Effect On Religion

Print Culture And The Modern World of Class 10

Effect On Religion

In 1517, the religious reformer Martin Luther wrote Ninety Five Theses criticising many of the practices and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. A printed copy of this was posted on a church door in Wittenberg. It challenged the Church to debate his ideas. Luther’s writings were immediately reproduced in vast numbers and read widely. This led to a division within the Church and to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s translation of the New Testament sold 5,000 copies within a few weeks and a second edition appeared within three months. Deeply grateful to print, Luther said, ‘Printing is the ultimate gift of God and the greatest one.’ Several scholars, in fact, think that print brought about a new intellectual atmosphere and helped spread the new ideas that led to the Reformation.


In the sixteenth century, Manocchio, a miller in Italy, began to read books that were available in his locality. He reinterpreted the message of the Bible and formulated a view of God and Creation that enraged the Roman Catholic Church. When the Roman Church began its inquisition to repress heretical ideas, Manocchio was hauled up twice and ultimately executed. The Roman Church; troubled by such effects of popular readings and questioning of faith, imposed severe controls over publishers and booksellers and began to maintain an Index of Prohibited Books from 1558.


Through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries literacy rates went up in most parts of Europe. Churches of different denominations set up schools in villages, carrying literacy to peasants and artisans. By the end of the eighteenth century, in some parts of Europe literacy rates were as high as 60 to 80 per cent. As literacy and schools spread in European countries, there was a virtual reading mania.

People wanted books to read and printers produced books in ever increasing numbers. New forms of popular literature appeared in print, targeting new audiences. Booksellers employed pedlars who roamed around villages, carrying little books for sale. There were almanacs or ritual calendars, along with ballads and folktales. But other forms of reading matter, largely for entertainment, began to reach ordinary readers as well. In England, penny chapbooks were carried by petty pedlars known as chapmen, and sold for a penny, so that even the poor could buy them. In France, were the ‘Bibliotheque Bleue’, which were low-priced small books printed on poor quality paper, and bound in cheap blue covers. Then there were the romances, printed on four to six pages, and the more substantial ‘histories’ which were stories about the past. Books were of various sizes, serving many different purposes and interests.

The periodical press developed from the early eighteenth century, combining information about current affairs with entertainment. Newspapers and journals carried information about wars and trade, as well as news of developments in other places.

Similarly, the ideas of scientists and philosophers now became more accessible to the common people. Ancient and medieval scientific texts were compiled and published, and maps and scientific diagrams were widely printed. When scientists like Isaac Newton began to publish their discoveries, they could influence a much wider circle of scientifically minded readers. The writings of thinkers such as Thomas Paine, Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau were also widely printed and read. Thus their ideas about science, reason and rationality found their way into popular literature.


  • Many believed that books could change the world, liberate society from despotism and tyranny, and herald a time when reason and intellect would rule. Louis-Sebastien Mercier, a novelist in eighteenth-century France, declared.
  • ‘The printing press is the most powerful engine of progress and public opinion is the force that will sweep despotism away’.
  • In many of Mercier’s novels, the heroes are transformed by acts of reading. They devour books, are lost in the world books create, and become enlightened in the process.
  • Convinced of the power of prints in bringing enlightenment and destroying the basis of despotism mercies. Proclaimed “Tremble, therefore, tyrants of the world. Tremble before these writers”.
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