Conference Report: Panels in Honour of Hartmut Lehmann at the 39th Annual Meeting of the German Studies Association

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 21, Number 4 (December 2015)

Conference Report: Panels in Honour of Hartmut Lehmann at the 39th Annual Meeting of the German Studies Association (GSA), Washington, DC, October 1–4, 2015

by Rebecca Carter-Chand, University of Toronto

The most recent German Studies Association conference featured a series of panels that celebrated the career of renowned historian of religion, Hartmut Lehmann. Organized by Doris Bergen, Benjamin Marschke, and Jonathan Strom, the five panels and their participants reflected the wide-ranging contributions and temporal and geographic scope of Lehmann’s career. Participants included colleagues, students, and friends from Germany, Austria, Israel, Canada, and the United States.

Lehmann PosterThe panel participants began the conference with a dinner to honour Hartmut and his wife, Silke Lehmann. James Harris spoke about Hartmut’s life and career trajectory, emphasizing his close ties to the United States, which began with a high school exchange program and continued through many visiting positions at UCLA, Chicago, Harvard, and Princeton. In 1987 Lehmann became the founding director of the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC, returning to Germany in 1992 to serve as director of the Max Planck Institute for History in Göttingen. He has been professor emeritus at the University of Kiel since 2004, while continuing to visit the United States often, most recently as a visiting professor at Princeton Theological Seminary.

One thread that ran throughout the panels was Lehmann’s ability to bring people and ideas together. Sometimes it has been countries that have come together, particularly Germany, the United States, and Israel; in other cases it has been institutions, like universities, governments, and foundations. But Lehman’s own research and publications have connected different fields that typically remain separated: early modern and modern history, religious history and social history, and the history of European Christianity and global Christianity, to name but a few.

The first panel, chaired by Peter Becker and commented on by Robert Ericksen, offered a timely reflection on Luther memory and commemoration—a topic on the minds of many historians in anticipation of the 2017 Luther year. Greta Kroeker’s paper discussed Luther’s relationship with Christian humanists and the implications of their very different views on eschatology. Christopher Close examined the first centennial Luther commemoration in 1617, contrasting local commemoration in Strasbourg and Ulm. He showed how commemoration was instrumentalized to shape a particular memory of the Reformation. Manfred Gailus contextualized Luther’s “On Jews and their Lies” within German Protestantism during the Nazi period, warning us not to overemphasize Luther’s infamous tract in shaping German Protestants’ antisemitism. Thomas Brady also considered the instrumentalization of Luther by discussing three different constructions of Luther: Luther as a Protestant hero by nineteenth century liberals; Luther as a German reactionary by nineteenth century socialists; and finally Luther as a teacher of progressive politics in the GDR.

The second panel, chaired by Richard Wetzell, with a comment by Doris Bergen, engaged the notion of secularization, suggesting some level of skepticism about its pervasiveness with the title, “Secularization? Secularism, Religion, and Violence.” Carola Dietze’s paper was premised on the idea that usual narratives of secularization are specific to European history, and offered a very different narrative with the case of the American abolitionist John Brown. Anthony Roeber’s paper placed Hartmut Lehmann’s work in conversation with the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, discussing both scholars’ contributions in moving forward discussion on secularization. Victoria Barnett discussed the Kirchenkampf in a global context, considering how Christians outside of Germany viewed the German Church Struggle through the lens of a struggle between ethno-national religion and internationalism.

The third panel turned its attention to Pietism in a transnational context. Chaired by Kelly Whitmer and commented on by by Simon Grote, this panel included papers by Benjamin Marschke, Jonathan Strom, and Manfred Jakabowski-Thiessen. Marschke revisited the question of how to define Pietism, questioning whether we should speak of Pietism as one reform movement, and making a plea for “many pietisms.” Strom considered the role of British conversion narratives in eighteenth century German Pietism, noting that influence flowed in both directions, although more strongly from Britain to Germany. Jabobowski-Thiessen discussed the importance of networks among Pietists, in this case Württemberg Pietists in Denmark. Several of the panelists reflected on Lehmann’s contribution to Pietist studies, praising his transnational approaches.

The fourth panel, titled “Germany and America,” was chaired by Silke Lehmann; the comment was given by Andreas Daum. Martin Geyer spoke about nation building and international technical standards (including currency and standards of measurement), and the meanings that people infused into them in the nineteenth century. James Melton gave a paper on slavery, Johann Martin Bolzius, and the German-speaking Pietists who migrated to Georgia in 1734. Claudia Schnurmann’s paper explored Martin Luther in the American biographical imagination from 1799 to 1883, bringing together many of the themes from the series of panels, including Luther memory and transatlantic exchange.

The fifth panel considered Harmut Lehmann’s works and influences and was chaired by Roger Chickering. Doug Shantz offered a reassessment on Lehmann’s 1969 work, Pietismus und weltliche Ordnung in Würrtemburg. Frank Trommler spoke about “the Lehmann era in Washington” (1987-1993) and Irene Aue-Ben-David’s paper spoke to the contribution of the Max Planck Institute for History in German-Israeli research cooperation. Hartmut Lehmann concluded the panel with some brief remarks, expressing his gratitude to all of the participants and the organizers of the series of panels.