Faith and democracy: political transformations at the German Protestant Kirchentag, 1949-1969 Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Pearson, Benjamin Carl
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • In the decades following World War II, German Protestants worked to transform their religious tradition. While this tradition had been previously characterized by rigidly hierarchical institutional structures, strong nationalist leanings, and authoritarian political tendencies, the experiences of dictatorship and defeat caused many Protestants to question their earlier beliefs. Motivated by the desire to overcome the burden of the Nazi past and by the opportunity to play a major role in postwar rebuilding efforts, several groups within the churches worked to reform Protestant social and political attitudes. As a result of their efforts, the churches came to play an important role in the ultimate success and stability of West German democracy. This study examines this transformation at the meetings of the German Protestant Kirchentag, one of the largest and most diverse postwar gatherings of Protestant laity. After situating the Kirchentag within the theological and political debates of the immediate postwar years, it focuses on changing understandings of the role of the church in society, the pluralization of Protestant political attitudes, and the shift from national to international self-understandings within the churches. It closes with the challenges posed to this new consensus by the youth revolt and the rise of New Left politics in the late 1960s. By examining the important role of the Kirchentag and of the Protestant churches in the democratization and political transformation of West Germany, this study asserts the continued relevance of religious categories of analysis in the Federal Republic. Focusing on the churches’ landmark contributions—including the promotion of democratic political activity, work toward East-West reconciliation, and the peace movement—it also argues for a broader, more complex conceptualization of postwar political transformations. In particular, rather than focusing on the work of any one faction or movement within the churches, it highlights the constructive roles played by different groups with different priorities and motivations.
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  • Jarausch, Konrad Hugo
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