Global Christianity in War and Peace, 1914–45

AHA Session 134
American Catholic Historical Association 7
Friday, January 6, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Plaza Ballroom D (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Adrian Gregory, University of Oxford
Jonathan Ebel, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Session Abstract

The battle for hearts and minds was vital for understanding the experience of the world wars, 1914-1945. This panel investigates the multiple roles that religion played as an institutional arrangement, coping mechanism, and source of worldview formation during wars of global upheaval. Religion inspired consent and resistance, provided comfort and bereavement, and inflamed murderous ideologies. Grand overviews of religious violence have not offered requisite historical specificity of religious traditions at this focal point of twentieth-century history, especially over the entire course of both world wars. More specialist narratives of religion and war during this era remain trapped by focus on disparate nations, often for only one of the world wars.

This panel’s examination of Christianity foregrounds questions of global scale and chronology. Engaging with inter-religious questions, the panel’s focus on Christianity concentrates on a religion that underwent an extreme upheaval during the World Wars. During the period from 1914-1945, Christianity faced a particularly global challenge: the advance of urban secularization in nineteenth-century Europe confronted new global evangelization and missionary drives that spread the faith outside of Europe. New forms of destruction challenged fundamental assumptions about established social orders. The era of total war was thus a period of massive transformation and reorientation, with Christianity as the religious cultural worldview of the majority of the world’s believers engaged in contests of social reorganization.

The nation was a key locus of sacrifice mediating between the global and the local. This panel unpacks religious nationalism in a variety of contexts: transnational, global, imperial, local, and personal. For empirical representation, this panel emphasizes nations involved in global-imperial projects: especially Britain, France, the US, and Central/Eastern Europe. The panel focuses on hotspots of conflict: both sites in the Holy Land as well as battlefields across the globe. Fundamentally, however, the panel examines homefront and battlefront linked in total war, stressing the family histories of Christianity that go beyond typical stories of “just-war” found in standard male-centered accounts focused on clergy, thus bringing women and children into the story as religious actors. Transnational approaches add layers of analysis including new work on the emotions and the senses. Engaging recent histories on peace-making, the panel investigates how Christianity inspired transnational reconciliation through interwar and postwar Christian Democratic parties; this complements more standard stories on Christianity’s alliances with authoritarian powers that led to events such as the Spanish Civil War and the Holocaust.

Drawing on the latest specialist research from both junior and senior scholars, this AHA panel fosters global collaboration. The panel consists of scholars from the USA, UK, France, and Canada including members of the University of Oxford’s “Globalising and Localising the Great War” project.

For a broad global audience interested in religion, war, and culture, the panel engages long-term questions of religiosity from the 19th century with relevance for the contemporary world, particularly the rise of the Global South. Thus, by examining global and local Christianity during total war from 1914-1945, this panel reassesses the notion of religious tradition: as adaptive and evolutionary.

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