Daily Archives: 22 January 2006

How Secular Was European Nationalism?

[Religion and the Rise of Nationalism] examines the relationship between religion and nationalism in Poznan from 1793 to 1848. Currently located in western Poland, Poznan long has ranked as one of the largest cities along the linguistic and cultural borderland that separates the German-speaking regions of Central Europe from the Polish-speaking regions to the east. Relations among the city’s ethnic populations were never exactly warm. They grew more strained over the first half of the nineteenth century, a period in which German and Polish Poznanians developed strong attachments to their respective national identities. I explore how religion influenced this process….

The modernist argument has dominated the study of nationalism for good reason: its adherents have marshaled an impressive body of evidence in its favor. In this study I have found many aspects of the modernist argument to be especially helpful in making sense of Poznan’s changing social order. Where I part company with many modernists is over the supposedly secular quality of early European nationalism. It is indeed true that many high-proflle nationalist leaders from this period were avowedly secular, and the fiercest opposition to their agendas often came from religious sources. One can cite the struggles between the Jacobins and the Catholic Church in France, or between Giuseppe Mazzini and the Papal See on the Italian peninsula. But nationalism mattered in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries because it resonated with large numbers of people and manifested itself repeatedly in mass movements of no small revolutionary potential. Yet Europe’s population of secular urban sophisticates remained rather limited; secularization was only beginning to take its toll on traditional religious practice. In other words, most of the Europeans who rallied behind early nationalist appeals still maintained their traditional religious affiliations.

This work develops a nuanced and variegated portrait of the relationship between early European nationalism and religion. While many early nationalists were in fact estranged from organized religion, it was not uncommon for adherents of this new ideology to remain faithful to their religious traditions and to draw from these traditions in articulating their nationalist visions. Religion and nationalism could peacefully coexist and fruitfully interact with one another on a number of levels, as I demonstrate through a detailed study of one fascinating case: the city of Poznan in the first half of the nineteenth century. During this time Poznan emerged as an important center of Polish and German nationalist ferment as residents explored their heritage and agitated for a new political order based upon their nationalist assumptions. These processes culminated in an uprising during the “Springtime of Nations” in 1848, a period of revolutionary enthusiasm across the continent that stands as a touchstone of early nationalism. In Poznan in the years leading up to and including 1848, calls for greater political enfranchisement and national self-determination routinely intersected with the symbols, offices, and concerns of organized religion….

In exploring the relationship between religion and early nationalism, this book also contributes to an understanding of the evolution of nationalism. To account for the developmental trajectory of nationalist movements, historians long have drawn binary distinctions between early nationalism and its later manifestations. In its early phase, commonly reckoned as extending well into the second half of the nineteenth century, nationalist movements typically were spearheaded by liberal bourgeois elites, whose political interests and values set the tone within such movements. Sometime around 1870, however, the tenor of nationalism started changing. Conservative political establishments across Europe, long opposed to the revolutionary principles associated with nationalism, adopted new strategies vis-a-vis the phenomenon. Rather than resisting nationalism, they co-opted it and made it serve their reactionary ends. In this later phase, the rhetoric of nationalism demonstrated a greater sympathy for premodern values and institutions. It tended toward chauvinism as well, highlighting the virtues of the nation by disparaging ethnic or religious outsiders such as Jews, minority groups, or foreign workers. Such tendencies tapped into the xenophobia of the masses, gready expanding the popular appeal of nationalism.

An influential example of this typology can be found in Eric J. Hobsbawm’s Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (1992). Hobsbawm describes the years from 1830 to 1880 as the “classical period of liberal nationalism,” when nationalism was viewed by both its supporters and detractors as a new and progressive force closely associated with the liberal ideology that had emerged during the era of the French Revolution. But in the decades following 1880, nationalism changed considerably. Most notably, it “mutated from a concept associated with liberalism and the left, into a chauvinist, imperialist and xenophobic movement of the right.” In his recent study of Polish nationalism, Brian Porter reiterates this same progression. Early Polish nationalism, he argues, was an inclusive movement focused on the emancipation of Poland and the rest of humanity from oppression of various forms. In the 1870s and 1880s, though, a much narrower conception of the nation emerged that was defined by a conscious hatred of outsiders. This animus was employed to promote the disciplined adherence to national values in the face of outside threats and to buttress established hierarchies of power. [Some have suggested that liberal internationalism is now mutating along the same lines in the face of threats to its established hierarchies of national and international power.–J.]

I do not deny the utility of generalizing about the differences between early and later forms of nationalism, especially when theorizing on a grand scale as Hobsbawm does. It is important, though, to consider counterpoints that remind us of the gap between the ideal type and historical reality. The actual development of specific nationalist movements routinely violated the explanatory models later developed to describe them. As my study demonstrates, the attempt by conservative establishments to commandeer nationalist movements was not strictly a late-nineteenth-century phenomenon. The Prussian regime and conservative nobles sought the same goal before 1848. Likewise, early nationalist leaders employed a rhetorical range that extended well beyond calls for equality, self-determination, and international solidarity. Events in Poznan make clear that Polish and German nationalists understood how the demonization of ethnic and religious outsiders could motivate core supporters….

I agree with the majority view that nationalism is a distinctly modern phenomenon whose origin is tied to political, cultural, and socioeconomic development unique to the modern era. And yet I dissent from the current vogue, inspired in particular by the postmodern approach of Benedict Anderson, of seeing national identities as raw inventions. Nationalisms have been capable of invoking intense passion in part because they lay reasonable claim to preexisting ethnic identities and historical and cultural legacies that are of genuine, compelling substance.

SOURCE: Religion and the Rise of Nationalism: A Profile of an East-Central European City, by Robert E. Alvis (Syracuse U. Press, 2005), pp. xiii-xxi

See also Robert E. Alvis, “A Clash of Catholic Cultures on the German-Polish Border: The Tale of a Controversial Priest in Poznan, 1839-1842,” The Catholic Historical Review 88 (2002), pp. 470-488 (Project Muse subscription required)

UPDATE: Nathanael of Rhine River, who knows a thing or two about mixed identities, middle grounds, minority cultures, and the uses of nationalism and religion, comments:

I’ve never found the dichotomy of nationalism and religion convincing except in a few cases. A better way of looking at the problem is how nationalists ‘nationalize’ religion or religious issues, such as with the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the Kulturkampf, or how pro-Church movements came to defend democratic rights (like the Catholic Liberals or Zentrum.)

I forgot to add a couple questions about the role of religion in contemporary European nationalism: Was Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla more a religious or a national leader? To what extent did he remain a Polish nationalist even after he became Catholic Pope John Paul II?

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Secular Nationalism: Received Wisdom

Over the past several decades the idea that religion and nationalism can and do mix has been obvious to anyone who reads the newspaper. Around the world a series of powerful movements have sought to redefine societies and rework international boundaries in ways that emphasize the importance of religion within the political logic of nationalism and nation-states. Examples are abundant: the agenda of Hindu nationalists in India; the increasing centrality of Buddhism in the political discourse of the Sri Lankan government; the demands of “fundamentalist” Jewish groups that the Israeli government and society adhere strictly to Jewish law and the boundaries of the ancient Israelite kingdom; the powerful dovetailing of religious and ethnic identity that helped fuel the carnage in the former Yugoslavia; and drives across the Muslim world to bring governments into greater accord with the teachings of Islamic law. Such developments inspired the sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer to write a widely read study in which he argues that the encounter between older “secular” nationalisms and newer “religious” nationalisms has emerged as the most troubling source of conflict in our time. In its early incarnation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, he argues, nationalism was secular in nature, “based on the idea that the legitimacy of the state was rooted in the will of the people, divorced from any religious sanction.” The secular nationalist ideology became hegemonic in the West and eventually spread around the globe, particularly during the era of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s. Religious nationalism, in which religious identity is integral to the concept of nation, is a more recent phenomenon, he asserts, typically developing in the non-Western world as a conscious reaction to the perceived failures of secular nationalism to deliver on its promise of modernization and prosperity.

In building his argument, Juergensmeyer draws upon the received wisdom of scholars engaged in the study of nationalism. Although evaluations of the subject are many and diverse, most scholars have articulated versions of the “modernist” argument. According to this argument, nationalism is a distinctly modern phenomenon, originating in Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, stimulated by the powerful forces that were transforming European society at that time…. While differing over primary causes, adherents of the modernist view tend to view nationalism–at least in its early phase–as indelibly linked to the liberal values associated with the modern era. Premodern European society was rigidly hierarchical, and its highest echelons claimed as their birthright a preponderant share of wealth and political influence. Nationalism represented a new and more egalitarian understanding of community. Its proponents championed the view that national heritage trumped all other forms of social identity. The status of one’s parents, be they noble, bourgeois, or peasant, paled in comparison to one’s nationality, and the boundaries of nation included all who exhibited its telltale characteristics. Nationalism thus served as a powerful tool for challenging the privileges of the elite establishment and pushing for more democratic forms of government. Summing up the predominant view of early nationalism, Anthony D. Smith writes: “At the outset, nationalism was an inclusive and liberating force. It broke down the various localisms of region, dialect, custom and clan, and helped to create large and powerful nation-states, with centralized markets and systems of administration, taxation and education. Its appeal was popular and democratic. It attacked feudal practices and oppressive imperial tyrannies and proclaimed the sovereignty of the people and the right of all peoples to determine their own destinies.”

A great many scholars also include secularism among the modern values associated with early European nationalism. Under the ancien regime, the argument often runs, Europe’s ruling dynasties allied themselves with the dominant church or churches of their realms in order to enhance their power. The churches were granted numerous privileges, and in exchange church officials encouraged followers to believe that the political elite ruled according to God’s all-wise design. In their struggle against the social and political order of the ancien regime, early nationalists also took on organized religion, dismissing its political theology as so much superstition, unsuited for the progressive new era that was thought to be unfolding. Scholars often have portrayed early nationalists as secular-minded urban sophisticates, disenchanted with the religious worldview with which they had been raised….

At the same time scholars have sought to explain the striking affinities between early nationalist practices and traditional religious piety. The sacred aura surrounding nationalist symbols and their capacity to evoke devotion and self-sacrifice from adherents have led many observers to identify nationalism as a kind of ersatz religion…. According to this view, the typical early nationalist may have been estranged from traditional religion, but he or she still experienced spiritual needs long associated with religion, such as a sense of moral purpose and a comprehensive worldview. Nationalism helped fill the void created by the loss of traditional religious faith.

SOURCE: Religion and the Rise of Nationalism: A Profile of an East-Central European City, by Robert E. Alvis (Syracuse U. Press, 2005), pp. xiii-xvi

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Australia’s Crickety Baseball

Today cricket is stronger than ever, yet baseball has made its own respectable path since switching to summer play in the 1970s. Despite Australia’s small population it is clear that there is room for both sports….

Baseball will never replace cricket in Australia, but the sport has a loyal and respectable following that cannot be ignored. The late Roy Page, South Australian night baseball pioneer, explained why he eventually preferred baseball over cricket: “[In baseball] at least you’d see a game decided. You’d go to cricket and you’d go for five days–which I used to do. You’d go five days, one after the other and at the end of the fifth day, it’s a draw! An inglorious draw!”…

Still, ignorance of the game in Australia is hard to overcome. While zealous early entrepreneurs of baseball in Australia took great pains to explain the rules at every opportunity, the majority of the population never had the chance to learn because they never attended or played in a game. Accordingly, when Australians start to play the game, they usually bring a cricket style with them, such as throwing the ball underarm to other fielders and swinging at pitches near the ground. Many see this as a major hurdle that will continue to plague Australian baseball in the future.

Lismore Baseball Club founder Reg Baxter, though a stalwart cricket player as well, had nothing but praise for the attributes of baseball: “It lasts only two hours, while cricket is over two weeks, so you’re tied down for two weeks, whereas in baseball you can say you’re not available next Saturday and somebody else can take your place. To me there’s something in baseball that’s not in any other sport. I believe baseball is the greatest thinking game there is.” Roy Page even credited baseball for helping bring innovations to cricket: “One-day cricket-who started that up? Ian Chappell. A cricket-baseballer. It was his idea that people wanted to see something on that specific day. They didn’t want to go two and three days…. They wanted to see something settled on the night…. This was Chappell’s idea. And I think that’s going to be more pronounced in the years to come, I really do. One-day cricket. More so than this five-day business. It’s not good enough.” Australian team cricketers consulted Dave Nilsson and the Institute of Sport for batting and throwing tips. Baseball fans listen to cricket on radios at the IBLA [International Baseball League of Australia] games [emphasis added]. Cricketers still play winter baseball to keep in shape for the summer. Many Australian baseballers still field and bat like cricketers. Cricket or baseball? In Australia you can comfortably play and support either or both.

SOURCE: A History of Australian Baseball: Time and Game, by Joe Clark (U. Nebraska Press, 2003), pp. 136-137

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