Facebook and Martin Luther

Media Technology, Accessibility, and Expertise in Three Dimensions


  • James W. Watts Syracuse University




media, writing, publishing, printing, social media, expertise, access, literacy, religion, politics


It is widely believed that the ease of internet publishing in the early twenty–first century has undermined respect for expertise, raising fears of interpretive anarchy in popular discourse about science, politics, and morality. The internet has increased access not only to information but also to the means of publication. The results have been intentionally and unintentionally disruptive to politics (growing demagogic nationalism) as well as to various kinds of businesses (such as newspapers). These developments, however, are not unprecedented, except perhaps in scale. They are the typical social side effects of introducing new media technologies. New media have historically fueled populist movements in religion and politics, as a review of Christian history shows. It also shows that the new media then get used to recreate methods for reasserting the interpretive authority of experts. These rival tendencies are generated by the three-dimensional nature of all written media. These social consequences are therefore intrinsic to writing’s use ever since its invention five thousand years ago.

Author Biography

James W. Watts, Syracuse University

James W. Watts is Professor of Religion at Syracuse University. He is the author of Understanding the Pentateuch as a Scripture (Wiley Blackwell, 2017) and the editor of Iconic Books and Texts (Equinox, 2013) and Sensing Sacred Texts (Equinox, 2018).


Beal, Timothy. 2011. The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Brecht, Martin. 1993. Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532–1546, volume 3. Translated by James L. Schaff. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Cantwell, Cathy. 2018. “Seeing, Touching, Holding, and Swallowing Tibetan Buddhist Texts.” In Sensing Sacred Texts, edited by J. W. Watts, 137–160. Sheffield: Equinox. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.32531 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1558/post.32531

The Economist, December 17, 2017: “Social media in the 16th Century: How Luther went viral.”

Edwards, Mark U., Jr. 2004. Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. 1979. The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communication and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe, 2 volumes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021121400026225 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021121400026225

Fea, John. 2016. The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190253066.001.0001 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190253066.001.0001

Goody, Jack. 1986. The Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511621598 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511621598

Howsom, Leslie and Scott McLaren. 2015. “Producing the Text: Production and Distribution of Popular Editions of the Bible.” In The New Cambridge History of the Bible, Volume 4, edited by John Riches, 49–81. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CHO9780511842870.005 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHO9780511842870.005

Lule, Jack. 2012. Globalization and Media: Global Village of Babel. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield.

Myrvold, Kristina. 2013. “Engaging with the Guru: Sikh Beliefs and Practices of Guru Granth Sahib.” In Iconic Books and Texts, edited by J. W. Watts, 261–281. Sheffield: Equinox.

Parmenter, Dorina Miller. 2010. “A Fitting Ceremony: Christian Concerns for Bible Disposal.” In The Death of Sacred Texts: Ritual Disposal and Renovation of Texts in World Religions, edited by K. Myrvold, 55–70. Farnham: Ashgate.

———. 2021. “Being the Bible: Sacred Bodies and Iconic Books in Bring Your Bible to School Day.” In Books as Bodies and as Sacred Beings, edited by J. W. Watts and Y. Yoo, 51–66. Sheffield: Equinox. Reprinted from Postscripts 10(1–2), (2019), 53–69. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.38256 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1558/post.38256

Pettegree, Andrew. 2005. Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511614613 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511614613

Roper, Amelie. 2017. “German Music Broadsheets, 1500–1550: Production, Persuasion and Performance.” In Broadsheets: Single-Sheet Publishing in the First Age of Print, edited by A. Pettegree, 401–441. Leiden: Brill.

Sanneh, Lamin. 2015. “Translations of the Bible and the Cultural Impulse.” In The New Cambridge History of the Bible, Volume 4, edited by John Riches, 83–125. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CHO9780511842870.006 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHO9780511842870.006

Schleicher, Marianne. 2009. “Artifactual and Hermeneutical Uses of Scripture in Jewish Tradition.” In Jewish and Christian Scripture as Artifact and Canon, edited by C. A. Evans and H. D. Zacharias, 48–65. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Standage, Tom. 2013. Writing on the Wall: Social Media – The First 2,000 Years. London: Bloomsbury.

Stern, David. 2017. The Jewish Bible: A Material History. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Suit, Natalia K. 2013. “Mus?af and the Material Boundaries of the Qur?an.” In Iconic Books and Texts, edited by J. W. Watts, 189–206. Sheffield: Equinox.

Svensson, Jonas. 2010. “Relating, Revering, and Removing: Muslim Views on the Use, Power, and Disposal of Divine Words.” In The Death of Sacred Texts: Ritual Disposal and Renovation of Texts in World Religions, edited by K. Myrvold, 31–53. Farnham: Ashgate.

Tuladhar-Douglas, Will. “Writing and the Rise of Mahayana Buddhism.” In Die Textualisierung der Religion, edited by J. Schaper, 250–272. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Watts, James W. 2017. Understanding the Pentateuch as A Scripture. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119415374 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119415374

———. 2019. How and Why Books Matter: Essays on the Social Function of Iconic Texts. Sheffield: Equinox.

Wikipedia. “Wikipedia: Citing Sources.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_sources (accessed April 8, 2021).

Wikipedia. “Wikipedia: About.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About (accessed April 8, 2021).



How to Cite

Watts, J. W. . (2021). Facebook and Martin Luther: Media Technology, Accessibility, and Expertise in Three Dimensions. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 12(1), 99–110. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.20263

Most read articles by the same author(s)