Academic journal article European Studies

European Anti-Catholicism in Comparative and Transnational Perspective the Role of a Unifying Other: An Introduction

Academic journal article European Studies

European Anti-Catholicism in Comparative and Transnational Perspective the Role of a Unifying Other: An Introduction

Article excerpt

Tales about treacherous Jesuits and scheming popes are an important and pervasive part of European culture. They belong to a set of ideas and practices that, when grouped under the label anti-Catholicism, represent a phenomenon as old as Protestantism itself. From the beginning anti-Catholicism had a transnational character, which grew up and was sustained through the widespread links that were developed during the Reformation. In the nineteenth century this took on a new aspect, when the secularist movements adopted and transformed confessional criticism in a new internationalist dimension that was articulated across the whole of Europe, as well as in North America. Secular liberals and conservatives, Protestants and others, in both predominantly Catholic or Protestant countries all used well-established negative images of the Catholic Church to position themselves politically and culturally. The widespread existence of anti-Catholicism in many different settings makes it an important object of study, and an eminent vehicle for cross-cultural comparisons (Verhoeven 2005).1

International research has emphasised the importance of anti-Catholicism for the processes of identity formation across Europe, both for established Protestant Churches and for national liberal movements. The connection between anti-Catholicism and other 'anti' movements such as antisemitism, anti-feminism, and anti-socialism has also been pointed out. Much like these movements, anti-Catholicism was a transnational cultural phenomenon, and similarly negative accusations and stereotypes regarding Catholicism existed in a number of countries. And-Catholic literature formed an international genre that spread across the European continent (Clark and Kaiser 2009; Verhoeven 2010, Borutta 2011).

The purpose of this volume is to show how different national contexts affected the proliferation of anti-Catholic messages over the course of four centuries of European history, from 1600 to 2000. Factors such as the legal status of various faiths and their opportunities for proselytising, the relation between state and church, transnational cultural relations, and the development of different media and channels for communication all provide clues as to the general patterns governing anti-Catholicism as a societal force.

In early modern European society, state and confession were intimately connected. The established religion underpinned national identity, and non-conformity to established churches was subject to legal penalties. Europe was divided into confessional spheres in accordance with the principle cuius region, eins religions, which was confirmed by the religious Peace Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and had the status of international law. Anti-Catholicism as well as anti-Protestantism was thus a part of the legal and cultural system of the time, and in several countries it was bound up closely with questions of monarchical succession. However, the question of tolerance and religious liberty was a matter of continuous debate throughout the early-modern period, which became more urgent in the later eighteenth century. Freedom of religion, proclaimed as a human right both in the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776 and in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789, was part of the modern project. It was an expression of a new way of understanding the relationship between the individual person, society and state authority; civil rights should not depend on religious affiliation and nobody should be discriminated because of religion (Rémond 1996; Ihalainen 2005).

In the nineteenth century, liberals of different shades began to see religion as a private matter. Significantly, anti-Catholicism persisted, shifting to target the Catholic Church and the papacy on matters of national integrity, progress and modernity. Protestant religious groups also maintained a guard on their identities against the charge of popery. Anti-Catholic movements were especially strong in religiously heterogeneous countries such as Germany, Swit2erland, and the Netherlands, but also played an important role in France, Italy, and other Catholic countries (Drury 2001, 98-131). …

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