Thursday Lecture Series: Altered States

Luther Orientalisch: Soldiers, Missionaries, and Second-Comings

Thursday, The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room


Today, Martin Luther’s name insistently appears alongside “Islam,” to signal Islam’s lack and its need for its own Luther. Such calls are neither new nor exclusive to Islam: across the nineteenth century, in the Near East, South Asia, and East Asia, many identified themselves or others as Luther’s second-coming, as a Luther of the Orient. These calls forget the significance of Luther’s own writings on the Orient, on the Turk. This talk turns to Luther’s writings on the Turk to excavate his political theology of war. In these writings, he transforms the Christian subject of war into a soldier, and then, imagining that the soldier’s status is altered through military capture, Luther transforms him into a missionary. Luther elaborated these two fundamental political subjects of state, religion, and empire in light of the Ottoman Empire – against the Turk, for the Turk. Centuries later, the emergence of numerous Luthers in the Orient’s colonial and postcolonial contexts forgets that the first Luther was already of the Orient; it can only neglect that these Luthers emerge out of colonial conquest (the soldier) and imperial demands for conversion and reform (the missionary). The talk concludes by reflecting on how this imperial constellation can transform our understanding of the modern state project, liberalism, and the Protestant hermeneutics embedded in secularism.