At war with words…

Jean-Francois Gilmont’s “Protestant Reformations” covers the effect that printing had on how books were used during the 15th and 16th centuries.  He covers many key points on the importance of how books, which were once “exclusive” to people of higher classes or clergy members, in many ways filled the gaps between social classes, as books became much more common when printing became the norm.  Something that struck me while reading the article was how printed texts were used during that time in an endeavour to make religious influences on people, as Gilmont describes when speaking about the “War of the Pamphlets”:

“‘War of the Pamphlets’ …  a vast ‘press campaign’ developed in Germany. Thousands of pamphlets, brief quarto-format publications of only a few pages, at times with illustrations, circulated throughout the Empire. All the Reformation’s challenges to the Church were propa- gated in hastily written, poorly organized, diffuse and redundant pub- lications of this sort.” (215)

I couldn’t help but think while reading how common the use of pamphlets is in today’s society and how they seemingly haven’t changed very much.  Have we not come up with any better ideas?  Everyone has had the unfortunate experience of opening the door to a reasonably well-dressed person and being handed a pamphlet titled with some sort of philosophical, life changing question, [like this…], who asks you “Do you have time to talk about God?” to which you quickly respond “I’m sorry, I have to read The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, I’m sure you’re really swell but English 503 comes first!” and closing the door before these people have the opportunity to oppose your rejection.  The “war” of pamphlets came with the circulation of books and general literacy as a whole, which made the pamphlets into an effective weapon of combat in the war of religions.

Another point that Gilmont makes that struck me while reading, was the banning and surveilling of books because of opposing beliefs, as stated by Gilmont, between Catholics and Protestants.  Books were banned from certain areas strictly because of the religious context.  This, too, brings me back to a somewhat recent issue which had been brought up within schools in the United States as well as in the United Kingdom; schools banning the Harry Potter books because the bible states the status of wizards as evil: [].  Surely there are many other examples of books being banned because of what is stated in the bible, or for religious matters, but Harry Potter was probably one of the most popular as well as controversial.

The question raised is, how far have we come from the “War of the Pamphlets”, which took place 1520-1523, and how are books being used as a type of weapon to this day, in religious or non-religious terms?

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