Letter from the Editors: June 2013

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 19, Number 2 (June 2013)

Letter from the Editors: June 2013

By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University College

Dear friends,

Four church fathers in the Stiftskirche St. Goar, Germany
Four church fathers in the Stiftskirche St. Goar, Germany

Once again I am delighted to announce the new issue of Contemporary Church History Quarterly. This June issue is somewhat shorter than past issues, in large part because many of the members of the CCHQ editorial board are busy preparing for our upcoming conference, “Reassessing Contemporary Church History,” coming up this July 25-27 in Vancouver, BC (Steven Schroeder’s conference announcement has all the details).

This issue features reviews on the issue of rescue via the “Büro Pfarrer Grüber” in Berlin, on the voluminous correspondence of the German Bishops in the years after 1945, on the relationship between religion and the Cold War, and on religious transformation in the modern world. In addition, there are two shorter notes on recent publications, as well as the conference announcement.

We hope you enjoy this edition of Contemporary Church History Quarterly, and look forward to bringing you an extensive report from our summer conference.

On behalf of the editorial team,

Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University College


Review of Hartmut Ludwig, An der Seite der Entrechteten und Schwachen: Zur Geschichte des “Büro Pfarrer Grüber” (1938 bis 1940) und der Ev. Hilfsstelle für ehemals Rasseverfolgte nach 1945

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 19, Number 2 (June 2013)

Review of Hartmut Ludwig, An der Seite der Entrechteten und Schwachen: Zur Geschichte des “Büro Pfarrer Grüber” (1938 bis 1940) und der Ev. Hilfsstelle für ehemals Rasseverfolgte nach 1945 (Berlin: Logos Verlag, 2009), Pp. 195, ISBN 978-3832521264.

By John S. Conway, University of British Columbia

Ludwig-AnderSeiteThe record of the German Evangelical Churches, including the Confessing Church of Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in failing to mobilize opposition to the Nazis’ violent attacks on the Jews is a shameful one. It has been excellently researched in the recent book by Robert Ericksen, Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany. In the post-1945 period, when the horrifying facts of the Holocaust were revealed, the Church was overwhelmed with a deep feeling of guilty shame. The subject was to be avoided. It took many years before the details emerged of one of the more significant, if belated, efforts in the Protestant ranks, namely the establishment in 1938 of an office to assist the persecuted Protestant victims of Nazi oppression. Hartmut Ludwig’s contribution in retelling the story of the “Büro Grüber” is therefore much to be welcomed.

By 1938 the escalation of Nazi violence had alarmed many individual churchmen, including Bishop George Bell in England, who was deeply concerned for those Protestant pastors of Jewish extraction, who were now threatened with eviction or discrimination. Bell sent his sister-in-law, Laura Livingstone, to work with the Quakers in Berlin and to provide, at a minimum, advice about resettlement and emigration. But the German church authorities, including those of the Confessing Church, were still too eager not to offend their political masters, and refused any engagement on this issue. Not until the summer of 1938 was Pastor Heinrich Grüber designated as contact person for a nation-wide network to offer guidance and assistance to Protestant church members of Jewish descent. Grüber was in charge of a parish in eastern Berlin, where he had been much engaged in social work. Since he could not expect any approval from the church bureaucracy, he decided to set up his own independent office. He called for help from a group of lay persons of both sexes from the local parishes, almost all of whom were themselves drawn from the target group of Protestants of Jewish origin.

The onslaughts of the notorious “Crystal Night” pogrom in early November impelled Grüber to take immediate and unauthorized steps to provide assistance to those victims who needed to emigrate from Germany as soon as possible. Many of the Christians of Jewish descent had expected that since they were not part of the Jewish community and, in many cases, had not been for many years, they would be exempt. “Crystal Night” destroyed this illusion. Grüber’s office now found itself overwhelmed with applicants. Grüber himself travelled to England in December to see what opportunities existed for Christians of Jewish origin to emigrate there. In the following months, until the outbreak of war in September 1939, his office expedited as many cases as they could, although the exact numbers are unclear. He also recruited over thirty assistants to help with the complicated paper work required to overcome the bureaucratic obstacles preventing the emigrants from leaving Germany.

Despite their plans to expel the Jews as quickly as possible, the Nazi authorities’ hostility to anyone who sympathised with the plight of Jews only increased. The escalation of military operations from 1939 to 1941 made emigration opportunities ever more difficult. Grüber’s educational and social work had to be stopped. In late 1940 the first deportations of Jews from Germany were begun to Poland and also to southern France. Grüber was alarmed but powerless to prevent these vindictive measures. In December 1940 the Gestapo peremptorily ordered his office to be closed, while he himself was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen. The office files were confiscated and later destroyed. In September 1941 all Jews were ordered to wear the Yellow Star, and in October the Gestapo prohibited any further Jewish emigration from Germany. Instead they were to be deported to unknown destinations in the east. Fourteen of Grüber’s co-workers were among those deported and subsequently murdered in one concentration camp or another. The author gives each of them a short biographical tribute on the basis of carefully-reconstituted evidence.

Fortunately, Pastor Grüber himself survived, and already in June 1945 was back in Berlin determined to continue to care for the very few remaining Jewish Protestants, some of whom had been in hiding, and others married to non-Jews in the so-called “privileged marital status”. All of them needed help to rebuild their shattered lives. And many had to contend with the wounding disparagements of neighbours who still maintained the prejudices of the previous regime. The new Protestant church authorities refused to acknowledge any special responsibility towards those who had been so let down by their predecessors. The task of combating anti-Semitism remained.

In the post-war years Grüber achieved renown as the Provost of Berlin, and for nine years the chief negotiator for the Protestant Church with the Communist government in East Berlin. But he also saw to it that his relief agency for assistance to the formerly racially persecuted continued to operate, even after Berlin was politically divided. The agency still exists, helping with restitution cases, supporting old age homes, and fighting racial prejudices. It is a continuing obligation in Grüber’s memory.

Harmut Ludwig began his researches on this topic twenty-five years ago, while he was a graduate student at the Humboldt University in East Berlin. After the fall of Communism, he was able to gather new sources on both sides of the former Berlin Wall, as well as to interview survivors, their relatives, or the relatives of victims. The record of the dangers and, often, calamitous disasters which befell these victims of Nazi ruthlessness is now more or less complete. But so too is the evidence of the dedication and compassion shown by Grüber and his assistants, who constantly strove to follow their role model of the Good Samaritan, and thereby to atone, if only in part, for the scandalous dereliction of the wider Church.


Review of Akten deutscher Bischöfe seit 1945, Kommission für Zeitgeschichte

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 19, Number 2 (June 2013)

Review of Akten deutscher Bischöfe seit 1945, Kommission für Zeitgeschichte

Ulrich Helbach (Bearbeitet), Akten deutscher Bischöfe seit 1945: Westliche Besatzungszonen, 1945 – 1947, I (Paderborn: Schöningh Verlag, 2012), 764 pp.

Ulrich Helbach (Bearbeitet), Akten deutscher Bischöfe seit 1945: Westliche Besatzungzonen, 1945 – 1947, II (Paderborn: Schöningh Verlag, 2012),  pp. 765- 1495.

Annette Mertens (Bearbeitet), Akten deutscher Bischöfe seit 1945: Westliche Besatzungszonen und Gründung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1948/1949 (Paderborn: Schöningh Verlag, 2010), 901 pp.

By Mark Edward Ruff, St. Louis University

By any measure, these three volumes, Documents of the German Bishops since 1945, represent a massive achievement. Spanning the years 1945 to 1949, these collections of primary-source materials from the three western zones of occupation in Germany appear in the highly-regarded documentary editions of the  “Blue Series” put out by the German Catholic historical association, die Kommission für Zeitgeschichte (or Association of Contemporary History.) These volumes are integral parts in a new seven-volume documentary series for the postwar era, for which two additional volumes, including a separate volume for the Soviet occupation, will appear  in the coming years. These seven volumes represent the continuation of a series of documentary editions begun in 1968 by the researcher Bernhard Stasiewski and carried through to the year 1945 by the historian Ludwig Volk, SJ, in 1985.

Helbach-AktenThe research behind these editions is tremendous. These three tomes collectively occupy approximately 2400 pages and bring together nearly 725 documents from more than fifty archives, including more than 40 church archives in Germany, German state archives, private papers and two archives from the United States.  Before making their final selections, the archivists and research teams assisting them had to wade through thousands of folders of documents and pre-select more than two thousand documents for possible inclusion. The documents themselves include correspondence and addresses not only in German but also in English, French and Latin, as the bishops were in regular correspondence with occupation officials from the Western Allies and the Vatican.  Fortunately, the two editors, Dr. Ulrich Helbach, the director of the archive for the archdiocese of Cologne, and Dr. Annette Mertens of the Kommission für Zeitgeschichte, ensured that adept translations into German were provided for the foreign documents.

This brief description should make clear that these three volumes are far more than a simple compendium of documents hastily slapped together. The editors intended these to provide not just a launching pad but a sure-proof foundation for significant research into the Roman Catholic Church’s past in the immediate postwar era. Helbach’s two volumes resemble a biblical concordance thanks to his cross-references to other documents, short biographical sketches of the documents’ authors and subjects, descriptions of these documents’ origins and discussions of other versions of individual letters.

These three volumes overflow with primary-source material because the Roman Catholic Church arguably reached the zenith of its political power and influence in the immediate postwar years. At a time when other political authorities had collapsed, both churches emerged as mouthpieces for the defeated German nations and regular negotiators with the Western Allies over charged questions of refugees, prisoners of war, food rations, war trials, denazification and educational reform. Dozens of these documents testify to the sometimes cordial but more often than not rancorous discussions over these subjects; many were resolved in a manner not always to the church’s immediate liking but to its ultimate and long-term favor.

At the same time, these documents also shed light into the process of reconstruction both on the ecclesiastical and national level. They show how church leaders approached the rebuilding of churches, ancillary organizations dissolved by the Nazis, political parties, including the CDU, CSU and the Center Party. Few of these efforts at rebuilding proceeded without conflict. In some cases, they summoned up intra-denominational rifts and tensions dating back to the Weimar era. In other cases, they led to feuds with leaders from ideologically hostile political parties, including the Social Democratic Party, the liberals and the Communists. Debates over the confessional nature of the public school system and the validity of the Reichskonkordat on the floors of the Parliamentary Council meeting in Bonn between September 1948 and May 1949 underscored just how contested the political agenda of the church could be. Its efforts to enshrine into the new West German constitution guaranteeing parents the rights to send their children to schools segregated confessionally (at least in theory) foundered on the opposition of the liberals, Communists and socialists. Mertens accordingly makes the Roman Catholic contributions to the West German Basic Law a chief focus, with all of the messiness, wrangling and politicking that the work on this constitution entailed.

To their credit, the editors make no effort to whitewash the past. They include voices critical of the church as well as documents that do not always present church leaders at their finest.  Helbach, for instance, included one English-language report found in the papers of John Riedl at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Riedl was an American occupation official who interviewed four of the German bishops, including Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne, Archbishop Lorenz Jaeger of Paderborn, Bishop Johannes Dietz of Fulda and Bishop Albert Stohr of Mainz, during the meeting of the Fulda Bishops Conference between August 19 and 21, 1947.  His fellow occupation official, Richard G. Akselrad, asked for their response to a critical article by Eugen Kogon in the Frankfurter Hefte, the journal Kogon co-edited with Walter Dirks.  Kogon  argued that the German church leaders, “should have defended their stand during the Third Reich with more courage and determination.” Kogon was a concentration camp survivor, and Stohr attempted to diminish Kogon’s witness by casting doubt on the motives of many concentration camp inmates. Few were genuine martyrs, he argued: “Many of them were thrown in concentration camps against their will as a result of indirect utterances and secret actions. Also, many of them became victims of their own imprudence and rashness which have nothing to do with courage. I am far from counting Dr. Kogon among the latter. I know him personally very well and value him highly as a courageous and true Catholic. But I have the impression that this article is the expression of a concentration camp psychosis which had not remained without influence even on such a sharp and analytic mind as Dr. Kogon’s.”

In sum, these volumes are a must-have for any serious research library. They come with a staggering price-tag–216 Euro alone for Helbach’s two volumes and 138 Euros for Merten’s work–but they are an investment worth making for any university library. They provide neither an apology nor a denunciation of the church’s conduct in the immediate postwar era. Rather, they serve as a meticulous and indispensable foundation for rigorous scholarship.


Review of Philip E. Muehlenbeck, ed., Religion and the Cold War: A Global Perspective

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 19, Number 2 (June 2013)

Review of Philip E. Muehlenbeck, ed., Religion and the Cold War: A Global Perspective, (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2012), xxii + 314 Pp., ISBN 978-0-8265-1853-8.

By Matthew D. Hockenos, Skidmore College

Religion and the Cold War: A Global Perspective is a collection of essays that establishes not only that religion influenced Cold War disputes and policies in significant ways but more importantly that the Cold War was profoundly religious in nature. The very fact that the Cold War was not a “hot” war but rather a war between competing ideologies and systems of governance meant that victories were won not on the battlefield but rather by convincing peoples and states that life was better, freer, and more fulfilling on one side or the other of the Iron Curtain. Consequently, it was advantageous for Americans and West Europeans to contrast their devotion to Christian values and the free expression of religious belief with Communism’s repression of religion and spiritual bankruptcy. For the Western Allies, the Cold War was from the very start conceived of as both a war over religion and a religious war. Although this review will not address the global manifestations of the role of religion in the Cold War, one way that this collection breaks new ground is by expanding the traditional focus on the Christian Churches in Europe and America to examine some states affected by the Cold War in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, where Christianity was not always the dominant religion.

Muehlenbeck-ReligionThree essays from this collection that focus on the Catholic and Protestant churches in Europe and America will be of particular interest to CCHQ readers. In his essay, “The Western Allies, German Churches, and the Emerging Cold War in Germany, 1948-1952,” JonDavid Wyneken maintains that the political leaders in the US, Britain, the Soviet Union, and in East and West Germany paid close attention to the stance of German church leaders and at times shaped their policies with the churches in mind. At the end of WWII the German churches believed that they deserved a prominent role in postwar reconstruction and promoted themselves to the Allies as offering a faith-based alternative to the appeals of atheistic Communism. Although the Allies, especially the Americans, found this appealing, they refused to grant the churches the comprehensive role they desired and imposed harsh occupation and denazification programs in their zones of occupation. Church leaders voiced strong opposition to what they called “victors’ justice” and bemoaned that the Western Allies were just making Communism more appealing to a desperate and disgruntled population.

As the Cold War heated up American policy shifted its focus from punishing Germany to addressing the Communist threat in Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe. The Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, and the Anglo-American response to the Berlin Blockade all made clear the West’s commitment to fighting Communism. Under the leadership of Konrad Adenauer, Catholics in Germany, the vast majority of whom lived in the western zones, rallied behind the new anti-Communist policy and eventually embraced the division of Germany between East and West and the rearming of West Germany. Many Protestant leaders, however, undermined American objectives by refusing to offer their full endorsement of the anti-Communist policies of the West and instead advocated a dialogue between East and West. Distressed by the prospect dividing Protestant lands between two Germanies, they hoped to avoid or undo division and rearmament. Even a staunch anti-Communist like Bishop Dibelius of Berlin, who criticized Communist control of youth activities and political arrests of religious leaders, championed a less aggressive approach toward the East German state fearing reprisals against Protestants in the Eastern zone. He offered to mediate between Adenauer and Ulbricht but this never materialized.

Far more critical of the Allies were Protestants who gathered around the leadership of Martin Niemöller, Karl Barth, and Gustav Heinemann. They earned the wrath of American policy makers because of their vocal opposition to Adenauer’s leadership, the division of Germany, and rearmament. They advocated neutrality and reunification. East German authorities and the USSR believed that they could use Niemöller’s soft stance on Communism to their advantage. The Western Allies worried that Niemöller and his colleagues had become dupes and sought to win over more conservative Protestants. The 1951 Protestant Kirchentag in Berlin heightened their concerns when Wilhelm Pieck, the East German president, gave a speech at its opening calling for unification. Adding fuel to the fire, Niemöller traveled to Moscow in January 1952 at the invitation of the Russian Orthodox patriarch. He said his visit was for ecumenical purposes and that he had undertaken the trip to promote peace through church channels. When he returned he reported on the vitality of Russian church life. Washington was not happy. Adenauer was furious. Bishop Meiser was apoplectic. One Bundestag member ridiculed Niemöller’s visit and called the Moscow patriarch “nothing more than Hitler’s Reichbischof Mueller.”

With the rejection of the Stalin Note by the Western Allies in the spring of 1952, the Russians and East Germans no longer needed to court the churches or cultivate Dibelius and Niemöller for publicity. The election of Eisenhower in 1953 and the crushing of the June 1953 East Berlin uprising just solidified the complete break between East and West and any chance that Germany would act as a bridge between the two sides as Niemöller had hoped. Wyneken concludes that, “Although this series of events ended any ability of the German churches to independently affect changes in East-West relations, the Western Allies continued to believe that both church bodies could still play a role in undermining Communism in East Germany.”

If Niemöller’s refusal to condemn Communism and to endorse the Christian West in the early years of the Cold War caused headaches for many of his church colleagues, they could be grateful that they did not have Hewlett Johnson the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral as a colleague. David Ayers’ essay, “Hewlett Johnson: Britain’s Red Dean and the Cold War,” describes Johnson as an ardent Communist who failed completely to grasp the true nature of Communism despite the growing list of well-documented crimes and atrocities carried out by Stalin and other Communist leaders. Although he never joined the British Communist Party, he repeatedly praised Stalin and believed that Communism was the practical realization of Christianity.

Appointed Dean (not Archbishop) of Canterbury in 1931 by Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald, Johnson could not be fired and remained in the position of relative importance until 1963 when he retired at the age of 89. His colleagues in the Anglican Church frequently tried to oust him from his position but he always refused to resign.

Communist countries understood his usefulness in improving the image of Communism and invited him frequently to dinners and public events. He was a popular and frequent contributor in the public sphere in England and America, where spoke to large audiences on the affinity between Communism and Christianity. He praised Stalin’s anti-racism, nationalist policy, and the 1936 constitution, which Johnson called, “the most liberal the world has yet seen.” He ignored any reports that mentioned Stalin’s reign of terror and he claimed that religion could be practiced relatively freely in the USSR and Eastern Bloc. He also defended the Left’s attacks on the Church by arguing that the Church was sometimes on the wrong side.  Foreigners often confused his position as dean with that of the archbishop and so thought he was speaking on behalf of the Anglican Church.

When Hitler invaded Russia in 1941 and Russia became England’s ally, Johnson was in great demand as a speaker and was able to say, “I told you so” to his many critics. His position was further boosted by Stalin’s friendly overtures to the Orthodox Church in 1943, when Stalin restored the Moscow Patriarchate. Johnson went to Moscow in May 1945 to celebrate Russia’s victory.

Like Niemöller, he tried to foster good relations between East and West after the war. But unlike Niemöller, Johnson made patently absurd claims about Communism and sided unapologetically every time with Communist regimes. Although Niemöller was sometimes referred to as “Germany’s Red Dean,” the two men had very little in common. In contrast to Niemöller, Johnson’s thought progressed very little in his lifetime and had very little influence on the Cold War strategy of either the Anglican Church or the British Government. From the time of the Russian Revolution until his death in 1966 his loyalty to Moscow never wavered. Ayer’s concludes, “He essentially regarded religious freedom as secondary to the progression toward Communism.”

Jonathan P. Herzog’s essay, “From Sermon to Strategy: Religious Influence on the Formation and Implementation of US Foreign Policy in the Early Cold War,” makes the case most convincingly that religion was central to Cold War strategy, at least for the United States. He begins his excellent essay with the anecdote of the US in 1953 launching 1000’s of balloons bearing Bible verses over the skies of Eastern Europe with the hope that oppressed Eastern Europeans would find some solace from the verses or perhaps even inspire some to rebel against their Communist oppressors. Although two fundamentalist Protestant radio preachers conceived the project, it was the recently inaugurated President Eisenhower who rescued the project from the trashcans of the State Department and gave the project his authorization. Although the balloon project seems small and insignificant, it demonstrates the extent to which the president had come to view the religious struggle between East and West as an integral part of the Cold War. As Herzog argues, with Eisenhower’s imprimatur, “the balloons became less the half-backed notion of two evangelists and more the long arm of US foreign policy.”

Herzog shows how it was religious leaders from various denominations who first interpreted Communism as a type of religion. In the 1930s church leaders from Cardinal Spellman to Billy Graham, “portrayed Communism as a spiritual threat and bemoaned the secularization sapping US society of its sacred vigor.” Communism was an “arch-heresy” that had its own missionaries, theologians, songs, and faith.

Policy makers such as George Kennan, Paul Nitze and John Foster Dulles as well as presidents Truman and Eisenhower were thoroughly convinced by this reasoning. They picked up on the narrative created by religious leaders and portrayed the Cold War as a war between the Godless and Satanic Communists and the God-fearing and God-loving Americans. Various policies, strategies, and tactics were developed to translate this belief into foreign policy. As early as January 1946 position papers were circulated within the security community that viewed the USSR as a nation with a Messianic goal that held great appeal for people suffering the effects of a devastating war. Nitze in 1950 maintained that the Soviets were “animated by a fanatical faith.” In this “perverted faith” Communist society “becomes God, and submission to the will of God becomes submission to the will of the system.” Truman’s Psychological Strategy Board declared that, “The potentialities of religion as an instrument for combating Communism are universally tremendous.” And Eisenhower campaigned on the belief that, “our battle against Communism is a fight between anti-God and a belief in the almighty?”

Herzog concludes that alongside the military-industrial complex created by Truman and Eisenhower there was a “religious-industrial complex” that consisted of “a fusion of religious ideas, national resources, and state policy.”


Review of Wilhelm Damberg, ed., Soziale Strukturen und Semantiken des Religiösen im Wandel

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 19, Number 2 (June 2013)

Review of Wilhelm Damberg, ed., Soziale Strukturen und Semantiken des Religiösen im Wandel (Essen: Klartext, 2011), 224 Pp.

Originally reviewed for H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online (H-German).

By Lauren N. Faulkner, University of Notre Dame

Religious Transformations in the Post-War World

In 2003, an interdisciplinary group of historians, theologians, sociologists, and educators in religious studies met at Bochum University, one of Germany’s pre-eminent research institutions, to commence an ambitious study of religious processes of transformation. In addition to religion, their specific focus was die Moderne, usually translated as “the modern” and, insofar as its definition is concerned, much open to debate in any language. With the support of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), this collection of essays, Soziale Strukturen und Semantiken des Religiösen im Wandel, edited by Wilhelm Damberg (Essen, 2011) is deliberately presented as an interim account [Zwischenbilanz] focused on the German republic. The larger research project is meant to produce several more volumes in the coming years, moving beyond the current volume’s chronological framework (1949-1989) as well as embracing transnational perspectives.

Damberg, a professor of church history at Bochum, edited the volume with the aid of Frank Bösch, Lucian Hölscher (who provides the final essay on secularization), Traugott Jähnichen, Volkhard Krech, and Klaus Tenfelde, who passed away shortly after its publication. Damberg is the author of the very detailed introduction, in which he both sketches the broad contours of the Bochum group’s project and offers useful overviews of the essays and their place within the larger context of the project. In pursing an investigation of the transformation of religion in Germany after the Second World War, several themes run concurrently through the essays: the sociology of religion, including analyses of the processes of secularization, democratization and privatization; the emergence of “new histories” and their attention to religion (as opposed to older histories, particularly of West Germany, which treated religion as a separate, unintegrated chapter); and theological developments, innovations, and controversies, including the impact of Vatican II and the attempts of the Protestant churches to come to terms with the recent German past.

Damberg-SozialeMany of the authors offer inter-denominational (that is, Protestant and Catholic) comparison, with an emphasis on the rise and influence of mass media, and the nature of the discourse about the role of religion and spirituality in the daily lives of individuals, including its participants and changes over time. These reflect the ambitions of the larger Bochum project: to produce a detailed examination of the religious sphere and its gradual change over the years and decades since the last world war, and to evaluate the multiple influences of geography, gender dynamics, political contexts, economic realities, and the fluctuating strengths and weaknesses of ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical institutions. Above all, the project highlights the interdependence of the social and the cultural worlds, which are treated as concurrent, overlapping spheres rather than distinct entities. The processes and influences under consideration are situated in a six-point matrix that has a vertical dimension, divided into macro-, meso- and micro-levels, and two broad sociological dimensions, semantics and social structures (a helpful diagram is provided on 23).

The essays themselves can be grouped into three distinct categories. In the first, devoted to religious socialization, Dimitrej Owetschkin takes on the changing role of priests, pastors, and the “priestly image.” Markus Hero examines the evolution of alternative religious forms, including non-institutional spiritual movements of the private, popular, and individual natures. Although Owetschkin and Hero are focusing on very different actors – one the lower clergy of institutional churches, the other new and unprecedented spiritual figures who had nothing to do with these churches – both locate the 1960s as an important nexus of the necessary transformative processes. Social engagement and criticism, a growing sense of “world responsibility”, the need for the churches to become more expansive and horizontal, and less vertical (concentrated on hierarchy and authority), the drop in the number of regular church-goers, and the growth of the service industry are a few of the several factors that Owetschkin and Hero cite in their analyses.

The second category deals with changes in the “business” of religion. Andreas Henkelmann and Katharina Kunter’s article examines the breaks with tradition in the fields of charity work and social welfare. Uwe Kaminsky and Henkelmann continue the study of social welfare trends in looking at the evolution of psychological counseling, and the emergence of church-run counselor services in the 1950s as a new kind of charity. Rosel Oehmen-Vieregge investigates the development of women’s synods across (Western) Europe from the 1970s on. Sebastian Tripp’s article confronts the challenge of globalization to the institutional churches, the impact of decolonization on church missions, and changing perceptions of the Third World. Initiatives and pressures external to church leadership play a key role in each article. For Kunter, Kaminsky, and Henkelmann (who co-authored both pieces on welfare and charity), church-run organizations and clergy remained intrinsic to these kinds of operations, but demands for professionalization and the availability of new kinds of education, particularly in the discipline of psychology, meant increased involvement of lay professionals, including women. Oehmen-Vieregge underscores the role that women played in becoming more active in church life via the formation of various women’s synods from the 1970s to the first decade of the twenty-first century, and Tripp follows with an analysis of the new initiatives and kinds of legitimacy that emerged among Third-World groups and missions after the disintegration of the colonial world. None of these articles goes so far as to suggest that traditional church leadership was overtly challenged, but all point to various new agents who had little to no relationship with church leaders, who gained mounting influence in operations that for decades had been under the prerogative of the churches.

The final category considers religion in the age of mass media and “the public” [die Öffentlichkeit]. Sven-Daniel Gettys discusses changes in church policy regarding journalism and information sharing. Thomas Mittmann examines the ways in which the traditional churches attempted to maintain their social influence while simultaneously acknowledging the need for increased democratization through the use of popular events and the introduction of new liturgies and worship services. Nicolai Hannig studies the role of the media in shaping religious beliefs in an age of rapidly-developing media technology. Benjamin Städter’s article a good complement to Hannig’s, focusing on the production of visual images of Vatican II and their proliferation and impact. Whereas Gettys and Mittman are interested in exploring the self-perception of the institutional churches by looking at hierarchical attitudes towards different forms of media, journalism, and church congresses, Hannig and Städter focus on the types of media that have tried to make the churches and religion more accessible, via documentaries, opinion polls, and the magazine Stern’s public survey about religion in 1965, and via the publication and dispersal of photographs of popes, the church hierarchy, and the opening of Vatican II.

Lucian Hölscher’s article serves as a conclusion to the volume, examining various understandings of the slippery term “secularization” during the long 1960s. Hölscher’s investigation of the idea of secularization provides a terminological reflection on a word that appears in most of the essays in the volume, introducing the reader to a brief history of the term and suggesting that, if we accept that “secularization” is one of the twentieth century’s central concepts, more study must be conducted on the relationship between state and society in view of the religious sphere (and not merely on the social aspects of religion and the churches).

Readers should be aware of what the book is not: it is not a series of essays about people themselves who effected change. This volume deals with concepts – the transformation of semantics and structures, as the title indicates – rather than individuals. The authors are focused on processes and shifts over time in beliefs, attitudes, and modes of expression about religion and faith. There are very few named individuals, and none at all who serve as the explicit subject or focus of a study. The result is a volume that is oddly bereft of people, despite its interest in the ways people individually (the micro-level, as stipulated in the introduction) and collectively (the meso- and macro-levels) experience and communicate about religion.

The book’s self-proclaimed aim, to study religious transformation in the modern era, means that its subject is large, ambitious, and not uncontroversial. And admittedly, there are some gaps. Damberg concedes in the introduction that the absence of East Germany in this study is notable, though he points to separate studies that are in the works. Yet the volume’s attention to comparison, and the willingness of some of the essays to discuss the post-1990 period, leaves the reader thirsting for an idea of what was going on with East Germans and how they contributed to the post-1990 happenings. With few exceptions – Oehmen-Vieregge mentions the participation of Muslim women in some women’s gatherings; Hero discusses non-traditional spiritual figures, including gurus, shamans, and astrologers – the “religious sphere” is confined to and defined by the Christian religions, leaving one impatient for the volumes (which are forthcoming) dealing with non-Christian ones, particularly the impact of Muslims and Jews in Germany in the last third of the twentieth century.

One may also criticize the book for being jargon-heavy, though the authors do provide definitions and explanations, sometimes quite detailed, especially if the word is controversial, of most of the terms in use (Eventisierung, featured prominently in Mittmann’s article, may be the only concept that has no ready English equivalent). In fact, this exercise in probing definitions is one of the book’s true strengths, since it invites the reader to rethink and challenge longstanding assumptions about different aspects of religious change in the twentieth century. In selecting “transformation” as the leitmotif of the book, normative concepts are destabilized, poked and prodded, and interrogated in innovative and enlightening ways. While the definition of words like modernization and secularization remain variable, their meaning and impact on events and people, from psychologists and journalists to parish priests and pastors, is made clearer. Other terms, including liberalization, democratization, and pluralization, are given added coherence as individual articles demonstrate how they emerged to become important vehicles of change over time.

The book is also a successful example of distinctive approaches to the same subject: it is a solid showcase for effective interdisciplinary research and writing. The various methodologies emphasize the different research fields and specialties of the authors, who hold degrees in sociology, history, theology, philosophy, economics, and political philosophy. A list of publications of these authors is included at the back; perhaps in future volumes, a list of short author biographies will also be included (biographies of authors for this book are found easily online, on the DFG-Forschergruppe website dedicated to the Bochum Project). Because of the different questions, agendas, and research tools on display in these articles, they yield a multi-faceted, detailed, broad-reaching book that stays true to its core mission: underscoring the displacement, alteration, and relocation of church infrastructure in West Germany between 1949 and 1989, and the instabilities in and changes to religious meaning and interpretation. Moreover, the authors do not attempt to offer the final word on any of the subjects under consideration; this is the opening of a discussion rather than its conclusion. If this book sets the standard for the Bochum Project’s coming volumes, which the editor insists will expand beyond the borders of West Germany and Europe, and beyond the four-decade timeframe featured here, then a significant new series is in the making, and anyone with an interest in the relationship between society and religion needs to take notice.


Book Note: Annemarie S. Kidder, ed., Ultimate Price. Testimonies of Christians Who Resisted the Third Reich

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 19, Number 2 (June 2013)

Book Note: Annemarie S. Kidder, ed., Ultimate Price. Testimonies of Christians Who Resisted the Third Reich (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012), 177 Pp., ISBN 9781570759550.

By John S. Conway, University of British Columbia

kidder-ultimateThis short selection of texts written by seven notable Germans who resisted the Nazi onslaught against their Christian faith will be a helpful introduction for beginners in this field. While the testimonies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer have been known in English translation for many years, it is good to have these brief and excellently translated extracts from the writings of lesser known figures, such as Sophie Scholl, the Munich student executed for her protests against Nazi totalitarianism, or of Jochen Klepper, the well-known novelist, who committed suicide with his Jewish wife in 1942. On the Catholic side, the Jesuit Father Alfred Delp was also executed for his involvement with the July 1944 plot to overthrow Hitler. His prison letters are, like Bonhoeffer’s, an inspiring witness to his enduring faith. Less known to English-speaking readers will be the testimony of Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian farmer, executed for his refusal to serve in Hitler’s army, or the courageous stand of the Berlin Cathedral Provost, Bernhard Lichtenberg, who prayed publicly for the persecuted Jews and for the prisoners in concentration camps, for which he was arrested and sent to prison. The only survivor, the Jesuit Father Rupert Mayer, was already arrested in 1937 for his provocative sermons critical of the regime. His refusal to be silenced led to his being imprisoned again in 1938, and then to being placed under house arrest in a distant monastery in 1940. The common theme of all these witnesses was their determination to protest against the injustices of the Nazi regime, even though their motives for doing so varied widely. They were all well aware of their isolation in adopting such views, but were resolved to defend the integrity of their Christian beliefs. Their readiness to challenge the majority’s obeisance, gullibility or fearfulness is what makes these testimonies so compelling. This little book will undoubtedly help to uphold their memory among a wider public, in the hope that their sacrifices will resonate far beyond their own times or their original homeland.


Article Note: Benjamin Pearson, “The Pluralization of Protestant Politics: Public Responsibility, Rearmament, and Division at the 1950s Kirchentage”

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 19, Number 2 (June 2013)

Article Note: Benjamin Pearson, “The Pluralization of Protestant Politics: Public Responsibility, Rearmament, and Division at the 1950s KirchentageCentral European History 43 (2010), 270-300.

By Matthew D. Hockenos, Skidmore College

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-25414-0111 / CC-BY-SA
Kirchentag 1954 in Leipzig. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-25414-0111 / CC-BY-SA

After WWII and twelve years of Nazi rule Catholic and Protestant church leaders in Germany agreed that at the center of Germany’s reconstruction needed to be a renewal of Christian values. They urged church members to take active, personal responsibility for political life. This was an especially strong sentiment among members of the former Confessing Church. The churches participated in the establishment of the Christian Democratic Union so that Christian values could have a more influential role in the political sphere and Reinhold von Thadden-Trieglaff founded the Kirchentag in 1949 to strengthen the faith and public responsibility of Protestant laity. Although Catholics and Protestants co-existed in the CDU it was in the late 1940s and early 1950s an uncomfortable co-existence because they differed on several issues, such as division, rearmament, and confessional schools. Adenauer’s policies challenged Christian unity. He won over Catholics and many conservative Protestants but lost the Protestant Left associated with Karl Barth, Gustav Heinemann, and Martin Niemöller. Pearson traces the manifestations of this split in the political debates that took place in the 1950s Kirchentage. The debates in the early 1950s were so caustic that “rather than promoting public responsibility and Christian unity for the transformation of German society, the churches were instead tearing themselves apart.” Eventually, however, the split among Protestants, he argues, forced the Protestant Church “to accept-even embrace-the liberal democratic value of political pluralism.” Protestants from both sides came to see political disagreement and debate as a positive sign of a working democracy.