Late Modern European -- German Nationalism and Religious Conflict: Culture, Ideology, Politics, 1870-1914 by Helmut Walser Smith

By Ross, Ronald J. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 1996 | Go to article overview

Late Modern European -- German Nationalism and Religious Conflict: Culture, Ideology, Politics, 1870-1914 by Helmut Walser Smith


Ross, Ronald J., The Catholic Historical Review


German Nationalism and Religious Conflict: Culture, Ideology, Politics, 1870-1914. By Helmut Walser Smith. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1995. Pp. xiii, 271.)

The Reformation of the sixteenth century and the ensuing religious wars created not a Protestant Germany but a deeply divided German Reich. Even with national unification after 1870-1871 Germany's confessional division meant that a profound religious rift ran straight through the empire. In German Nationalism and Religious Conflict, Helmut Walser Smith explores the cultural, social, and political history of this rift to assess the influence of religious division on nation-building and nationalism and to answer the question of how the German Empire created a national culture despite these religious differences.

The result is a full and consistent exploration of the religious, regional, and cultural divide that separated Germany's Catholic and Protestant worlds. To this end, Smith draws on and makes use of social science concepts and an impressive array of published and archival material (including for the first time the records of the Protestant League) to argue that Protestants and Catholics comprised separate publics divided by religious affiliations, regional affinities, cultural values, and historical experiences. These ties, experiences, and memories, he convincingly demonstrates, entered deeply into the rhetoric and imagery of the two Christian communities, shaped and molded the way in which Germans imagined their nation and constructed their national identity, and influenced the empire's numerous religious conflicts and disagreements.

What divided Protestants and Catholics, Smith contends, was not the question of "who belonged to the nation but how the nation to which both groups belonged, was to be imagined--who was to determine its history, who was to define its culture and politics, and who was to guard its memory" (p. 169). Within this religiously divided society, Smith argues, nationalism did not always ameliorate tensions between the two confessions. …

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