Media and the Protestant Reformation; and the Shroud of Turin

Someone posted this article from the Economist the other day, concerning the impact of print on Luther’s protest against Church abuses.  The analogies to current technology’s impact on social and revolutionary movements around the world–whether the Arab Spring, in the London riots (about which see a very thoughtful article by my friend Lytton Smith in the LARB), and the Occupy Wall Street movement–are very striking.  I’ve thought for some time that, despite everything we read and study concerning social and cultural change, the actual agent for such change is, in fact, technologies of communication more than anything else. Why do some ideas catch on at some times, but not before?  Why do we see such changes in political community and state power at certain times, when I would postulate that governments tend to wish for as much power and control in shaping their policies as is practical?   Ok, those are very broad, sweeping sentences, but there’s a book here somewhere…Someone must have written one of those provocative cultural/technological studies on communication and its historical impact.

On a different note, one of my pet fascinations, the Shroud of Turin, was in the news again recently. A new study, conducted by the Italian “National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development” (wow), says that the image could not have been faked, and that the only means they’ve been able to come up with for producing the exact type of the image is “with the aid of ultraviolet lasers producing extremely brief pulses of light.”  Needless to say, I don’t think they had that sort of technology in fourteenth-century France, when Geffroi de Charny acquired the Shroud.  My suspicion has long been that, well, there’s something about the Shroud that defies explanation, and I would not be surprised if it does indeed turn out to be “genuine”–whatever that term may mean.  The Church has never officially declared it a relic, which caution I find to be irrationally suggestive.  Perhaps that is just the romantic in me, desiring some kind of physical token to tantalize faith and fascinate with mystery.

But mystery, faith, anticipation, and optimism are not bad feelings with which to close the book on 2011.  I won’t be publishing any personal retrospectives on Venti Belli, though look for a rumination on professional things learned and experienced.  Look for the personal stuff on Quod Sumus.   Good night, and pax vobiscum.

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