Freie Universität Berlin

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Brandon Bloch, Harvard University, History

Faith for this World: Public Responsibility and the Denationalization of West German Protestantism, 1945-1980

My dissertation analyzes the transformation of the political role of Protestant churches in postwar West Germanyfrom bulwarks of conservative nationalism since the late nineteenth century to sources of left-wing politicization by the 1970sby tracing debates among Protestant intellectuals over the “public responsibility” of religion in the three decades after the Second World War. I argue that the leftward turn of the Protestant churches in the 1970s, which involved widespread Protestant participation in anti-colonial, anti-nuclear, and international peace movements, had its roots in a radical strand of the Protestant opposition to Nazism that rejected the traditional Lutheran separation of the heavenly and worldly "kingdoms" and sought instead to bring theology to bear upon issues of international peace and distributive justice. In the immediate aftermath of the war, however, Protestant leaders more often served to give voice to popular narratives of German victimization and rejection of the postwar territorial settlement. Focusing on debates carried out in the religious press, political and theological tracts, and synodal meetings, I argue that Protestant intellectual milieus provided a crucial forum for contestation over the meaning of the German past and the reconstruction of civil society in the postwar period. In particular, I examine the interventions of Protestant theologians, jurists, and politicians in public debates over reparations for German expellees, the constitutional right to religious education, West German rearmament and nuclearization, and West Germany's relations with its Eastern neighbors.

Methodologically, my work aims to link intellectual and cultural history by showing how political divisions among Protestant intellectuals were reflected in textbooks, sermons, and private correspondence between clergy and parishioners. By examining sources closer to local religious life in particular cities (Düsseldorf, Hannover, Stuttgart, and West Berlin), I aim to demonstrate a broad shift in opinion among religious Protestants in the postwar decades, toward support not only for democratic government but for an expansive role of religion in public life.  The concept of “public responsibility,” through which Protestant intellectuals offered competing visions of the place of the churches in postwar politics, links the debates of the early postwar period to the deepening of Protestant political activism in the late 1960s and 1970s.