October 31:  Thesis Day

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Today is Halloween, but the most famous individual to approach a door on this date was not dressed in a costume. The year was 1517, and the man approaching the door was a 34-year-old Augustinian monk named Martin Luther.  The door he approached was not a residence; rather, it was a church door in Wittenberg, German.  Instead of knocking on the door, Luther nailed a list of 95 theses to the church door.   It was this single act by one man that sparked a religious revolution called the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther by Cranach-restoration.tifIn the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was the dominant church in Europe.  Since Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire in 325 AD, the church had grown in both political and spiritual power.  In 1513 Leo X became Pope and began plans to rebuild St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, the headquarters of the Catholic Church.  To raise funds for this major project, the decision was made to sell indulgences, the church’s promise that an individual could escape God’s judgment in the afterlife in exchange for money in this one.

It was the act of selling indulgences as well as other corruption in the church, that sparked Martin Luther’s act of nailing his 95 theses.  As a monk lecturing at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, Luther believed that forgiveness of sins could only come from God, and that unchecked power had caused the church to lose sight of it biblical foundation.

Luther’s 95 theses, written in Latin, challenged the authority of the Pope, calling for an end to indulgences, corruption, and decadence — and a return a proper spiritual focus.

For his act, Luther was charged with heresy and was excommunicated from the church.  Luther’s cause did not die, however.  Aided by the printing press, which had been invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439, copies of Luther’s theses were circulated throughout Europe.  The “protest” movement that resulted became the Protestant Reformation, which spawned numerous Christian sects that rejected the authority of the Roman Church (1).

Just as Martin Luther stated what he believed in his 95 theses, an essay’s thesis must clearly sum up what the essay’s author believes, the writer’s core argument.

Margaret Heffernan, in her 2012 TED Talk entitled “Dare to Disagree,” emphasizes the importance of knowing what you believe and being prepared to defend and debate it.  In her talk Heffernan also alludes to students at the University of Delft, The Netherlands, who must “submit five statements that they’re prepared to defend” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Thesis Under Construction

What is a thesis — a debatable statement of what you believe — that you believe in strongly enough to defend?  Brainstorm some topics that you believe in strongly.  Then, craft five thesis statements that you would be prepared to defend.  To help you craft your theses, read the “Three Things a Thesis Does” below and make sure that each of your theses do those three things.

Three Things A Thesis Does:

  1. States a debatable claim (an opinion) – “What you believe”
  2. Provides reasoning to support the claim – “Why you believe it”
  3. Combines the “What” and the “Why” into at least one clear, complete sentence.

Examples:  

Gun control laws should be further tightened because guns do not deter crime.

Gun control laws should not be further tightened because gun control laws punish only law-abiding citizens.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Marsh, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  365:  Your Date with History.  Cambridge, UK:  Totem Books, 2004.

2-Heffernan, Margaret. Dare To Disagree. TED 2012. http://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_dare_to_disagree/transcript?language=en#t-614227.

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