Written Assignments

What is Freedom?


Web Resources for This Assignment

Discovery and Reformation
Martin Luther
The Freedom of a Christian
Significance

What do you think freedom is?

   One of the most universalized of Western values is the concept of "freedom." Whatever this means, we have come to regard it as a universal value, a quality that should underlie all human experience. But what does this "freedom" really mean? Like culture, it is a complex term: it has a million different definitions, applications, and historical variations. In the eighteenth century, the word meant something almost completely different than what it means now.
   The concept is also a culturally and historically bounded concept. Freedom, as we understand it, is a modern invention. Its origins can be traced to the Reformation in discussions by both Martin Luther and John Calvin. However, their concept of freedom, even though it gave rise to the current concept, is vastly different.
   Your essay will be a short essay that explores the historical complexity of a term, that is, how a concept changes over time. In your essay, I'd like you to write a single paragraph where you attempt to define the meaning of "freedom" as we currently use it. To what is it applied? What contexts is it used in? In your second paragraph, I'd like you to compare your definition of the current use of the concept to Martin Luther's understanding of "freedom." In particular, I'd like you to point out how the two concepts differ. How have we departed from the Reformation concept? What do you think Luther would think of our use of the term?

Grading

   This essay is about one thing: joining two opposing concepts together. These two opposing concepts both have an identical name ("freedom"), and the one concept gives rise to the other. Your job in the first part of the essay is to make a decision about a complex concept by examining some of the contexts in which the concept is currently employed. The second part of the essay is about comparing your decision to another context which is historically based. This essay, then, is about comparison of ideas. You will be graded in how well you unify your essay, that is, how well you employ the material in the first part of your essay to its comparison in the second part. The best essays will apply every part of your discussion of the meaning of freedom to Luther's understanding of freedom; the worst essays will apply nothing from the first part of the discussion to the second part.

Learning Skills: Complex Definitions

   Attached to this assignment is a learning skills module on significance.

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