Date of Award

Spring 2015

Degree Type

Honors Project


College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Deanna Thompson


The Reformation is one of the most studied periods an history, with a rich historiography and body of theological literature; however, historians and scholars of religion alike have yet to fully capture the imaginative redefining of poverty that occurred during this time. The objective of the study is to do just that. Following the model set by church historian Peter Matheson, who is keen to portray the reformation in a new light – as a shift in peoples’ consciousness, rather than in terms of dogmatic changes – this study has endeavored to re-investigate the changing definition of poverty in the sixteenth century. By examining Luther’s works in comparison to poor relief legislation passed after his treatise on the common chest, this study has concluded that Luther’s role was far more significant than previously thought. Luther’s new definition of poverty was adopted by large portions of society, which can be seen clearly in the bodies of municipal legislation passed in protestant cities. By examining Luther, we can better understand the origins of contemporary views of poverty – views which are far too often pervaded by disregarding language.