beginning from the notion that idolatry is always a weaponized religious term, I hope to use my time as a fellow first charting how Augustine used the term in his polemics against "Roman religion," particularly in The City of God, and then mapping the ways in which the Protestants redeployed that same conceptual scheme against what they called "Romanism." By doing so, I hope to elucidate the way in which both Augustine and the later Reformers used the idea of idolatry as an epistemological lever to de-legitimate powerful and institutionally established forms of piety, while defending their own forms of piety from the charges of deleterious human innovation.

I can think of no better place to do this work than the University of Chicago, and particularly the Marty Center; the emphasis here on interdisciplinary collaboration and rigorous communal critique and support has already benefitted and shaped my interests and approaches to problems, and I know that I will only further develop my thoughts about "Religion" in not only receiving charitably incisive feedback from my colleagues, but in critically engaging their work.