The Reformation of Suffering: A Kessler Conversation with Professor Ronald Rittgers

This week's conversation is with Dr. Ronald Rittgers of Valparaiso University. Professor Rittgers joined the VU faculty in the fall of 2006 after having taught for seven years at Yale University. He is the first occupant of the Erich Markel Chair in German Reformation Studies and serves as Professor of History, Theology, and Humanities.

Professor Rittgers is interested in the religious, intellectual, and social history of medieval and Early Modern/Reformation Europe, focusing especially on theology and devotion. He teaches introductory courses on the Christian Tradition and offers more specialized ones on the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Reformation, the Renaissance, Martin Luther, Christian Spirituality (especially mysticism), and Historiography (the history of historical enquiry). Additionally, he teaches courses on themes such as forgiveness and skepticism. He is developing new courses on the history of self-knowledge and the history of consolation.

His first book examined how the Lutheran version of private confession shaped the politics and piety of the German Reformation. It was entitled The Reformation of the Keys: Confession, Conscience, and Authority in Sixteenth-Century Germany (Harvard University Press, 2004). His second book, The Reformation of Suffering: Pastoral Theology and Lay Piety in Late Medieval and Early Modern Germany (Oxford University Press, 2012), examined the efforts of Protestant reformers to change the way their contemporaries understood and coped with suffering. His third book, The Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Hebrews and James (Intervarsity Press Academic, 2017), provides numerous excerpts from Reformation sources on the New Testament books of Hebrews and James, along with an introduction and explanatory comments and overviews. His fourth book, an edited volume entitled Protestants and Mysticism in Reformation Europe, (Brill, 2019), seeks to stimulate research interest in the Protestant reception of medieval mysticism by providing up-to-date treatments of this topic in the works of important Protestant reformers from across the confessional spectrum. Prof. Rittgers is currently working on a fifth book that examines the phenomenon of grief in the Reformation period. It is tentatively entitled, A Widower’s Lament: Johannes Christoph Oelhafen’s “Pious Meditations on the Most Sorrowful Bereavement” (1619), (Fortress Press, 2020). In the future, Prof. Rittgers plans to investigate the interesting connection between the practice of consolation and the shaping of self-understanding in the Age of Reform. He also plans to explore ways in which the Reformation contributed to a distinctively Protestant enchantment of the early modern world.

Professor Rittgers has received research grants from the German Academic Exchange Service, the Lilly Endowment, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, and the Biola Center for Christian Thought. He has also served as the President of the American Society of Church History.

Professor Rittgers is married and has three sons. He enjoys hiking, cycling, soccer, spending time with his family, and watching Star Trek re-runs.

This event is part of our Kessler Conversations at Pitts Theology Library, a series of online interviews with leading church historians and theologians, asking this question, “What relevance do the events, personalities, and texts of the Protestant Reformation hold for contemporary communities?” Streamed live on the first Wednesday of each month this Fall and available online afterwards, these 30-45 minute conversations offer opportunities for the general public to learn about the events in Europe the 16th century and to consider what they tell us about the issues facing our communities. Conversations each semester will focus on a single contemporary theme and trace it back to the Reformers. This Fall, the Kessler Conversations focus on disease, healing, and pastoral care in the 16th century.

Our September conversation was with Professor Anna M. Johnson, Associate Professor of Reformation Church History at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Professor Johnson’s research explores religious practice in the German Reformation. She is the author of Beyond Indulgences: Luther’s Reform of Late Medieval Piety, 1518-1520 (Truman State University Press, 2017), and she recently wrote the introduction and annotations to Luther’s “Whether One Should Flee the Deadly Plague” for The Annotated Luther (Fortress Press, 2016). The Kessler Conversation with Professor Johnson, entitled “Christian Ethics in Times of Plague,” is available at

In October, the Kessler Conversation was with Professor Erik Heinrichs, Associate Professor of History at Winona State University. Professor Heinrichs is a historian of medieval and early modern Europe, with research interest on medical and cultural responses to plagues, particularly in German-speaking lands. He is the author of Plague, Print, and the Reformation: The German Reform of Healing, 1473-1573 (Routledge, 2018). The Kessler Conversation with Professor Heinrichs, entitled “Plague in the Reformation Era,” is available at

We are excited about the Kessler Conversations as a way of extending our Reformation Day impact, inviting a broader audience to learn how the 500-year-old works in the Kessler Collection have much to say about the challenges of disease, healing, and pastoral care that we all face today.
  • When: Eastern Time (US & Canada)
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Price: Free
  • Language: English
  • Who can attend? Everyone
  • Dial-in available? (listen only): Yes.
  • Dial-in Number: 1 (312) 248-9348
  • Dial-in ID: #
  • Dial-in Passcode: 4594#
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