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Religion and the Rise of Nationalism
A Profile of an East-Central European City

Robert E. Alvis

Cloth $34.95s    |    0-8156-3081-6    |   2005

Explores the interface between Christianity and nascent nationalist movements in East-Central Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century through an in-depth study of Poznan, a city located roughly midway between Berlin and Warsaw.

"This provocatively framed book’s central argument is that nineteenth-century religion and nationalism coexisted with each other and dynamically interacted with each other on a number of crucial levels. . . . The author focuses on the relationship between religion and nationalism in the city of Poznan between 1793 and 1858, and holds that nationalism did not develop to fill a void left by the negation of communal religious meaning through the processes of secularization. To the contrary, ‘it was not uncommon for adherents of this new [nationalist] ideology to remain faithful to their religious traditions, and to draw from their traditions in articulating their nationalist visions.’ . . . This history is told with clarity and sensitivity to nuance. The narrative is persuasive and adds to the depth and specificity of our understanding of this crucial era in European history."
dash Journal of Church and State

"The importance of religion in the definition and development of East-Central European (and other) nationalism can hardly be overstated. Similarly, cities and urban populations played a central and essential role in creating national movements—a fact that on part explains the tardy development of such movements among Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and others. And yet we know relatively little about the actual mechanics of how religion was harnessed by (or how religious congregations resisted) nationalism. We also remain quite ignorant on the specifics of how urban dwellers came to themselves as part of a larger ‘nation’ worth fighting and even dying for. In this book, Robert E. Alvis aims to address both of these issues by examining the nexus between religion and nationalism in the city of Poznan between the late eighteenth century and 1848. The result is a book that will be of interest to urban historians and anyone interested in how religious identity can influence the development of nationality.

After a short introduction discussing recent theories of nationalism (both their utility and inadequacies), Alvis proceeds to give the reader a snapshot of Poznan . . . in the late eighteenth century. At this point, he argues, the city continued to look and function in ways not radically different from those of a century earlier. Using the late-eighteenth century account of one Johann Erick Biester, Alvis takes us on a walking tour of the city, discussing sites from the market square and Baroque landmarks to the Jewish quarter. . . . Here, as elsewhere in East Central Europe, religion and nationality often overlapped with nearly all Protestants belonging to the German community—though German Catholics were also far from a rarity. In short, Poznan . . . at the dawn of the nineteenth century remained a premodern city, with religion the primary factor in determining identity and even social class. Alvis shows with interesting detail that the very face of the city and daily life there differed significantly not only for Jews—that we might assume—but also between Catholics and Protestants.

In the next fifty years much of this was to change. With the city’s coming under Prussian rule in 1793, one would expect the position of local Protestants and Germans to change significantly. In fact, as the author shows, this change took place slowly, essentially over two generations. In 1848 ‘Poles’ and ‘Germans’ lined up differently (though sometimes also together as ‘nationalist liberals’ against Prussian authority), but the initial reaction of the local population in 1793 can be more accurately described as ‘local’ vs. Berlin. . . . Initially Polish elites supported and worked loyally for the Prussian king. This began to change significantly only when the policies summed up in the name of Grand Duchy of PoznanOberpraësident Eduard Flottwell convinced many Poles that their national-cultural rights would not be respected by Berlin. The events of 1848, the ‘Springtime of Nations,’ allowed both German and Polish nationalism (mainly in liberal guise) to develop further, perhaps inevitably leading to frictions between the two national groups whose diverging interests could not be papered over with anodyne slogans of national liberalism.

This story is for the most part rather familiar, though Alvis re-tells it in a fresh and focused manner. The real contribution of his book, however, lies elsewhere: in his focus on the city of Poznanand the development of the two main Christian denominations in the direction of political nationalism. As a church historian, Alvis takes religion seriously. This is a good thing for someone dealing with ethnicity and nationalism in East Central Europe. His chapters on Protestants and Catholics in Poznanin the first half of the nineteenth century provide valuable case studies of national mobilization in a quite early period. Similarly, in his substantial chapter on 1848 in Poznanand its province (and the long-term causes for events of that year) shows how by that point, modern Polish nationalism and Catholicism had all but fused in this city. As the only major Polish city under Prussian rule in that year, Pozna’s experience should be of interest both to specialists in German and Polish history.

Alvis’s book is based on a wealth of archival sources both in Poznan . . . and Berlin as well as numerous published documents. He deftly weaves together this information in a narrative that is at once informative and engaging. . . . Bringing together nationality, religion, and urban history in a well-written book, Alvis has provided us with an excellent case study that, one hopes, will soon be supplemented by similar studies of other Polish and East-Central European cities in this key period."
dash The Polish Review

Currently part of Poland, the city of Poznan straddled an ethnic border zone of sorts prior to World War II, on the edge of a predominantly German sphere of settlement to the west and a predominantly Polish sphere to the east. This juxtaposition of cultures helped stimulate the development of vigorous nationalist movements in the first half of the nineteenth century, and Poznan emerged as an important center of such activity among Germans and Poles alike. Robert E. Alvis tracks the rise of nationalism in Poznan and examines how religious affiliation factored into the process.

Drawing upon a wealth of archival data, including memoirs, police and government correspondence, and parish and archdiocesan records, the author reconstructs evolving patterns of collective identity during a time of rapid socioeconomic change and political, religious, and cultural ferment. He concludes that in Poznan, religion provided critical foundations for the development of Polish and German nationalist movements and enhanced their appeal across a broad demographic spectrum. This book encourages a rethinking of the widely held view that early European nationalism was largely a secular phenomenon at odds with religion.

View other books in this series

Robert E. Alvis is assistant professor of church history at the St. Meinrad School of Theology. He has written several articles on the history of Christianity in east-central Europe.

6 x 9, 256 pages, 12 photographs, 3 maps, notes, index

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