Conference Report: “Religion and Migration: Institutions and Law”

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 24, Number 4 (December 2018)

Conference Report: “Religion and Migration: Institutions and Law,” Sponsored by the Religious Cultures Network, German Studies Association, Pittsburgh, PA, September 2018.

By Christina Matzen, University of Toronto

Five scholars convened a Religious Cultures Network-sponsored panel on September 29, 2018, at the German Studies Association conference in Pittsburgh, PA. The panel consisted of presenters Rebecca Carter-Chand, James Niessen, and Christopher Stohs, while Josiah Simon delivered commentary and Benjamin Goossen moderated the panel.

Rebecca Carter-Chand began with her paper, “The Transplantation of the Salvation Army to Germany, 1886-1918.” Using the horticultural metaphor of transplantation, she traces how the London-based Salvation Army took root in Germany, developing into a “noisy” but respected organization. The 1890s proved an important decade for the German Salvation Army because its newly-adopted mission to address social reform and poor relief corresponded with Germany’s ever-increasing concern with the “social question.” It soon had a sturdy presence in major German cities and received acceptance as a social and religious German movement. Indeed, the German Salvation Army, which grew into a de facto church and social welfare agency, employed innovative strategies of evangelism that reverberated with notions of the German Volk. Thus, when war broke out in 1914, the organization would be able to survive its British parent association, in large part due to the leadership’s successful efforts at presenting itself as a patriotic German movement with an internationalist mission.

James Niessen’s paper, “The Role of Christian Churches of German Europe in the Hungarian Refugee Crisis of 1956-57,” examines the Austrian-Catholic response to the nearly 200,000 people who fled Hungary in 1956 after Soviet forces suppressed the Hungarian Revolution. Niessen argues that Austria’s assistance was altruistic but also opportunistic, as the nation sought to compensate for its role in Nazi crimes. For faith-based groups, however, he maintains that an ethical imperative took precedence over opportunism, which can be understood through scripture mandating care for the homeless. Despite religious differences among these organizations, their leadership was united in the interests of the refugees. Niessen profiles four Austrian Catholic leaders who were instrumental in aid efforts: Archbishop of Vienna Franz König; Leopold Ungar; Stefan László; and Fabian Flynn, C.P. He also notes that Protestants quickly mobilized to provide aid to Hungary and its refugees. In his conclusion, Niessen makes clear that these humanitarian reactions should also be understood in the Cold War context of Christian anti-communism.

In the final paper, “Sprich, sing und bete Deutsch: The Lyrical Campaign against the Bennett Law,” Christopher Stohs traces Wisconsin’s 1889 Bennett Law and its implications for German immigrant life in nineteenth-century America. The law made English-language instruction compulsory for reading, writing, math, and U.S. history classes. Many German-Americans in the Midwest perceived this law to be an assault on their parochial schools and thus their religious, linguistic, and cultural freedoms. Stohs examines prose and poetry that opponents of the law wrote and published in Germania, a Protestant-leaning German-language newspaper and Wisconsin’s most widely circulated periodical at the time. He argues that these pieces stoked fears in Republican Lutherans, motivating them to join forces with Democratic Catholics to repeal the Bennett Law, which they accomplished in 1891.