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The Decline of Christendom in Western Europe, 1750-2000


The de-Christianisation of death in modern France

Thomas Kselman

In his landmark work on eighteenth-century Provence, Michel Vovelle argued forcefully that changes in the language of wills suggested that a process of dechristianisation was well under way by the middle years of the eighteenth century. 1 Vovelle based his work on a number of implicit assumptions about the relationship between death and Christianity in France that I would like to use as a starting-point for my discussion. First, and most obviously, Vovelle understood baroque devotional practices in the face of death to be crucial events for measuring the weight of Christianity in the lives of French men and women; indications that they might be less concerned with invoking the help of the clergy and the saints for their souls and those of their loved ones are equated with a lower level of commitment to Christianity in general. Second, Vovelle's work suggests that dechristianisation is a process driven by social and cultural forces that are deeply rooted and irreversible; a decline in the number of bequests for masses and other changes in wills provide an index for measuring this underlying trend. This assumption informs Vovelle's subsequent work as well, and is a dominant theme in his grand survey of death in Europe from the middle ages to the present. 2

Vovelle's work endures as a monumental achievement, but I would like at the outset to propose some alternative ways of approaching the relationship between death and Christianity that complicate the story that he told so well. First of all, I want to question Vovelle's somewhat ahistorical view of Christianity itself. Despite his sceptical perspective, Vovelle seems generally committed to a view in which Counter-Reformation Roman Catholicism is normative for Christianity. It is possible, however, to imagine other forms of Christianity in which death and the rituals surrounding it do not hold as dominant a position in religious life. If we take a more fluid view of Christianity, the behaviour of people as they approach death might be interpreted as evidence for changes in the way religion is imagined and lived, but not necessarily as 'dechristianisation'.

I would also like to recast the way in which Vovelle uses his evidence, and see changing practices in the face of death as an engine as well as an index for religious change. Writing wills, arranging for funeral rites and designing tombs 145 were not simply acts that reflected some predetermined religious sensibility; they were critical moments that shaped personal religious commitments. On a collective level, debates about the relative authority of family, church and state in managing death and remembering the dead were a crucial instrument in determining the place of Christianity at the deathbed, during the funeral ceremony and in the cemetery. These debates, ambiguous and contested as they were, did not proceed to some predetermined conclusion, but they did provide the French with an opportunity to reflect on the nature and quality of their religious commitments.

Cemeteries as 'lieux de m´emoire'
Perhaps the most significant achievement in French historiography over the past two decades is Les Lieux de m´emoire. This seven-volume collection of essays edited by Pierre Nora proposes that historians rethink the relationship between past and present by focusing on particular entities 'which by dint of human will or the work of time [have] become a symbolic element of the memorial heritage of any community'. 3 Given this agenda, it is surprising that not a single article in the collection deals explicitly with cemeteries, which would seem to provide a paradigmatic example of the ways in which certain places serve to crystallise the past and make it available to the present. Nora's collection covers a few 'places' that imply the contribution of Christianity to French national identity, with essays on the cathedral of Notre Dame, on Reims as the site of royal consecrations, and on the divisions between Catholics and anti-clericals. 4 Onthe whole, however, 'lieuxchr´etiens' have been neglected by Nora, with no attention paid, for example, to the system of shrines that has played such an important role in defining local, regional and national identities. 5 My assumption in this chapter is that cemeteries provide a particularly fruitful site for considering the relationship of Christianity to French national identity, and for measuring the extent to which this identity can be understood as 'dechristianised'.

The Parisian cemetery of Père Lachaise is a prominent example of a carefully constructed 'lieu de m´emoire' which the French have used as a way of recalling and integrating their complicated past. Strollers through Père Lachaise might not call it a Christian cemetery, but neither could they deny the important place that Christian symbols play, in view of the large areas of nineteenth-century tombs decorated with prominent crosses. But many tombs evoke themes which suggest other ways through which life is remembered and granted meaning. Ab´elard and H´eloise are commemorated through a neo-gothic chapel that suggests the power of romantic love. 6 Prominent socialists are buried near the 'mur des f´ed´er´es', where thousands of Communards were executed and buried in a mass grave in 1871, a site which still draws a large crowd every May. 7 The victims of the concentration camps of the 1940s have their monuments as well.

Popular culture is represented by the tombs of Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison, whose tomb has become a shrine for rock-and-roll cultists. It is hard to imagine any other place in France where so many diverse memories are so intensely concentrated.

Père Lachaise became a popular site for Parisians and foreign visitors soon after it was opened in 1804. The sense of devotion to the dead in a quiet pastoral setting encouraged at Père Lachaise became a model emulated elsewhere in France. Towns and villages carefully maintained burial grounds, many of them newly created in the course of the nineteenth century, as a focus for family traditions and communal memories. As Philippe Ariès indicated in his landmark work, the visit to the cemetery became a characteristic ritual for the French in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 8 Ariès, however, never establishes a clear position on the relationship between the new cult of the dead and Christianity in France, though in general he seems to accept that some form of dechristianisation has occurred. In commenting on the cross displayed at cemeteries throughout France, for example, Ariès concludes that it is 'more or less detached from its historical Christian meaning, [and] is vaguely recognized as a symbol of hope and protection. People are attached to it without knowing why, but they are attached to it all the same. It evokes not the next world but something else, something mysterious, profound, and inexpressible, of which we are only dimly aware.' 9 Ariès, like Vovelle, sets a high standard for Christianity, one which I want to question in the course of this chapter. His ownwavering language, in which the cross is 'more or less detached' from its Christian meaning, suggests a certain hesitancy in his judgement. But Ariès' comment suggests also that the status and significance of Christianity in the cemetery might be an issue that can help us grapple with the deeply held but ultimately mysterious religious commitments of the French.

The eighteenth century and the Revolution

During the middle years of the eighteenth century dramatic changes in the location and design of cemeteries were actively debated by members of the Parlement of Paris, and of the Acad´emie Royale de l'Architecture. 10 By 1765 investigators primarily concerned about public health were able to persuade the Parlement to issue a decree requiring all cemeteries to be moved outside of Paris and severely restricting burials in churches. The Cemetery of the Innocents, the largest burial ground in Paris, was closed in 1780, and the bones of its dead were transferred to the old stone quarries under Paris, the Catacombs that can still be visited through an entrance at the Place Denfert-Rochereau. Richard Etlin's study of the plans for new cemeteries drafted by artists and architects of the late eighteenth century suggests that the projected sites would be spiritually as well as physically separated from their Christian predecessors. It is virtually impossible to find a single Christian symbol in the designs of Etienne-Louis Boullée or his colleagues, who were instead preoccupied with pyramids, classical arches and obelisks.

Etlin, following Vovelle, uses the term 'dechristianisation' to describe the 'mental revolution' of the mid-eighteenth century that he understands to be 'a turning point in one thousand years of Western history'. 11 But there is a hint of equivocation in his analysis, for the word is always placed in quotation marks, and surrounded with qualifying phrases. Etlin's discomfort is warranted, for his evidence is restricted for the most part to texts and plans developed by an educated elite whose ideas may or may not have been generally representative. He notes only briefly the substantial resistance to the plans of the reformers by Parisian cur´es, who complained that the Parlement was treating Parisians 'like Huguenots. They are sending us to the garbage dump.' 12 This comment adds a religious context to the debates over cemetery reform, for the cur´es were undoubtedly conscious of the religious bias of the Parlementaires, who had been engaged in a long and public campaign to defend Jansenism, an austere and Augustinian form of Christianity whose influence in France extended from the seventeenth well into the nineteenth century. 13 The quarrel over cemeteries may have been informed partly by a dispute between those Catholics who were anxious to preserve their churchyards as an essential element of baroque piety, and others who sought a more restrained approach to death and burial, one associated with the Protestant reform and with Jansenism. Enlightenment values, including religious scepticism and a preference for neoclassical decorations, clearly influenced some of the artists charged with imagining the shape and style of the new suburban cemeteries. But there were Christians involved in the reform movement as well, a point which should lead us to see the displacement of cemeteries as a complex issue that is not fully and fairly characterised if we see it only as a movement towards dechristianisation.

The revolutionary crisis that began in 1789 generated the most dramatic religious conflicts in France since the Reformation. However one views the previous period, it seems fair to apply the term dechristianisation to some of the actions taken during the 1790s and to their consequences as well. The Catholic cult of the dead was a principal target of the dechristianisers who spread out from Paris in 1793, as most clearly illustrated by the work of Joseph Fouch´e, representative-on-mission from the Convention to the Nièvre. In an attempt to destroy what he understood to be religious fanaticism, Fouch´e issued a decree on funeral practices that required all local cemeteries to raise a statue representing sleep, destroy all other symbols, and place at their entrances signs announcing that 'Death is an eternal sleep'. 14

Reforms such as those introduced by Fouch´e were adopted elsewhere in France as well, and were frequently accompanied by other violent acts directed against the clergy and the icons of Catholicism. 15 But the aggressive campaign of dechristianisation provoked responses in defence of Christianity and its symbols. In the churchyard of the village of Concoret, in Anjou, revolutionaries replaced a large crucifix with a liberty tree, only to see it cut down by Chouan rebels. 16 Women played a leading role at times in such demonstrations, which were instrumental in leading Robespierre to condemn the actions of Fouch´e and his colleagues. 17 Robespierre's attempts to formulate an alternative civil religion met, however, with little success, for only a militant minority was drawn to the Cult of the Supreme Being and to the religion of The ophilanthropy promoted by the Directory. By the end of the 1790s politicians in the Council of Five Hundred had become concerned that the assault on Christianity and the failure of the new religions was producing a desacralised and demoralised population. Focusing particularly on the cult of the dead, critics were appalled by the neglect with which the dead were treated, and called for dignified funeral services and well-maintained cemeteries. Dechristianisation thus became associated not only with attacks directed particularly against Christian symbol and ritual, but with a more general assault on the sacred atmosphere surrounding the dead believed essential for social order. Politicians such as the former priest Jacques-Michel Coup´e and P. B. F. Bontoux were not necessarily anxious to restore Catholicism, but the movement to resacralise the cult of the dead, coincidental with Napoleon's efforts to negotiate a Concordat with the papacy, opened the way for the rechristianisation of the cemetery which occurred in the nineteenth century.

The French Revolution clearly had a major impact on the status of Christianity in France. The process of 'stripping the altars', to borrow a phrase from Eamon Duffy, broke traditional relations between priests and people and produced a generation more inclined to independence and scepticism. 18 But there were limits beyond which most people were not willing to go, and one of these seems to have been a Christian setting for death and burial. Catholicism was a source of conflict and violence during the revolutionary decade of the 1790s, but while at least some French were willing to move quickly to destroy the Church's control of the cult of the dead most seemed to understand the Christian symbols and rituals employed by the Church as essential elements in creating a sacred atmosphere around the corpse and the community.

From churchyard to cemetery
The religious peace that followed the Concordat provided a general setting for there christianisation of the cemetery during the nineteenth century. This process is especially remarkable in that it occurred not only in the older churchyards, butinnew cemeteries purchased and developed by communes. This shift from churchyard to cemetery was based on the Napoleonic legislation that made the eighteenth-century effort to remove the dead from cities into a national mandate.

The decree of 23 prairial, year XII (1804) prohibited burial in churches, and required that cemeteries be relocated at least 35 metres outside of town. The law also eliminated the common graves of the old regime, and required that each individual have his or her own particular space. For the rest of the nineteenth century, French cities and villages struggled to comply with this law which resulted in a shift of the dead from parish churchyard to communal cemetery. The cemeteries that developed became a central element in the nineteenth century cult of the dead, and relied heavily on Christian symbol and ritual, though these were no longer granted a monopoly, and were at times the source of considerable conflict. 19

Père Lachaise, first opened in 1804, provided a model for other cities, which sought to re-create its pastoral spirit, generated by curved and landscaped walkways designed to provide a peaceful setting for the dead and those who mourned them. Illustrations from the first few years of its operation, however, suggest that Christianity was not a dominant motif in the tombs and epitaphs of the first who were buried there. 20 It is also worth noting that the cemetery as a whole wasnever consecrated by any priest, minister or rabbi. The practice developed for individual sites to be blessed, but the cemetery as a whole retained its secular character, a trait which was to make it exceptional in the history of the French cemetery. The Catholic writer M. de Saint-Victor commented on the secular character of Père Lachaise in 1825, when he complained that many of the inscriptions 'expressed religious indifference … and, looking carefully, even professions of faith in materialism and atheism'. Saint-Victor, thinking back perhaps to the Revolution, feared a time would come when the few crosses that marked Christian graves would be eliminated. 21 Catholic anxieties were not without foundation. When the famous actor Fran¸cois Talma died in 1826 he refused to see the archbishop of Paris, and received a civil burial, the first in a long series of public ceremonies that were both religiously and politically subversive. His funeral procession to Père Lachaise drew thousands into the streets, who were apparently not offended that his monument was completely free of any Christian reference. 22

Although the cross was a contested symbol at times, Saint-Victor's concerns were in fact exaggerated. 23 In the year that his piece on Père Lachaise appeared, a chapel surmounted by a cross was opened at the end of the main thoroughfare leading into the cemetery. 24 By the middle of the century observers at Père Lachaise and elsewhere were describing rows of crosses as the standard decorations marking individual graves, establishing a style that would later be adapted for the dead who returned from the battlefields of World War I. 25 Cities that purchased and developed new cemeteries generally arranged to have them opened with a formal blessing by the Catholic clergy, a rite that helped give them a proprietary sense over the communal burial ground similar to what they felt about the older churchyards. When the city of Angers was about to open its new suburban cemetery in the autumn of 1847 the mayor sought the blessing of the local bishop, who was willing to co-operate on two conditions: land had to be set aside outside of the consecrated area for the burial of stillborn children and Protestants, and a large cross on a pedestal would have to be installed. 26

Burial in consecrated land was taken seriously by the French, as can be observed in the conflicts that arose when the clergy tried to exclude non-Catholics from what they regarded as a Catholic cemetery. Although most people accepted the last rites that certified their Catholic identity and gave them access to the consecrated ground, a number of scandals in the first half of the century drew attention to the ambiguous status of the cemetery, christianised through the blessing of the Catholic clergy, but also communal property to which all citizens, regardless of their religion, could make a claim. 27

Conflicts developed over differing interpretations of the law of 1804, which called for separate areas for Catholics, Protestants and Jews, assuming that everyone would fall into one of the standard confessional categories. The law was silent, however, on how to resolve conflicts that arose when the Catholic clergy refused to bury someone in consecrated ground despite the insistence of their family that they deserved such treatment. In taking this position the clergy were seeking to exclude not only children who died before baptism, but public sinners and notorious anti-clericals, even if they had been baptised. When such a refusal occurred, bitter quarrels would break out between the clergy and the families of the deceased, who resisted any attempt to let their loved ones be relegated to shamed and isolated corners. Families would sometimes organise their own services, breaking into churches to say prayers over the dead. Mayors, charged by the law with assuring respect for the dead, would sometimes be enlisted to lead a service, and to oversee the burial in consecrated ground. Commenting on such improvised rituals, the historian Maurice Agulhon disparaged their religious significance, and insisted on the agnosticism and religious indifference of the participants. 28 But it seems fairer to relate the insistence on a christianised cult of the dead to the attitudes we saw displayed during the French Revolution. Just as dechristianisation was rejected when it culminated in a desacralised disposal of the dead, resacralisation was imaginable primarily through the familiar Catholic rites administered by the clergy.

The clergy were sensitive to the attractions of Catholic burial, which explains why they were willing to use it at times as a threat to bring the indifferent back into the Church. But such minatory behaviour was resented, and contributed to a confusing condition in which resentment towards the Catholic clergy could co-exist with dependence on them as the ministers whose use of Christian symbol and ritual was needed to consecrate death and burial. The ambiguous status of Christianity in the cult of the dead around the middle of the century can be illustrated by considering Courbet's famous masterpiece The Burial at Ornans, displayed in Dijon and Paris in 1850–51. Most critics at the time and subsequently have interpreted this scene of a country funeral procession gathered around an empty grave as devoid of any transcendent religious feeling. Art history textbooks uniformly present it as the paradigmatic example of 'realist' art which rejected the spiritual consolations available in romantic depictions of death, such as Monsiau's Devotion of Monseigneur Belsunce, presented at the salon of 1819. The figures in Monsiau's painting are linked in a moment of religious fervour, with the dying consoled by the vision of the crucifix which pierces the horizon, and by the presence of the clergy. In Courbet's painting, according to Linda Nochlin '[t]he psychological and pictorial dissociation of the figures from each other' indicate that for him 'the transcendent meaning of funerals in general is completely unimportant'. 29 Such a point could be made, however, only by evoking unfulfilled conventional expectations about the religious mood believed to be characteristic of a funeral. Courbet relies on the crucifix that pierces the horizon and the priest who officiates at the grave to recall Christian hopes, but simultaneously deflates these by the emotional distance that separates the mourners from the ritual, for none of those present focus their attention on either the crucifix or the priest. 30

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, in reacting to Courbet's painting, illustrates precisely the ambivalent status of Christianity in the cemetery, and in French culture more generally. For Proudhon insists on the one hand on the need to sacralise death: 'If something must remain sacred, for the believer as well as for the unbeliever, it is the last moments, the will, the solemn farewells, the funeral, the tomb.' Proudhon insists, on the other hand, that the French 'have lost the religion of the dead; we no longer understand this sublime poetry with which Christianity surrounded it; we have lost faith in prayers, and we mock the next life'. This loss of faith has made the standard rituals meaningless: 'Why the funerals? Why the burials? What do these marble tombs, these crosses, these inscriptions, these crowns of flowers mean? Wouldn't it be enough for you that a cart, ordered by the police, would take the body and lead it to…the garbage dump?' 31 But during the Revolution the French had experimented with the desacralised disrespect that Proudhon mockingly suggested as appropriate, and clearly preferred the tombs, crosses and flowers that he judged to be meaningless. Courbet's painting and Proudhon's commentary suggest the continuing importance of a Christian framework for death, doubts about its significance, and regrets about the apparent gap that had developed between an idealised ritual characterised by belief and fervour and the practice of ordinary Christians, unable to measure up to this high standard. The anxieties of the unbelievers Courbet and Proudhon echo those expressed by the Catholic clergy, similarly concerned that the Christian rituals were losing their power, even as people continued to rely on them for managing the passage from life to death.

In the first half of the nineteenth century the clergy fought against what they perceived as an erosion of belief by continuing to insist on the segregation of Catholics and non-Catholics in cemeteries. This policy was intended to force the dying and their families either to commit themselves definitively to Catholicism, or face burial in a shamed and unconsecrated quarter of the cemetery usually preserved for suicides. During the second half of the century, however, the ambivalence about Catholic ritual evident in The Burial at Ornans was also manifested in the behaviour of a dissident minority who refused to accept what they regarded as abusive treatment by the clergy. A series of scandals, well covered by the anti-clerical press, provided the impetus for a debate over the cemetery which lasted throughout the 1870s, and forms part of the general climate of political and religious conflict that characterised the decade. The scandals in question frequently involved mixed marriages between Protestants and Catholics, with the clergy attempting to force husbands and wives who had shared their lives to accept separate burial sites. Protestants and militant freethinkers were increasingly determined to resist such pressure, and insisted on their right to a place of their choice in the communal cemetery, many of which were new sites, no longer adjacent to Catholic churches, purchased and developed with communal funds. Catholic polemicists struck back, with the vituperative Monseigneur Gaume condemning those who would allow unbelievers to be buried next to the faithful. 'You believe that all men, including yourselves, are nothing but living dirt, soulless creatures, with no higher destiny than to gratify your appetites. You cannot have a conscience, for there is no conscience in a heap of dirt.' 32 But such an attack clearly missed the mark, for though there were some militant freethinkers among the dissidents, there were also Protestants and spiritualists who believed in a soul and an after-life. Even more thoroughgoing unbelievers had, by the end of the century, developed moral philosophies that belie the caricature presented by Gaume.

The transfer of power to a republican majority in the late 1870s provided the occasion for pushing through legislation that had been floating around for ten years. Despite an acrimonious debate, article 15 of the law of 1804 was abrogated in 1881, ending the right of the Catholic Church to exercise the substantial power it had exercised in the communal cemetery. The civil funeral and entombment of Victor Hugo in 1885 was a culminating event in the emergence of an alternative to Catholicism as the source of a sacred atmosphere for the cult of the dead. His services drew over one million Parisians to what may have been the largest demonstration in nineteenth-century France. 33 In the twenty years following Hugo's funeral the politicians of the Third Republic continued to dismantle the Catholic hegemony over the cult of the dead. In 1887 the French legislature passed a law designed to protect the right of an individual to receive a civil burial, even when his or her family requested a Catholic service. In 1904 the French funeral industry was secularised when management of the service was transferred from parish councils to communal authorities. 34 Taken together, these laws reveal an important shift in the French cult of the dead in the closing decades of the nineteenth century.

There can be no doubt that the cultural authority of the Church had waned, but the laws passed during the Third Republic by no means re-enacted the aggressive campaign of Fouch´e and his colleagues during the French Revolution. The French were left free to choose a Catholic service and a tomb marked by Christian symbols, and most continued to do so. 35 If we were to compare a cemetery from the old regime, in which mass graves with no individual marker were the norm, with a cemetery from the end of the nineteenth century, in which crosses would be the predominant motif, displayed in some form over most of the graves, we would be hard pressed to conclude that death had been dechristianised, even in the midst of the anti-clerical passions of the Third Republic. Following the shock of the Revolution, cemeteries had become sites where families gathered to reflect on and pray for their deceased, creating a cult of the dead unique to the nineteenth century. Crowds were particularly large on 1 and 2 November, the feasts of All Saints and All Souls traditionally used by the Catholic Church to recall the dead. 36 Even Socialist papers at the turn of the century were forced to acknowledge the popularity of visits to the cemetery on these days, though they emphasised the devotion paid to their own saints. 37 By the end of the century a minority was willing to forego Christian rituals and symbols, but even in the reputedly dechristianised Paris over 70 per cent of the population still insisted on a Catholic funeral in 1900. 38 The Catholic clergy were understandably distressed by republican legislation that eliminated their control of cemeteries, and the debates generated between clericals and anti-clericals over a range of issues, including the cult of the dead, certainly led some away from both Catholicism and Christianity. But many of the French in the early twentieth century seemed to make a distinction between these two, and their cemeteries suggest that, regardless of any hostility directed against the clergy, Christianity continued to provide a consoling atmosphere for most families as they reflected on their dead.

World War I and the twentieth century

The contemplative mood in the cemetery, generally though not invariably in the midst of Christian symbols, was the result of decisions and distinctions made in the course of the nineteenth century. As passed on to the twentieth century, the cult of the dead proved to be a potent force in the face of the catastrophic bloodletting that occurred in France between 1914 and 1918. Historians who look for dramatic breaks in cultural history have generally identified World WarI as a crucial turning-point in the creation of 'modernity', understood as a sceptical frame of mind which dissolves traditional certainties about politics, art and religion. If the Enlightenment, the Revolution and the laic legislation of the Third Republic did not 'dechristianise' death, perhaps this process was at work in the trenches and battlefields of World War I. But if we follow the research of Annette Becker and Jay Winter, the carnage of the war produced not so much a modernist impulse as a reversion to principles and beliefs inherited from the past. 39 The cult of the dead as it emerged from the war, and as displayed in cemeteries and memorial monuments, found an important place for Christianity, though not one that allowed it to monopolise the work of consolation.

The military cemetery at Douaumont offers striking evidence for the importance of the cross as part of the repertoire of symbols that 'were retrieved from the past to help people mourn'. 40 Thousands of crosses, arranged in neat lines as in military formation, decorate the individual graves of the vast majority of soldiers. The cross was also the symbol of choice for many of those 300,000 dead soldiers who were transferred back to cemeteries in their home towns, amove made in part to bring them closer to their parish churches. 41 What is more surprising, however, is the deep involvement of the Catholic bishops in the creation of three of the four national necropolises at Douaumont, Lorette and Dormans. 42 As Annette Becker has argued, the architecture and ornamentation of these sites embodies a central theme of Christianity, that of sacrifice and resurrection, represented through scenes of the passion of Christ and the suffering of Mary. 43 But this emphasis did not efface the wartime ecumenical spirit, as exemplified in the interdenominational chapel at Hartman willerkopf, which includes Protestant and Jewish altars as well as a Catholic one. In the commemorative ceremonies as well, Catholic clergy seem to have taken care to be inclusive. According to the abb´e Bergey, speaking at the opening of the ossuary of Douaumont in 1932, 'We ask no longer, “Art thou republican, monarchist, socialist, Israelite, free-thinker, or Catholic?” But simply: “Art thou French?” ' 44

Abel Gance's epic film on World War I, J'Accuse, is an even more telling illustration of the power of Christian symbol and belief to shape the experience of mourning, for Gance was an artist rather than a minister, responding more to deep-rooted cultural motifs than to specific doctrines and practices. The closing sequence of his film reflects the power of Christianity to represent feelings of hope and redemption without implying any particular doctrinal commitments. In Gance's story the poet-hero Jean Diaz dreams of himself in a graveyard of crosses, out of which the dead rise in order to return to their villages. The civilians are converted by this vision, not to religious practice, but to lives of rectitude and fidelity. Gance closes his film with a scene of Christ on the Cross, a reference to the equation of the suffering soldier with the passion of Christ that was commonplace both during and after the war. 45

The cemeteries of France, as they developed in the nineteenth century, became a kind of training ground, a contentious terrain at times, but one on which and through which the French eventually worked out an understanding of death that accommodated Christian belief and symbol with a devotion to family, village and nation. This ability of the cemetery to serve as a 'lieu de m´emoire' which synthesised and expressed the multiple loyalties of the French was already in place before 1914, and established the context for the military cemeteries and memorial monuments that addressed the sacrifices and trauma of World War I. If we follow the history of the cult of the dead into the present we can find some anxiety about a falling off in the devotion to the dead, as tombs are abandoned, and visits to the family grave seem to be in decline. But other evidence suggests that although the cult of the dead continues to undergo change, we still need to be cautious in making judgements about 'dechristianisation'.

Throughout most of the last two centuries rural Brittany has been among the regions most devoted to orthodox Catholicism. But social changes, including a shift from polyculture to cash crops, the mechanisation of production and the decline of neighbourly mutual aid, have contributed to the secularisation of Breton culture. According to the anthropologist Ellen Badone, who spent fifteen months in the villages of Plouguerneau and La Feuillée in the mid-1980s, Bretons are involved in a 'gradual transition from a religious view of the world to one based on naturalistic, empirical science'. 46 This overall process, which has led to dramatically lower levels of regular religious practice, has had particular effects on the cult of the dead, which had traditionally been an intense and central part of Breton culture. At the traditional veillée, for example, neighbours and friends used to watch over the body of the deceased throughout the night. Since the mid-1970s, however, the wake has been shortened, with people leaving at one or two in the morning, just after refreshments have been served. 47

Despite unambiguous evidence of an erosion of Catholic practice, Badone insists at the same time on strong patterns of continuity with the past. Civil burials are rare, anniversary masses are still commonly requested to commemorate the dead, and crosses still dominate the cemeteries. Badone's conclusion suggests that the people of contemporary Brittany are negotiating a change similar to that which occurred elsewhere in France during the nineteenth century. 'Despite the opposition to the church voiced by many rouges, the clergy continues to provide the only acceptable ritual mediation of the passage from the community of the living to that of the dead.' 48 Yves Lambert may be correct to conclude that 'Dieu change en Bretagne', but despite these changes Bretons, like the French in general, continue generally to insist on a Christian setting for death and burial.

Badone recounts at one point the story of Michel Quiviger, a Communist municipal councillor in the Monts d'Arrée. Although he had officiated at civil burials himself, Quiviger asked for and received a Catholic funeral, a choice which provoked extensive comment from both Catholics and Communists. In the end, Quiviger seems to have decided that only the 'symbolic power of the Catholic Mass' was able 'to elevate death from the natural to the cultural realm'. 49 Quiviger's funeral resembles in some ways the much grander ceremonies which marked the death and burial of Fran¸cois Mitterand in January 1996, which I will use as the final illustration of the complex relationship that has emerged between death and Christianity in modern France.

As the first Socialist president in French history, Fran¸cois Mitterand might have been expected to honour the tradition of the French left and forego a Catholic funeral and burial service. After all, he had the precedent of Victor Hugo's civil burial a hundred years before, an event used by the anti-clericals of the Third Republic to help forge a dignified alternative to the Catholic ritual of death and burial. 50 But as a number of recent biographies have made clear, Mitterand never entirely escaped the pious Catholic milieu of his origins, a tradition to which he showed himself faithful in arranging both a private mass for his family in his home at Jarnac, and a public mass attended by foreign dignitaries in Paris at the cathedral of Notre Dame. 51 It was typical of Mitterand to have balanced this reversion to his Catholic past with a separate ceremony of remembrance for his associates on the political left, held appropriately at the Place de la Bastille.

The only official words spoken at the Notre Dame service were those of the archbishop of Paris Cardinal Lustiger, who delivered a remarkable homily in which he drew heavily on the words of Mitterand himself. 52 Lustiger recalled that Mitterand had kept a portrait of St Francis of Assisi in his library, and quoted him as critical of the 'spiritual dryness' of the contemporary age. For Lustiger, Mitterand's funeral was the occasion for recalling the 'secret place where the life of a man crystallises, and from which flow the most contradictory desires and ambitions'. In contemporary civilisation this essential mystery at the heart of every life tends to be forgotten, and instead people turn to 'appearances and … vain words imposed by the artifice of communication which becomes a substitute for life'. Lustiger concluded by recalling that Mitterand had claimed to believe in the 'communion of saints', and prayed that he find with them 'the help, forgiveness, and courage to open his eyes on the invisible'.

The Catholic setting for Mitterand's funeral and Lustiger's attempt to associate the president with a Catholic culture and world-view contrast sharply with the events surrounding Hugo's death, and illustrate how much has changed since the end of the nineteenth century, when the militant programme of republican 'laïcit´e' would have made such collaboration unthinkable. Ren´eR´emond's comment that 'laïcit´e n'est plus ce qu'elle ´etait' 53 would seem borne out by Mitterand's death, which became a vehicle for the reconciliation of the two Frances that fought so bitterly throughout the nineteenth century. But we need to be cautious in interpreting this event, which can bear multiple meanings that would lead to very different conclusions about the status of Christianity in France. Is it the case, as Robert Sol´e proposes, that on such occasions NotreDame 'n'est plus catholique, mais oecumenique, et même universelle'? 54 Is it a sign, as Lustiger suggests, that the French and others in the contemporary west feel a need for spiritual consolations that are not available from the secular material culture that is pervasive in France and elsewhere? Or does it perhaps indicate that Catholicism has now been absorbed into a French civil religion in which Catholic and Republican 'lieux de m´emoire' are mixed indiscriminately in a stew of nationalistic nostalgia which provides a kind of compensation for the decline of France as a world power? 55 However we interpret Mitterand's funeral, the carefully orchestrated use of Catholic ritual and the extensive coverage in the media suggest that for Mitterand personally and the French in general Christianity is still understood to have an important role to play in negotiating the passage from life to death.

Throughout this chapter I have been arguing implicitly for a generous standard in establishing Christian identity and have suggested caution in making judgements about the process of dechristianisation. Recent surveys indicate that, despite signs of eroding belief, a clear majority of the French still identify themselves as Catholic. 56 The evidence of the cemetery, past and present, suggests a profound though ambiguous attachment to Christian symbols, which has been maintained despite intermittent and occasionally intense conflict with the institutional church and the clergy. The crosses in French cemeteries exemplify what the American historian Colleen McDannell has termed 'material Christianity', which she distinguishes from a religiosity centred on texts and doctrines. 57 McDannell points to the tendency of some American scholars to disparage such religion, which is expressed through artifacts, and is generally not articulated in any systematic manner. Theological scepticism about 'material Christianity' may be less common in France, where the Catholic sacramental system has traditionally mingled matter and spirit, but there are echoes of similar sentiments none the less in the work of historians as diverse as Vovelle and Ariès. From the perspective of 'material Christianity' as defined by McDannell, theologians and ministers concerned with evangelisation might wish to consider the possibility that the continued insistence on Catholic identity and Christian symbols represents an authentic form of Christianity. Ariès touches the core of the issue when he writes that the cross in the cemetery 'evokes … something mysterious, profound, and inexpressible, of which we are only dimly aware'. But these meanings, which he grasps for without being able to define, are certainly based on the ability of the cross to express feelings of grief and hope, sacrifice and redemption. This reservoir of religious and Christian sentiment may be inchoate, but it merits further reflection by both scholars and ministers concerned with Christianity and dechristianisation.


1 Michel Vovelle, Pi´et´e baroque et d´echristianisation en Provence au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1978).

2 Michel Vovelle, La Mort et l'occident de 1300 à nos jours (Paris, 1983). For example, in commenting on folk practices imbued with Christian themes that endure despite low levels of orthodox practice, Vovelle writes that 'Derrière le compromis se profilent les r´ealit´es d'une d´echristianisation réelle, qui n'´epargne pas la soci´et´e traditionnelle en voie de mutation, même si les apparences de stabilit´e subsistent plus que dans les villes' ( ibid. 573–4). For a comparison of the work of Vovelle with that of Philippe Ariès see Thomas Kselman, 'Death in historical perspective', Sociological Forum, 2 (1987), 591–7.

3 Pierre Nora, 'From lieux de m´emoire to realms of memory', in Pierre Nora and Lawrence Kritzman (eds.), Realms of Memory, vol. I (New York, 1996), xvii.

4 Jacques Le Goff, 'Reims, ville du sacre'; Claude Langlois, 'Catholiques et laics', in Pierre Nora (ed.), Les Lieux de m´emoire, vol. III (Paris, 1992), 141–84.

5 Mary Lee Nolan and Sidney Nolan, Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe (Chapel Hill, NC, 1989); Thomas Kselman, Miracles and Prophecies in Nineteenth Century France (New Brunswick, NJ, 1983), 25–36; Ruth Harris, Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age (New York, 1999).

6 Charlotte Charrier, H´eloise dans l'histoire et dans la l´egende (Paris, 1933), 342–63, 493–545.

7 Madeleine Reb´erioux, 'Le mur des f´ed´er´es', in Pierre Nora (ed.), Les Lieux de m´emoire, vol. I, La R´epublique (Paris, 1984), 619–49.

8 Philippe Ariès, The Hour of Our Death (New York, 1981), 516–55. See also Fran¸coise Zonabend, 'Les morts et les vivants: le cimetière de Minot et Chatillonnais ', Etudes Rurales, 52 (1973), 7–23; Roger Bertrand and Michel Vovelle, La Ville des morts: essai sur l'imaginaire d'après les cimetières provenc¸aux (Paris, 1983), esp. 112–13, where the authors indicate that from the early nineteenth century to the present between 80 and 90 per cent of the tombs include a cross in some form.

9 Ariès, Hour of Our Death, 276.

10 Richard Etlin, The Architecture of Death: The Transformation of the Cemetery in Eighteenth-Century Paris (Cambridge, MA, 1984); Ariès, Hour of Our Death, 479–506.

11 Etlin, Architecture of Death, ix, 16.

12 Ariès, Hour of Our Death, 489.

13 Dale Van Kley, The Religious Origins of the French Revolution: From Calvin to the Civil Constitution, 1560–1791 (New Haven, CT, 1996). Ariès ( Hour of Our Death, 498) is surely wrong when he characterises the parliamentarians responsible for the decree of 1765 as 'enlightened and radical'.

14 Nicole Bossut, 'Aux origines de la d´echristianisation dans la Nièvre', Annales Historiques de la R´evolution Franc¸aise, 264 (1986), 181–202.

15 Michel Vovelle, La R´evolution contre l'êglise: de la raison à l'Etre Suprème (Paris, 1988).

16 Joseph Le Calonnec, 'Les s´epultures des catholiques pendant la R´evolution', Impacts, 3 (1993), 41.

17 Vovelle, Revolution contre l'´eglise, 230–55; Suzanne Desan, Reclaiming the Sacred: Lay Religion and Popular Politics in Revolutionary France (Ithaca, NY, 1990).

18 Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400–1580 (New Haven, CT, 1992).

19 Thomas Kselman, Death and the Afterlife in Modern France (Princeton, NJ, 1993). Much of the material I draw on here has been reformulated and compressed from chapters 3 and 5 of this study. For case studies see Philippe Boutry, Prêtres et paroisses au pays du Cur´ e d'Ars (Paris, 1986), 153–81; Madeleine Lasserre, 'La loi et les morts: la difficile cr´eation du cimetière g´en´eral de Tours au XIXe siècle', Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l'Ouest, 98 (1991), 303–12; Michel Bée, 'Les cimetières de Calvados en 1804', in M. Bée et al., Mentalit´es religieuses dans la France de l'ouest aux XIXe et XXe siècles (Caen, 1976), 9–34; Marcel Launay, 'Le cimetière comme ´el´ement de la nouvelle sensibilit´e funèbre au XIXe siècle: un exemple nantais', Bulletin de la Soci´et´eArch´eologique et Historique de Nantes et de Loire-Atlantique, 119 (1983), 179–90.

20 Etlin, Architecture of Death, 345–54.

21 M. de Saint-Victor, 'Sur la cimetière du Père Lachaise', L'Ami de la Religion, 43 (1825), 360–1.

22 Avner Ben-Amos, Funerals, Politics, and Memory in Modern France, 1789–1996 (New York, 2000), 114.

23 Michael Phayer, 'Politics and popular religion: the cult of the cross in France, 1815–1840', Journal of Social History, 11 (1978), 346–65; Kselman, Death and the Afterlife, 65–7.

24 Etlin, Architecture of Death, 328–30.

25 Francis Head, AFaggot of French Sticks or, Paris in 1851 (New York, 1852), 455; for similar descriptions see Alphonse Esquiros, 'Les cimetières de Paris', Revue de Paris (Feb.–March 1844), 261–6.

26 Archives Municipales, 37 M 42, file on Cimetière de l'Est. See also Lassere, 'La loi et les morts', 310.

27 Thomas Kselman, 'Funeral conflicts in nineteenth-century France', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 30 (1988), 312–32.

28 Maurice Agulhon, La R´epublique au village (Paris, 1970), 183.

29 Linda Nochlin, 'Innovation and tradition in Courbet's Burial at Ornans ', in Essays in Honor of Walter Friedlander (New York, 1965), 119–26.

30 For a fuller discussion of this painting and additional references, see Kselman, Death and the Afterlife, 291–302.

31 Du Principe de l'art et de sa destination sociale, in Œuvres complètes, ed. C. Bougl´e and H. Moysset (Paris, 1939), vol. XV, 175.

32 Jean-Joseph Gaume, The Christian Cemetery in the Nineteenth Century, or the Last War Cry of the Communists, trans. Rev. R. Brennan (New York, 1874), 73.

33 Avner Ben-Amos, 'Les fun´erailles de Victor Hugo', in Nora (ed.), Les Lieux de m´emoire, vol. I, 473–522.

34 For these reforms see Kselman, Death and the Afterlife, 107–10, 273–87, and Jacqueline Lalouette, La Libre Pensée en France, 1848–1940 (Paris, 1997), 307–15, 333–67.

35 Michel Lagrée makes a similar point in 'Exil´es dans leur patrie (1880–1920)', in Fran¸cois Lebrun (ed.), Histoire des Catholiques en France (Paris, 1980), 373

36 Kselman, Death and the Afterlife, 200.

37 L'Humanit´e, 2 Nov. 1904, 2 describes the flowers left at the 'mur des f´ed´er´es' and at the tombs of Blanqui, Zola and Waldeck-Rousseau, among others.

38 Fernand Boulard, 'La “d´echristianisation” de Paris. L'´evolution du non-conformisme ', Archives de Sociologie des Religions, 31 (1971), 78–9.

39 Annette Becker, 'From death to memory: the national ossuaries in France after the Great War', History and Memory, 5 (1993), 32–49; Becker, 'Les d´evotions des soldats catholiques pendant la Grande Guerre', in Nadine-Josette Chaline (ed.), Chr´etiens dans la première guerre mondiale (Paris, 1993), 15–34; Becker, Les Monuments aux morts: patrimoine et m´emoire de la Grande Guerre (Paris, 1988); Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (New York, 1995).

40 Winter, Sites of Memory, 224. See the photograph of Douaumont in Becker, Monuments aux morts, 33.

41 Winter, Sites of Memory, 26. In Angers the crosses over the graves of the World WarI dead include a military motif, with the top of the cross embellished to make it resemble the hilt of a sword. Kselman, Death and the Afterlife, 214.

42 Becker, 'From death to memory', 40.

43 Ibid., 34, 41, 45–6.

44 Ibid., 43–4. On the ecumenical spirit of the war see also Nadine-Josette Chaline, 'Les aumôniers catholiques dans l'armée fran¸caise', and Michel Lagrée, 'Ces chers protestants', in Chaline (ed.), Chr´etiens dans la première guerre mondiale, 95–120 (esp. 107), 133–52. For the collaboration of Catholic and secular intellectuals see Martha Hanna, The Mobilization of the Intellect: French Scholars and Writers during the Great War (Cambridge, MA, 1996).

45 Winter, Sites of Memory, 15–17, 133–7; Becker, Monuments aux morts, 93–102; Jean-Pierre Blin, 'Le vitrail comm´emoratif de la Grande Guerre: les catholiques fran¸caises et le culte du souvenir', in Chaline (ed.), Chr´etiens dans la première guerre mondiale, 167–96.

46 Ellen Badone, The Appointed Hour: Death, Worldview, and Social Change in Brittany (Berkeley, CA, 1989). See also Yves Lambert, Dieu change en Bretagne (Paris, 1985).

47 Badone, The Appointed Hour, 72, 214.

48 Ibid., 241.

49 Ibid., 211.

50 For a more extended comparison of these funerals see Thomas Kselman, 'Religion as an enduring theme in French culture', in Frank Brinkhuis and Sascha Talmor (eds.), Memory, History and Critique: European Identity at the Millennium, Proceedings of the 6th International ISSEI Conference at the University for Humanist Studies, Utrecht, the Netherlands, 1996 (Cambridge, MA, 1997).

51 Pierre Pean, Une Jeunesse franc¸aise: Franc¸ois Mitterand, 1934–1947 (Paris, 1994); Catherine Nay, The Black and the Red: Franc¸ois Mitterand and the Story of an Ambition (San Diego, CA, 1987); Robert Sol´e, 'La R´epublique à Notre Dame', Le Monde, 13 January 1996.

52 Cardinal Lustiger, 'Le respect du mystère de son existence', Le Monde, 12 January 1996

53 Ren´eR´emond, Le Catholicisme franc¸ais et la soci´et´e politique (Paris, 1995), 175–97.

54 'La R´epublique à Notre Dame'.

55 Steven Englund, 'The ghost of nation past', The Journal of Modern History, 64 (1992), 299–320.

56 Le Monde, 12 May 1994 reports that 67 per cent of the French still identify themselves as Catholic, compared to 23 per cent who say they are without religion.

57 Colleen McDannell, Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America (New Haven, CT, 1995).

The impact of technology on Catholicism
in France (1850–1950)

Michel Lagrée

Who is to be believed? The French philosopher Henri Bergson, in one of his last major works at the beginning of the 1930s, composed an emphatic eulogy on mechanisation, at the very time when the spread of Taylorism and the industrial depression were leading many intellectuals to call it into question. He made no hesitation in concluding that 'Spiritualism leads to mechanisation.' 1 He meant by this that technical progress, by liberating humanity for the first time in its history, from the obsessive 'fear of not feeding its hunger', allowed it, by escaping from a constrained and inevitable asceticism, to reach finally genuine spiritual experience. Conversely, throughout France in the 1950s, the chaplains of the rural Catholic 'Action Group' were raising the alarm as agricultural mechanisation reached the French countryside. They may have read Bergson during their studies at the seminary, but their view was totally the opposite. 2 In their opinion the 'technical mentality' went towards accelerating the breakdown of traditional parish civilisation.

Comparing the fields of religion and technology inevitably leads to the following type of contradiction: some hope to find in technical progress a startingpoint for a new type of evangelisation, while on the contrary others see in it a fearful dissolution of ancient Christian civilisation. The issue is too vast for an overview to be easily taken. We shall start from a precise point in time and space: France during the century which runs from 1850 to 1950. It is therefore a place in which the culture is predominantly Catholic which will be studied, and French Protestantism will be deliberately ignored. 3 This place of Catholic culture will be studied from the middle of the nineteenth century, when industrialisation was taking off, with a perceptible advance in Great Britain, but also in neighbouring Belgium, until the middle of the twentieth century, when the combined effects of 'technoscience' and postwar economic growth created, this time in line with the rest of western Europe, a new acceleration of change. Clearly one must be cautious before extrapolating on issues relating specifically to France, as much from the point of view of technological progress as of the religious context. First the religious effects of technological change will be measured, before determining in the context of this volume the answers put forward by the key religious players. In both cases, the impossibility of a 163 single-stranded conclusion will be confirmed: it is rather a tension, or indeed a dialectical contradiction, that technological change introduces into the religious domain.

The effects of technical change on religion Two forms, or degrees, must be marked out when examining the effects of technical change on religion. First-degree effects, that is to say those with a direct impact on religious acts and rituals, have not always received the attention they deserve: these should therefore be distinguished from the more commonly recognised 'technical mentality' which can be seen as emanating from seconddegree effects. A sufficiently detailed study which takes into account certain details of secondary appearance in fact leads one to see the impact of technical innovation on the religious experience itself, even in the act of worship and the liturgy. Some innovations are clearly beneficial, in that they bring, as they do to other human activities, a material ease which is the very principle behind technical innovation. Others are problematic, as technical innovation goes against the fabric of symbols which defines a ritualistic religion such as Catholicism. 4

Modern techniques, especially for the general public, are embodied in means of communication, in both senses of the term: the physical displacement of people and the conveying of messages. On the first point historians and sociologists specialising in religion agree that in the domain of Catholicism the act which has best survived present-day erosion is the pilgrimage, even if it is has been considerably transformed. Forms of overland transport first of all (railways, coaches and cars), and then air transport, have contributed to a sharp focusing of the places visited for pilgrimages. While numerous local pilgrimages passed into a state of disuse from the middle of the nineteenth century, the great shrines, particularly those devoted to the Virgin Mary, attracted growing crowds. 5 At Sainte-Anne d'Auray, the railways and passenger trucks, familiar to the area since 1914–18, unloaded 200,000 people per year at the beginning of the 1920s; 6 after 1960, the airport at Tarbes-Lourdes became the major provincial means of access by air. However, ease of transport caused one essential aspect of pilgrimage of the past to disappear: the journey. Whereas before, the pilgrimage began as one stepped outside one's front door, and the route itself was part of the univers consacr´ e, 7 from then on it began when stepping off the train.

Conversely, the clergy welcomed the disappearance of profane temptations, distractions and licentiousness—particularly among the young—which were traditionally associated with the pilgrim's journey: a pilgrim's train with its schedules to be respected and its hymns sung in the carriages took something from both military transport and the religious service. 8

In either a spectacular or surreptitious way technical innovation modified the wayin which the religious message was both transmitted and received. This was the case for organs used to accompany the religious service. From the 1880s electricity considerably overcame transmission problems in large organ cases; 9 and above all allowed a certain democratisation of the instrument, enabling it to be operated in churches which until that time had been without one. Around 1930 some people even thought that the electric organ would become commonplace in churches, 10 but the Roman authorities, when consulted, objected on several occasions to an instrument with such strong connotations— exactly like its pneumatic ancestor to begin with—of the corrupt pleasures of entertainment. 11 Even more spectacular was the association of the microphone and loudspeaker which was to transform the practical conditions of preaching. This first became obvious for open-air events at which those who experienced the technology soon became dependent upon it, and so the need for electric address systems was rapid and irreversible. Inside the churches, the pulpit was a sort of balcony above the congregation, representing the hierarchical and vertical superiority of the priest. 12 The microphone which lay preachers also came to use after the church council reforms meant a rapprochement, while chrome instruments and the mass of wires around the altar may have somewhat trivialised the event.

The benefits reaped by French Catholicism from the use of means of communication and the media need not be emphasised. 13 This was first of all the case for printing on all scales; at one extreme the abb´e Migne's Montrouge printing houses were among the largest industrial presses at the time of 1850; while at the other extreme, the huge number of diocesan printers often made up a key element of the profession in provincial towns. At the same time the periodical or daily press was developing. After the French episcopate's bitter experience with L'Univers, an Ultramontane war machine against the Gallican bishops, 14 La Croix and its local editions moved towards the concept of the bon journal around the end of the nineteenth century, but did not reach a sufficient readership in comparison with other national publications. In the provinces, only western Brittany with L'Ouest-Eclair founded in 1899 and going on to become Ouest-France in 1944, today's foremost national daily paper in terms of circulation, represented a real success in this field. The spread of Catholic magazines starting with the Pèlerin was more satisfactory. The remnants of this are still highly visible with the success of the periodicals edited by the Catholic publishing houses, even if they display a respectable neutrality aimed at two key 'targets': the elderly on the one hand, and children and young people on the other. The development of radio was gladly accepted by Catholic opinion because of its favourable view of its two pious inventors, the Frenchman Branly and the Italian Marconi. Challenged at first by the Roman authorities, 15 the broadcasting of services was finally accepted in the 1950s, meeting a clear need on the part of those housebound in all sorts of ways: the disabled, mothers of young children, etc. Nevertheless, as with television later on, the rise of radio was the cause of repeated protest. On the one hand religious broadcasts were always judged to be too self-effacing, and on the other hand there were complaints about the immorality of numerous irreverent programmes. Audiovisual media, however, gave the Roman authorities an unexpected means of communication. The use of radio took off under Pius XI, allowing everyone to receive the urbi et orbi blessing, along with the indulgence. 16 Pius XII brought radio messages almost up to the status of encyclicals, ignoring borders in the middle of the Second World War. On the evening of 6 June 1954, as part of one of the first Eurovision programmes, he addressed television viewers in Italian, French, German and Dutch. 17 He was thus giving a new meaning to Pentecost, and initiating a practice which was to be perfected by his successors: the importance of television in John Paul II's papal work is a perfect example of this.

When put to effective use for pastoral work, modern technology could, however, prove embarrassing when it came into competition or even conflict with the realities of religious symbolism, in particular those of the scriptures: liturgical services, in their framework, setting, acts and words are strongly marked by references to the scriptures. And this stood in clear opposition to the changes at work in the world outside religion. Whether it was a matter of altar cloths or even the sacred clothes and albs of those celebrating the mass, it was linen, or hemp in extreme circumstances, which had to be used, and from 1819 Pope Pius VII stood in the way of the new fabric cotton. But right throughout the nineteenth century the calls to order had to be increased, in the face of the irresistible economic and psychological pressure working in favour of the textile which symbolised the Industrial Revolution. Now this was incompatible with the minutely detailed instructions given to Aaron and his sons (Leviticus 16:4; Exodus 28:5 and 42) or with the symbolism of Revelation 19:8. Linen was the product of domestic spinning and weaving, that is to say 'honest sedentary work', which was considered greatly superior to 'the best product obtained through the science of mechanics'; 18 its piety and whiteness were obtained 'by hard work and repeated soaking; in the same way that work and mortification achieved and perfected the saintliness of the priest's attire'. 19 If nowadays we still evoke in a broad archaeological perspective the linen ritual dress of the ancient Egyptians and Romans, compared with that of the Jews, it is always with the belief that only pre-industrial material has the authenticity which makes it suitable for its purpose. 20

It should be remembered that the instructions given to the great priest Aaron concerned not only liturgical clothes, but also building materials for the shrine: the arch, the altar, the framework, etc. (Exodus 25 and 26). Industrial technology began to supply materials which were literally without precedent, the first of which was reinforced concrete. The first example of the use of reinforced concrete for a religious building in France was Saint-Jean de Montmartre church (1894–1904), which was soon followed by other more prestigious projects: Oran cathedral (1908) and particularly Notre-Dame du Raincy by the Perret brothers (1922), which was a real manifesto in favour of the new material. It is noticeable, however, that architects, and even more so their sponsors, did not use it for long and even when they did it was with a relative timidity. It wasasif concrete would have seemed unworthy of its function. It was disliked because of its utilitarian appearance with its overly strong connotations of large buildings used for industrial purposes. As with cotton, it was difficult to take to 'a rebel material created by intelligence and shaped with a tool'. 21 Rome had made no mistake in this respect and had decreed in 1909 that a church built from cement could only be consecrated if it had been embedded with natural stone in the places where the bishop undertook the anointing with holy oil. 22 This is apowerful symbolism which came to strengthen the tradition of Gallo-Roman building work. 23 Stone was the symbol of Jesus Christ as the foundation of the church (Luke 20:17; I Corinthians 10:4). Now, the very time that industry was providing new materials coincided with the rediscovery of the medieval liturgy and the growth in liturgical symbolism, as the following lines from Durand de Mende's 'rationale' illustrate: 24

On this base the foundation of the apostles and prophets has been placed: the walls are the Jews and the gentiles, the four corners of the world called to the faith, the stones, of different sizes and smoothness, represent the faithful with their various merits; finally the cement which binds them together, is charity, through which the members of Christian society become one in heaven, in purgatory and on earth. 25

It took the Mediator Dei encyclical of 1948 to bring about the idea that 'modern works when well harmonised with to-day's materials should not all be despised and rejected out of prejudice'.

Even more heated debates arose concerning the introduction of new sources of light into churches, as this touched on one of the fundamental forms of symbolism. It is well known that close links exist between the spiritual and theological importance of light ( lumen de lumine ) and its physical reality in the place of worship, through the various forms of lighting. Technical innovation emerged in three forms. The first concerned the oil lamp having to burn permanently in front of the holy sacrament according to the ancient order recalled by the council of Trent. The renewed taste for allegorisation provoked numerous mystical commentaries on this lamp in the nineteenth century: the flame symbolised Christ, light of the world, the heat his love, the consumption the sacrifice of Calvary and of the altar, as well as the vigilance of the church. 26 Cardinal Landriot reminded everyone that the oil extracted from the olive represented the perfection of the holy spirit: oil from the lamps of wise virgins or oil penetrating substances it touches is like the holy spirit entering into just souls. 27 Olive oil, however, fell into competition, because of its high price, with other vegetable oils on the market, which were reluctantly allowed by Rome in 1864, under the control of the bishops. Petrol was even accepted, but only as a very last resort. While the petrol lamp swept through homes, for some people it held 'great diabolical significance; since the events of May 1871 petrol has become, particularly in France, an object of horror'. 28 During the First World War the difficulties in getting supplies and the rise in prices favoured petrol more and more, as well as electric lamps, which were provisionally accepted and only in extreme cases ( ultimo loco ) from 1916 onwards. This went against a whole series of earlier decisions forbidding the placing of gas or electric lamps on the altar. 29 There ensued a significant loss in symbolism of the altar lamp, about which the following was written: 'the vulgar appearance it has been given for a number of years in too many churches takes away its charm and poetry. It is no more than a “pigeon” lamp with nothing to distinguish it from those seen in our kitchens.' 30 The acceptance granted in 1916 was reiterated in March 1942, still as a temporary measure and with regard to the wartime circumstances ( praesenti hello perdurante ); 31 it was repealed in the decree of 18 August 1949. This was something which did not prevent electric lighting from being maintained to the present day, as can be seen in many churches, 'for reasons of cleanliness and convenience as much as economy'. 32 The influence of the common material culture finally proved the strongest.

Similar problems emerged with liturgical candles as a result of progress in chemistry and the industrialisation of the practical and cheap stearic candle from the 1830s onwards. The stearic candle passed quickly from homes to the altars of humble churches to such an extent that candlemakers in Marseilles alerted Rome in 1839 and the rules were strictly recalled in 1843 and reiterated in 1878. 33 Once again modern industry was clashing with the liturgical system of symbols. Candles which are consumed, likened to Christians carrying out good works, 34 had to be made from beeswax, as laid down in the prayer of the Easter candle blessing ( Exultet )or the prayers of the purification of the Virgin. 'Ancient scholars' saw a parallel with the virginity of bees, the purity of the substance 'drawn from the finest sugar of the flowers' and the 'conception of the saviour in Mary's chaste breast'. On the other hand, stearin, extracted from animal fat, has something squalid about it, 'a symbol of the flesh and earthly instincts'. 35 However, economic pressure led to a growth in the use of stearin, either in the additional candles above the number required for the liturgy, or in carefully prepared quantities with wax. 36

Finally to everybody's relief and acknowledging a fraud which was no doubt widespread, in December 1904 the Congregation of Rites relaxed the rules considerably. Only the Easter candle and at least two liturgical candles had to be made from wax, or contain at least a major amount of it.

The third form of liturgical light is the actual lighting of churches. It was particularly in America, with its great love of modernity, that there was an immediate temptation to introduce modern lighting, such as gas and electricity, as soon as they were available, but reservations remained strong over in the old continent. Rome totally forbade gas lighting for altars. 37 Once again symbolism was the cause:

Everything has a meaning in the church. Gas would not have one. To give it a place the paving and tomb stones would have to be broken, the pillars cut, the corners clipped from the chapters and prominence given to profane devices…A gas lit church looks like a cafe, a wise peasant said to me one day. The sense of religion was alive in him and he understood that anything without a special mark, an ecclesiastical mark, had to be kept away from the church. 38

Towards the end of the century electricity became an even greater rival to gas lighting. Rome gave its views on three occasions, 39 recalling two fundamental principles: electricity was forbidden on altars, but allowed for lighting naves providing it was only used in a functional way, ad depellendas tenebras, with moderate power and giving no theatrical effect. Electricity in fact suffered from having been used in its early days, at the time of arc lamps and autonomous generators, in places of pleasure such as the opera and theatres. The very clear 'no' given to the bishop of Los Angeles in 1908 regarding the propriety of strings of lights around statues or in the altar vases served as a marvellous illustration of the refusal of a baroque use of electric lighting, the very one which was flaunted in the streets and shops, that is to say the outside and profane world. The numerous liberties taken with this prohibition, as can be seen today in very many churches, can be added to the long list of popular revolts against ecclesiastic instruction. 40 The austere measures imposed for lighting were less and less understood by the faithful who were perfectly well accustomed to artificial light. But this development undoubtedly cost a loss in meaning. In pre-industrial civilisation, which was careful not to waste light, churches at nightfall were shadowy places full of mystery, about which Barbey d'Aurevilly has left us a striking evocation. 41 At that time the liturgical value of light, even without pouring in the esotericism of the allegorists, was immediate, which is no longer the case today.

If today natural candles have replaced spring mounted devices and electric candelabras on the altars in a move back towards simplicity, they often shine surrounded by more and more sophisticated electric lighting which opposes their subtle and flickering glow in the supreme flood from projectors and fluorescent tubes. Could this be a metaphor for the position of religion in the face of technology?

Seen from this angle the question leads to the secondary effects of technical change, that is to say, on religious awareness in general. These effects are contradictory: if we go back to Max Weber's categories they can be seen to contribute as much to the re-enchantment of the world as to its disenchantment. It is often by means of technology that the spirit of the supernatural and of wonder is introduced into the world today. This is clear from the flowery rhetoric which inevitably accompanied the great technological breakthroughs while they maintained an element of novelty, before being assigned to routine: the railways around 1840–50, electricity around 1880–90, the conquest of space around 1950–60, and the Internet of today. The mirabilia of modern times were those of technology, Louis Figuier affirmed. 42 Metaphors came spontaneously. Factories were compared to cathedrals, 'temples' were raised to industry, and the great exhibitions were like a new form of pilgrimage. Electricity became a sort of magic fairy, infinitely allegorised by publicity posters. For their part, the preachers were not fooled by it, using it as an apologetic argument:

Electricity is a force which is, at present, totally unknown to us, even if we can see the visible effects or phenomena it produces. We therefore address the positivist in these terms, regarding electricity: how can it be! you believe in this force because you can see its effects, yet you do not believe in the universal cause, of which you yourself and everything around you are the effects!…Electricity is no more known to you, nor visible to your eyes, as a cause or force than God…Be logical therefore. 43

The harnessing of nuclear energy was like a blow in the very heart of the structure of matter; with the background of the Cold War and the race for strategic supremacy arousing apocalyptic fears. 44 These were to have repercussions later on when they rebounded on its civil applications.

The almost religious aspect surrounding new techniques often rested on the mystery and secrecy reserved for the initiated only. The exclusivity of the secrets of manufacture and implementation could lead to a sort of esotericism. Before the iron and steel industry became truly scientific by incorporating laboratory chemistry methods around the end of the nineteenth century, discoveries made by trial and error were jealously guarded. Visitors to the Krupp factories around 1860 came away with the description of a very cut-off universe which seemed removed from the rest of the world. All things being equal, the very first computer scientists of the 1940s and 1950s could be compared to a real 'caste', jealously defending their position as initiates. The initial resistance of this group to the introduction of an adapted vocabulary which was more accessible to the uninitiated and which replaced the highly obscure 'technical jargon' cannot be explained only on economic grounds. Moreover, the slowness in developing this vocabulary can be attributed to the almost religious attachment, known as 'th´eologie de la programmation' (the creed of information technology ) displayed by these specialists. 45 The division between these initiates and the general public must have aided the spread of irrational fears, owing as much to the possibility of a generalised social control by machines as to that of the replacement of workers by automatic systems. Conversely, the democratisation of microchip technology and the creation of user-friendly interfaces was presented as the access route for the great majority to a 'numerical Nirvana'. 46 In this lies what seems to be a recurring theme, a sort of spontaneous religion based on technology. The philosophy of Saint-Simon gave a good illustration of this at the beginning of our period; and the current debate about 'cyberspace' is full of echoes of this. 47

However, the action of technical change in the opposite direction, that is to say in the direction of Weberian disenchantment ( Weltentzauberung )was regularly denounced by Catholic clerics, calling it 'the technical spirit' or 'technical mentality '. The majority of French priests, spread out for the most part in rural areas, with few in the towns, and even fewer in the industrial suburbs, remained for a long time out of touch with manufacturing realities and their religious effects, which have been covered on numerous occasions and which will not be examined here. 48 It was when mechanisation reached their familiar world made up of countryfolk that it revealed all of its consequences to them. It should be remembered that the French countryside, particularly the regions of traditional Christian practices such as western Brittany or areas south of the Loire, were affected quite a bit later than the Anglo-Saxon countries and Germany. The feeling of change was all the greater, coinciding as it did with the intense debate on pastoral care led by the clergy from the 1940s. As a result of its negative effects on the need for agricultural manpower and the attractive development of urban employment, mechanisation was given as the principal cause of the exodus of countryfolk to the towns, which were judged to be full of dangers for morals and religious practice, as well as the accompanying devitalisation of rural parishes. 49 Mechanisation tended to free agricultural workers from natural constraints which had formerly been so burdensome. Nature, it was said, was omnipresent in traditional culture, its events forming the path to God. Life, death, storms, sun, etc. led to the conclusion that 'there is someone up above'. Machines and chemical products led to the pursuit of efficiency at all costs: 'It's good because it produces, it works hard, it brings in a profit.' This efficiency wasnow merely the product of rationalism. 'Holy water is replaced by DDT.' 50 The fatalism of earlier times was opposed by an almost limitless optimism, with progress constituting an irreversible and infinite course: 'One day or another we will get there…we can make any thing now.' 51 Machinery aroused a real interest, if not a fascination, feeding in particular all the conversations of the impatient young, who took a different view from their more cautious elders, especially women. Let us add at this point that forcing countryfolk to equip themselves with technical or even scientific knowledge contributed to the reduction in the traditional superiority of the priest and cleric as regards the rusticus.

By introducing more capital into agricultural work, modern technology ended up as a race to pay off debts. While the countryfolk of earlier times were prepared to hoard their money, they now threw themselves into endless investments at the cost of getting into debts which would drastically change their relationship with both money and the future. There was an increase in inquiries into the abusive practice of Sunday working, which had been traditionally tolerated when bad weather threatened, but could not be when it was caused by the need to pay for combine-harvesters which tended to blot out the Sunday landmark during the summer months. 52 'I know of farms where they work day and night using tractors fitted with lights, and where the wife herself drives the machine.' 53 Paradoxically, while machines were created to lighten the workload, they in fact created new constraints, in particular for family manpower which was called upon more and more, and caused the disappearance of salaried agricultural workers, and the decline of co-operative spirit. 54 The conclusion wasevident: technology 'exalted for itself and taken away from the context of all around it, becomes harmful and disrupts the existing order rather than actually improving it'. 55

Technical change–a blessing or a curse? During the great exhibition of 1855 in Paris a fairly bitter polemic arose between the democratic and anti-clerical newspaper Le Siècle and L'Univers, the instrument of the Ultramontane Catholics. 56 Broadly speaking, Le Siècle accused the Ultramontane Catholics of an anti-industrial and anti-technological obscurantism, and of wanting to take France back to the middle ages. The fact that L'Univers replied on two fronts, first against Le Siècle and second against clearly favourable leanings towards industry displayed at the same time by Le Correspondant and L'Ami de la Religion, publications of liberal Catholicism, distinctly illustrated the existence of two Catholic attitudes towards technical change. On reflection, these two attitudes had deep-rooted theological backgrounds stemming from Christian antiquity, and had repercussions which can still be felt today. 57

Louis Veuillot, the uncontested leader of the Ultramontanes, was a tireless denigrator of modernity in all its forms: political, moral, literary, etc., but it was probably his strong views against the technical innovations of the Industrial Revolution which struck the greatest number of the public. Using the paradigm of 'La Science' and his imaginary hero Coquelet, struck dumb with admiration whenever he comes across technological 'miracles', Veuillot attacked his sworn enemy, the liberal and Voltairean bourgeoisie. He asserted that he had more dread of the destruction wrought by the 'blinkered polytechnic' than the attacks by small groups of anti-clericals: in fact, he believed that by proclaiming the demiurgic power of the industrial man, 'decent people' would end up believing that the creator was no longer God but the French Academy. He admired the eternal Italy, which had been miraculously saved from the stains and contamination of the northern countries thanks to the wisdom of the papal government. In an almost obsessional fashion, two types of object came in for his anger, those which exactly embodied the new industrial age for the public: steam engine transport and the electric telegraph. The railways were accused of ending travel carried out at the traditional walking pace, and in particular at a pilgrim's pace, going from 'church tower to church tower', with the time to pray and enjoy the rapture of the countryside. Modern man, hurried and rushed, deprived himself of the time for contemplation and the encounter with God. 'We're stuck on the locomotive. Oh no! I couldn't possibly condone this violent machine! I shall never like its smoke, its wailing, its brutal course across the torn earth. I shall never be happy to look at the uniform automatons who serve the monsters.' The railways meant being shut away, the tyranny of the timetable, and the disappearance of the sociability that went with the stagecoaches and post houses: 58 the traveller was reduced to the level of a parcel and number, which, for Veuillot, constituted the best metaphor for his hated democracy. 59 Of course, the steamboat undeniably eased the bishops' journey to Rome 60 — and Veuillot's journey too, but he saw it only as an ugly engine, 'long, black and having neither masts, sails nor ropes.—Its rigging, as brutal as it is, is made of iron chains. In this modern mechanisation all we see are iron teeth and iron chains', as opposed to the sailing ships of earlier times, 'Whose sails filled out in the breeze like breasts swollen with milk'. 61 Even though the first words transmitted by the electric telegraph between Washington and Baltimore in 1844 were ' The Words of God', Veuillot remembered only the commercial and police uses for this invention:

Coquelet adds: Imagine an eloquent priest: he preaches on the same day in three or four towns. His speech, taken down in shorthand, sent by telegraph and then immediately multiplied by photography, rings out over the four corners of the earth…Andyou reject that? Your view on this matter is that your thoughts travel at the speed of lightning. Only the stock exchange and the police travel this way. Freedom is hung from these posts. 62

It is true that the state's monopoly on telecommunications in France following the ruling of 1837 had unfortunate connotations in a dictatorial regime such as the Second Empire. And Veuillot, laudator temporis acti, exalted the ancient 'sacred telegraph', whether it was the apparitions of angels in the Bible or, more prosaically, the call of church bells, which was perfectly clear to all, particularly the poor and uneducated, to whom God's message had first been addressed. 63 This was enough for Le Siècle to imagine, under the title 'A funeral pyre for the industrialists', a Veuillot-style parody in which the court of the inquisition judged and condemned the representatives from the different sectors of technical innovation. 64 It was fair enough, given the success of L'Univers and Veuillot's books among the lower clergy, but it dismissed a whole current of opposing Catholic opinion, which was active in the ecclesiastical establishment and which was evident from the numerous declarations by the bishops: in their mandates and pastoral letters, and above all in lending their presence to the blessing of ships, railway lines and urban developments. 65 Many prelates under the July Monarchy and the Second Empire never stopped praising the new technologies. 'The religious spirit and non-progressive spirit' should not be confused; it was no longer the time of Veuillot's beloved medieval mysteries but the time of modern society. 66 High in the pulpit of Notre-Dame, Fr Felix solemnly challenged the notion that Christianity was 'industry's curse' or even 'anathema to material progress'. 67 Although close to Ultramontane ideas, abb´e Moigno developed a busy career as a scientific and technical populariser, imitating Figuier and Flammarion. 68 Anew theme was flourishing: nineteenth century man was beginning to exploit the treasures hidden by God since the time of creation. In a certain sense it was a new type of miracle. 69 Monseigneur Plantier, the bishop of Nîmes, marvelled before the new mechanisms created by man: although without eyes or hands they seemed equipped with a vision and subtlety to facilitate manufacturing: 'it could be said that a single soul runs through all these parts'. 70 Monseigneur Landriot (La Rochelle) was not far from thinking that, unlike at the time of creation, God was in some way stepping aside a little to give man the lead role. 71 It was the blessings of the railways which gave the bishops the chance to use rhetoric which was poles apart from that used by Veuillot: 72

The railway is, in the material order of things, the image and complement of intelligence. Intelligence acts as steam in the order of ideas, and while the vulgar drags its feet along the torturous paths of dialectic subtlety, intelligence travels in leaps and, having arrived at the pinnacle, sees everything with a single glance. This is just like the railway: while the poor coachman still struggles with his mount's harness, as soon as the carriage leaves it arrives…In earlier times, intelligence may have dared, but its arm moved slowly; today its lever has a type of power which seems to transport it to several places at once: it has something of God's power which does everything at the same time: creavit omnia simul. 73

Moreover, the occasion of the blessing allowed for the evocation of danger, which was always present despite the engineers' talent, and which only divine protection could keep at bay. Even though the ideas of Saint-Simon had been opposed in their time as expressions of a truly secular religion aspiring to overthrow the Christian metaphysics, many of its economic and technical premises had been preserved, albeit in adapted forms. Many bishops saw in the railways the promise of economic growth, of the distribution of cheap goods for all, of the bringing together of nations, of peace. In these early years of the railways, before the mass rural exodus to the towns, and before the massive spread of the irreligious popular press, in the opposite direction into the provinces, the prelates did not see any threat to the faith or morality in the new means of transport. On the contrary, they believed they would facilitate the spread of the evangelical message.

In their eyes it was the same for the electric telegraph, which was, moreover, closely linked in general to the railway line:

May the electric spark, on its invisible wing, instantly transfer thought from one end of the universe to the other: may steam be harnessed to our chariots to give them the speed of lightning; angels of peace will use these discoveries to bring the good news of salvation right into the furthest regions and to work for consummation of great Catholic unity. 74

In an era so clearly fascinated with allegories a new form of exegesis was appearing. This was the search for biblical quotations containing some sort of prophetic announcement of the realities of the new age, which could then be thrown into the blessings. In its accuracy Leviathan's evocation (Job 41:4–26) seemed to Monseigneur Planner to describe locomotives and steam engines 'in advance'. Whether Veuillot liked it or not, speed of transport was recommended in Ecclesiastes (32:10–11) for the same reason that Monseigneur Landriot was in favour of it. 75 Psalms 104 (3 and 4) and 18 (8–13) were readily invoked, particularly for these 'messages on the wind' produced by the telegraph.

Although these two waves of religious thought, one hostile and the other in favour of technical innovations, are especially evident around the middle of the nineteenth century their lineage is ancient and they have their successors to the present day. Since the times of pagan antiquity in the heart of cynical stoic philosophy there was a tendency to value natural things at the expense of the technical artifact. Certain church elders, influenced by stoicism, 76 inherited these prejudices. Tertullian thus denounced the dyeing of fabrics as falsified and in some way 'adulterous': God does not like what he has not produced himself. Do you think he could not have ordered the flocks to be born purple or sky blue? If he has not done so it is because he did not want it like that; one does not have the right to make what God did not want. That which has not come from God, the creator of nature, is therefore not good by nature. It should be understood, therefore, that these things come from the devil, the falsifier of nature.

In the same way Saint Ambrose went on to denounce human industria, that is, any effort made to obtain artificially anything other than that found in nature. Innocent III was saddened that 'substance became an accident and nature was changed into art' and people acted 'as if man's artifice surpassed the creator's art'. 77 This was very similar to the arguments against Coquelet and 'Science' put forward by Veuillot, who would have been brought up on the Church Fathers. Traces of this attitude can even be seen in certain nineteenth-century inventors, who were so careful to imitate nature to the letter. 78

In the stoicism of antiquity, however, there existed an opposing tradition which valued technical activity. Panetius of Rhodes (first century BCE) placed the 'brutish nature' of providence in opposition to a 'second nature' created by the hands of man. His pupil Posidonios of Apamea wrote a lot on technology, and Cicero, Posidonios' disciple, popularised this eulogy on man transforming the universe. 79 Cicero was used by Christian authors, and in particular for commenting on the book of Genesis (1:28). St Augustine's apology for the role of providence in man's God-given capacity to transform the world rationally provides us with the source of numerous bishops' speeches in the nineteenth century:

What marvels has human industry not achieved in the fabric of clothes, in the construction of buildings? What progress in agriculture and navigation? So much imagination, so much perfection in these vases of every shape, in this multitude of statues and paintings …. And then there are so many types of poisons, weapons and machines invented by man against man, so many remedies and forms of aid created to defend and separate human life. 80

The privilege given to the ars —in which Tertullian denounced the artifex, valuing man's competence and skill—resulted in medieval developments in the mechanical arts (Hugues de Saint-Victor, Saint Bonaventure). Saint Thomas went one step further by breaking with the tradition of Plato and Aristotle regarding the creation: human action is an imitation, or indeed part of God's creative activity. This shaped the nineteenth-century bishops' declarations regarding the 'miracles' carried out by man with divine authorisation.

It would be useful to examine in detail the way in which these two attitudes have persisted to the present day, but we shall have to settle for a broad sketch concentrating on just a few of the milestones. It is true that once the first Industrial Revolution was over there was less discussion of innovation, owing to the fact that most people were fairly accustomed to it. This phenomenon was accentuated by the decline in public blessings, at least in France. 81 The religious tendency towards 'technophilosophy' was again illustrated at the turn of the nineteenth century by Ernest Hello, who, turning upside down the usual views on the Enlightenment, not without paradox, could almost see the technical miracles of the nineteenth century as a sort of revenge on the incredulity of the eighteenth century:

Imagine how those of the eighteenth century would have laughed if somebody had told them about a railway. Imagine how rational men would have got together, enjoyed jokes and taken satisfaction from mocking it! Imagine the tranquillity of their irony and the entirely good faith with which they would have scoffed at the madmen, the same madmen who would have said: it will be. And what about the mountains, the eighteenth-century philosopher would have objected with the insolent pleasure of self-satisfaction. We shall go through them, the madman would have replied. I can hear the roar of laughter, the mad laughter of the philosopher. 82

As for photography, about which Veuillot held such a poor view—despite his friendship with Nadar 83 —for Hello it was wholly appropriate for the era of the busy man, enabling him to extract his memories 'from the authority of time and death'. Even better was the behaviour of the photographic plate, which required total cleanliness, while the invisible image that had to be revealed in the meditative obscurity evoked human conscience itself.

It was around the 1950s that a Catholic discussion on technology re-emerged in force at a time coinciding with the arrival of 'technoscience' and the reign of a pope with encyclopedic curiosity, Pius XII. The latter gave his views on the subject whenever he could, and this was immediately echoed throughout the Catholic world. For example he made the most of the congresses held in Rome by professionals from various sectors, who were in turn, and with great eclecticism, gratified by a short speech. One day it would be linen and hemp producers 84 then on another day metal casters, 85 and on another radiologists. 86 The official designation of patron saints for new industries provided other opportunities : Saint Gabriel, who had already been promised as patron of radio and television in 1951 (as it was he who announced the redemption to mankind), was called to give a special blessing for the signals division of the Italian army. 87 This curiosity rubbed off on the French clergy and could be seen to grow in the magazines written for them, such as L'Ami du Clerg´ e, and in the well-informed popularised articles on science and technology. The death of Pius XII brought this phase of optimism to a relatively sharp halt. Paul VI came back to more traditional views on issues relating to science and technology, particularly taking up the theme of the discrepancy between technological advances and the moral development of humanity. 88 The shift in interests was confirmed during John Paul II's papacy, when priority was given to reflections on technology which concentrated heavily on ethics: on the one hand nuclear weapons, and on the other and more especially, medical techniques affecting procreation, bringing the old question of nature and artifact back to the fore.

There is a link here with the other tendency, which can be qualified as ascetic/ecological, and which continued to be expressed throughout the period. There is no need to limit oneself to the well-known anti-modern commentators such as Huysmans and Bloy. For example, here is Henry du Roure, a known silloniste, who went explicitly against the views of his time on the subject of electricity ' Electric! A hard, dry, abrupt, cramped word like the thing it expresses…All this is more serious than one might think, and the sociologists ought to study carefully the social utility of candles and the destructive power of modern inventions. With its stoves, heaters and electricity, sacrilegious progress has put out the flame.' As there is no longer a hearth in the proper sense, du Roure continued, the family is breaking down. Years ago, when night had fallen, children experienced the fear of the supernatural and the world beyond, whereas now the electric switch has made them 'omnipotent dispensers of day and night, and the whole of their little person is full of unbearable self-importance'. 89 There was a decisive shift later on, linked to the influence of Hindu mysticism, with Lanza del Vasto and the community of the Ark. This heralded the flourishing, which was especially evident in the 1970s, of new Christian communities with an emphasis on returning to nature, the only guarantee of truth, including the religious one. 90 This leads on to the religious element in the huge ecology movement, whose history clearly goes beyond the scope of this study. For his part, Jacques Ellul, the prolific writer of original essays, developed a concise and well-argued critique of the 'technical system', which he saw as a sort of mechanistic totalitarianism, using its own logic to escape from human control to a greater or lesser extent. 91 It would be useful to study how this viewpoint, which came from the Protestant domain and was probably better understood in Anglo-Saxon countries, was received in French Catholic circles.

As a conclusion to this short and somewhat selective study let us accept that the issue of relationships between technological evolution and religion during the last two centuries has been relatively unexamined. 92 It is quite a different matter for the connected but distinct matters which have provoked numerous works: religion and science, religion and social structures in the industrial world. 93 In the fairly thin body of historical studies linking homo faber and homo religiosus the most detailed concern the high periods of antiquity and the middle ages. 94 As regards the modern and contemporary era, this relative timidity on the part of historians—and theologians for that matter—can be attributed in the first instance to the autonomy of the two disciplines, taking into account the high degree of specialisation that the history of technology requires in this day and age. Historians of technology pay hardly any attention to religion 95 while historians of religion pay equally little attention to technology.

We therefore risk arriving at too simplistic conclusions as to the effect of technical transformations on religious behaviour—and vice versa. Does the Promethean character of contemporary activities go only and inevitably in the direction of a decline in religion's influence in general, in Christianity in particular, and towards an irresistible rise in spontaneous materialism? It is easy to state that, in many cases, whether it is a matter of towns or the countryside, religious detachment preceded the most radical technical changes. We can see clearly that some cultural zones in southern Europe (the south of the Iberian peninsula, for example), long known for having maintained an obvious technological archaism, are marked by a precocious emancipation from ecclesiastical influence and by a taste for advanced ideas. Conversely, a society like America's, deeply marked by the unbridled pursuit of technical progress, is among those which have remained the most 'religious' to the present day. Many sociological studies show equally that today's various forms of fundamentalism have a following among engineers and technicians from the newest domains, while the heritage of critical examination of the Enlightenment is stronger among the intellectuals who work in the more traditional social or literary fields. Technology is not inevitably the main agent of the world's disenchantment.


1 Les Deux Sources de la morale et de la religion, in Bergson's Œuvres (Paris, 1963), 1238

2 Examples can be found in the Cahiers du clerg´e rural, inan overview of the pastoral day in the diocese of Séez (1958, no. 201), and another of the Quercy area, diocese of Mantauban 211 (1959).

3 In his 'Ideology and technology. Reactions to modern technology in the Netherlands, 1850–1920', European History Quarterly, 22(3) (1992), 383–414, Dick Van Lente gives a far more detailed account of the situation in the Netherlands, based on various denominations. The same applies to Judaism, perhaps even to a greater extent. See Dictionnaire encyclop´edique du Judaïsme, French trans. of Encyclopaedia Judaica, ed. Geoffrey Wigoder (Paris, 1996), 420–2 for the Jewish law (Halakhah) regarding technical modernity.

4 Only in the most recent period have they sporadically been reactivated, in a way which makes the separation of the religious and patrimonial dimensions difficult.

5 Cf. Pierre Nora (ed.), Les Lieux de m´emoire, 7vols. (Paris, 1984–92).

6 To a lesser extent, the distribution of baby-carriages from the 1900s made the family pilgrimage considerably easier and should not be omitted: the 'gender history' of pilgrimage remains to be undertaken.

7 The paradigm being represented by the 'Chemins de Saint-Jacques' (de Compostelle). See Alphonse Dupront's Du sacr´e: croisades et pèlerinages, images et langages (Paris, 1987); Jean Chelini and Henri Branthomme, Les Chemins de Dieu: histoire des pèlerinages chr´etiens des origines à nos jours (Paris, 1982), on the traditional aspects of pilgrimage.

8 In Guingamp (Côtes d'Armor), for the pilgrimage of Notre-Dame de Bon Secours, the railway timetables have shortened the pilgrims' stay and 'the Breton jigs used as a form of relaxation to pass the time during a whole day of waiting have practically disappeared' ( La Semaine Religieuse de Saint-Brieuc, 25 August 1887).

9 'Les nouvelles orgues', Les Etudes Religieuses, 14 (1891), 146–54.

10 Abb´eD. Duret, Mobilier, vases, objets et vêtements liturgiques (Paris, 1932) p. 344.

11 Decisions by the Holy Congregation of Rites, 5 Dec. 1938 and 4 Sept. 1939. An advertisement published in L'Ami du Clerg´ e asked: 'If the Hammond organ was not an organ, what would the 3000 churches that have one do with it?' (1 October 1939).

12 P. Bruneau, 'The lineaments of an archaeology of Catholicism in the 19th and 20th century', RAMAGE, Revue Arch´eologique Moderne et d'Arch´eologie G´en´erale, 4 (1986), 141.

13 On the problem of religious communication in general, see Maria-Cristina Carnicella, 'Communication', in Ren´e Latourelle and Rina Fisichella (eds.), Dictionnaire de th´eologie fondamentale (Montreal and Paris, 1992).

14 Austin Gough, Paris and Rome: The Gallican Church and the Ultramontane Campaign, 1848–1853 (Oxford, 1986).

15 The Rescript of the Holy Office of 22 May 1928 mentions an abuse, practised without its consent. On the other hand, while expounding on the value of mass as a 'social and public act of worship', L'Ami du Clerg´ e (21 April 1949) compares two periods. 'In the old days [the person far away] would have picked up their prayer-book, read the Lord's Prayer, knelt on the ringing of the bell announcing the elevation…From now on, he can pick up his prayer-book and switch on his radio, to tune his own prayer to that of the community more easily', in Decree of the holy penitentiary, 15 June 1939 ( Acta Apostilicae Sedis, 31 (1939), 277). See Marc Agostino, Le Pape Pie XI et l'opinion, 1922–1939 (Rome, 1991), on Pius XI's communication policy.

16 See Agostino, Le Pape Pie XI.

17 La Documentation catholique, 1954, cols. 897–99.

18 L'Ami de la Religion, 22November 1855 (about the Great Exhibition).

19 Abb´eJ. F. d'Ezerville, Trait´epratique de la tenue des sacristies, des ´eglises et de tout le mobilier liturgique (Paris, 1886) 40.

20 Jean Aubert, Des Eglises pour nos assemblées (Paris, 1982), 51.

21 Ren´e Gobiliot, Architecture moderne et contemporaine (Paris, 1933), 180. This comment is close to that made by the abb´e Duret about iron, wrought by the hammer on an anvil to make entrance gates, as opposed to products shaped and machined: 'the marks left by the tool on the metal bear witness to the worker's efforts and are a sign of probity. The file and the vice are the instruments of the locksmith and fitter' ( Mobilier, Vases, 340).

22 That is to say the frame, ready to receive the twelve crosses of consecration and the stiles of the main door. Rescript of the Congregation of Rites, 12 November 1909, to the archbishop of Port-au-Prince.

23 Wooden churches could not be consecrated, only blessed (Rescript of the Congregation of Rites to the archbishop of San Salvador, 11 April 1902; cf. Nouvelle Revue Th´eologique, 34 (1902), 406–7). The same applied to iron buildings (Canon 1165, chapter 4 of the 1917 Codex).

24 After being somewhat ignored during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the works of the great liturgist from Languedoc became popular again in the nineteenth century, from Dom Gu´eranger to Huysmans (see Guillaume Durand, Evêque de Mende, v. 1230–96, Texts collected by Pierre-Marie Gy (Paris, 1992)).

25 Abb´eF.-J. Penn, Petit rational liturgique (Verdun and Paris, 1872), 5.

26 L'Ami du Clerg´e, 19 June 1903 (Supplement).

27 Sermons à des religieuses, by Mgr Landriot (Paris, 1881), 525–6.

28 D'Ezerville, Trait´epratique, 171.

29 Congregation of Rites, 23 February 1916. The fact that Canon 1271 of the 1917 Codex makes no mention of the electric lamp was interpreted as a proof of the purely transient aspect of tolerance. In 1923, the total cost of maintenance of an olive oil lamp was valued at 200 francs, whereas a low-voltage lamp 'costs little or hardly anything at all' (L'Ami du Clerg´ e, 25 October 1923).

30 Prêtre et Apôtre, October 1921.

31 Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 34 (1942), 112.

32 Catholicisme, hier, aujourd'hui, demain, vol. VI (Paris, 1967), col. 1749.

33 The missionaries from Oceania were the only ones to be allowed to use whale blubber.

34 A. Lerosey, Histoire et symbolisme dans la liturgie (Paris, 1890).

35 D'Ezerville, Trait´epratique, 181. The M´elanges Th´eologiques (5th series (1851– 52), 111) readily use scientific arguments: 'Vitality is a strength which cannot be found in laboratories and which produces effects chemists will never achieve. How many isomerous compounds, made up of the same ingredients and in the same proportions, but which are still so different in aspect and property, do we know? No amount of handling, modelling, amalgamation with other substances could make animal produced stearin into a piece of wax.'

36 Cf. L'Ami du Clerg´e, 11 August 1881.

37 Refusal put to the bishop of Newark (8 March 1879), and again on 16 May 1902.

38 D'Ezerville, Trait´epratique, quoting the Trait´e d'arch´eologie of the abb´e Pierret.

39 Congregation of Rites, 4 June 1893, decree of 22 November 1907 ( De luce electrica ), of 24 June 1914 ( De lucis electricae usus in ecclesiis ).

40 The ordinance of cardinal vicar of Rome ( Osservatore Romano, 19 March 1932) clearlylists the brande dabuses:luminaries 'shapedin to gloires, halos, diadems, rays, hearts, flowers, roses or other similar figurines', 'stands recreating the architectural profile of the church or altar, or in the shapes of stars or other similar figurines'.

41 'At an atheists' diner', in Les Diaboliques (Paris, 1966), 172–3.

42 See, in the same vein, Louis Figuier's Les Merveilles de la science, ou description populaire des inventions modernes, 3vols. (Paris, n.d.).

43 Bergie et Lenoir, Dictionnaire de th´eologie appropriée au mouvement intellectuel de la seconde moiti´edu XIXe siècle (Paris, 1876), vol. IV.

44 Cf. L'Ami du Clerg´e, 5 June 1947, 30 September 1949, 5 February and 6 March 1952, 9 April, 5 November and 3 December 1953, 3 June 1954.

45 Philippe Breton, Une Histoire de l'informatique (Paris, 1990), p. 182.

46 Steven Levy, La Saga Macintosh (Paris, 1994), 19. The title of the work by J. Chposky and T. Leonsis is also significant: Blue Magic: The People, Power and Politics behind the IBM Personal Computer (New York and London, 1989).

47 Christian Huitema, Et Dieu cr´ea l'Internet (Paris, 1995).

48 See classical studies: Fran¸cois-Andr´e Isambert, Christianisme et classe ouvrière (Tournai, 1961). Pierre Pierrard, L'Eglise et les ouvriers en France, 1840–1960 (Paris, 1984), is more concerned with socio-economic realities than with the effects of technology on the mind, which are latent in Ralph Gibson's A Social History of French Catholicism (London and New York, 1989).

49 This process has been studied in depth in numerous monographs, collected in the Cahiers du clerg´ e rural.

50 Cahiers du clerg´e rural (1958), 201.

51 Ibid. (1959), 454.

52 Ibid. (1958), 199 and L'Ami du Clerg´e, 9 June 1960.

53 Cahiers du clerg´e rural (1947), 301.

54 'Will agriculture suffer from the plague that has infected industry for half a century: man being enslaved by the very machine he created to lighten his load?' ( L'Ami du Clerg´ e, 11 June 1959).

55 Speech at the first international congress of engineers ( Osservatore Romano, 11 October 1953).

56 Cf. Michel Lagrée, La B´en´ediction de Prom´ethée: religion et technologies (XIXe– XXe siècles) (Paris, 1999).

57 Le Parfum de Rome, in Louis Veuillot, Œuvres complètes, vol. IX (Paris, 1926), 14.

58 C¸aet là, 4th edition (Paris, 1860), 85–6.

59 The utopian socialist Constantin Pecqueur saw it as an extraordinary instrument of equality between the different social classes, cf. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Histoire des voyages en train (Paris, 1990), 75–6.

60 L'Ami de la Religion, 2 May 1846.

61 Parfum de Rome, 42.

62 Ibid.

63 Cf. Alain Corbin, Les Cloches de la terre: paysage sonore et culture sensible dans les campagnes au 19e siècle (Paris, 1994).

64 Le Siècle, 24November 1854.

65 The follower of Saint-Simon, Michel Chevalier, as early as 1841 had already drawn attention to this corpus ( Le Journal des D´ebats, 20 September 1841).

66 E. Bonnier, in L'Ami de la Religion, 5 April 1860.

67 Lent of 1856, cf. Le Progrès par le christianisme: conf´erences de Notre-Dame de Paris, vol. I (Paris, 1859), 223–6.

68 On Moigno, see Pietro Redonti, 'Physique et apolog´etique: le Cosmos de 1'abb´e Moigno et de Marc Seguin', History and Technology, 6 (1988), 203; Michel Lagrée, 'L'Abb´e Moigno, vulgarisateur scientifique (1804–1884)', in Christianisme et science, series of texts compiled by the Association fran¸caise d'histoire religieuse contemporaine (Lyons and Paris, 1989), 167–82.

69 The fact that man had taken 6000 years to turn water into steam when it had been there since creation should be seen by man as a source not of pride, but of humility ( Le Progrès par le christianisme, vol. XLVI, 64).

70 Letter for Lent, 1860, in Instructions, lettres pastorales et mandements de Monseigneur Plantier, ´evêque de Nîmes, vol. I(Nîmes, 1867), 121–2.

71 The same idea is expressed by Mgr Giraud, bishop of Cambrai: 'Simply because He no longer shows himself directly to us, at least not in the ordinary course of his providence, by suddenly and abruptly suspending the laws he has given to the universe, let us not jump to the conclusion that he takes no part in the thoughts and actions of man' ( Discours pour l'inauguration de la fontaine centrale de Bailleul, June 1844).

72 Cf. Paul Droulers, 'Christianisme et ´evolution technologique: les premiers chemins de fer', Histoire, Economie, Soci´et´e, 1 (1983), 119–32.

73 Mgr Landriot, speech on the inauguration of the La Rochelle railway (Sept. 1857) in Œuvres, vol. I, 289.

74 Inauguration of the Perigueux railway by Cardinal Donnet ( L'Ami de la Religion, 30 July 1857).

75 The blessing of the La Rochelle railway, Landriot, Œuvres.

76 Michel Spanneut, LeStoïcismedesPèresded'Eglise:deCl´ementdeRome à Cl´ement d'Alexandrie (Paris, 1957).

77 Robert Bultot, 'Les sources païennes de l'opposition entre “naturel” et “artificiel” en milieu chr´etien', in Jacqueline Hamesse and Colette Muraille-Samara (eds.), Le Travail au moyen âge (Louvain la Neuve, 1990), 101–3.

78 Michel Lagrée, 'Religion and technological innovation: the steamboat in 1840s France', History and Technology, 12 (1995), 327–59.

79 De natura Deorum, 2.60.

80 De civitate Dei, 22.24.

81 This study should be broadened to include other areas of Catholic religion, from Italy to Quebec.

82 L'Homme: la vie, la science, l'art (Paris, 1903), p. 164.

83 B´enoit Leroux, Louis Veuillot: un homme, un combat (Paris, 1984), 143–7.

84 L'Osservatore Romano, 4–5 October 1954.

85 Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 48 (1954), 584–7.

86 L'Ami du Clerg´e, 19 August 1954.

87 L'Ami du Clerg´e, 6 April 1956. We know that the communication server used at present by the French episcopate has been placed under the protection of the archangel Gabriel.

88 George Minois, L'Eglise et la science: histoire d'un malentendu, vol. II, De Galilée à Jean-Paul II (Paris, 1991).

89 Quoted by Emile Poulat, 'Histoire des mentalit´es et histoire de 1'electricit´e', in L'Electricit´ e dans l'histoire: problèmes et m´ethodes (Paris, 1985), 143.

90 Danièle L´eger and Bertrand Hervieu, Des Communaut´es pour les temps difficiles: n´eo-ruraux ou nouveaux moines (Paris, 1983).

91 La Technique ou l'enjeu du siècle (Paris, 1990), reprint of a work published in 1960; Le Système technicien (Paris, 1977); Le Bluff technologique (Paris, 1988).

92 Cursive, non-detailed works: Paul Bourgy, Les Chr´etiens face aux techniques (Brussels and Paris, 1958), Charles-Alfred Courson, Science, Technology and the Christian (New York, 1961). More philosophical: Frederick Ferr´e (ed.), Technology and Religion: Research in Philosophy and Technology 10 (Greenwich, 1990).

93 Cf. Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1993).

94 Ernst Benz, 'I fondamenti Cristiani delle technica occidentale', in E. C. Astelli (ed.), Tecnica a casistica (Rome, 1964), 241–63; Lynn White Jr., Medieval Religion and Technology: Collected Essays (Los Angeles, 1978); George Ovitt Jr., 'The cultural context of western technology: early Christian attitudes toward manual labor', Technology and Culture, 27(3) (1986), 477–500.

95 Fran¸cois Russo makes some suggestions on the link between technology and culture in Introduction à l'histoire des techniques (Paris, 1986), chapter 3. See also Patrice Flichy, L'Innovation technique (Paris, 1995), 186ff.

Semantic structures of religious change in
modern Germany

Lucian Hölscher

There can be little doubt that religious life has changed within recent centuries in western Europe. But how to describe and how to define this change is highly controversial. The relationship between the object of historiography and the methods to get hold of it is at stake. In this situation the so-called 'linguistic turn' indicates a new awareness of the concepts used for the description of historical change. In the 1960s and 1970s it was a widely accepted strategy of historians to adopt some kind of theoretical model from other disciplines, mainly from political and social sciences, and to apply it to past societies. But this strategy seems less acceptable today, and it is not difficult to see the reasons for the growing reluctance among historians to go on in the same way as before: there has been a long discussion about the usefulness of the master-concepts of social sciences such as 'modernisation' and 'social differentiation', which I do not want to go into here. Today we may sharpen and modify them in order to accommodate them to new experiences and new needs of scientific research. But in any case we have to accept the fact that the concepts which serve to describe historical change are part of this change themselves. It seems to become more and more obvious that the scientific language can no longer be excluded from being the object of historical investigation and reserved to systematic constructions. It is my conviction that we have to treat the parameters of historical description themselves as changing concepts of changing perspectives on history, that each of them can be related to some specific historical situation and historical interest.

The concept of 'secularisation'

I would like to demonstrate this in analysing the use of the concept 'secularisation ' in historical research. Nobody will deny that for many decades this concept seemed to most scholars appropriate and useful in describing the changes in religious culture in modern societies. 1 First used by the so-called 'secularist movement', a society of freethinkers founded by George Holyoake in the midnineteenth century, the concept came to be more widely used in both England and France around 1900 in a broader sense. Whereas the secularists had used 184 it in the programmatic sense of a necessary development towards a society of enlightened ideas, with the elimination of religious prejudices and the spread of good knowledge, from the beginning of the twentieth century onwards it was mostly used in the broader sense of a historical trend towards a 'secular' society, including many different developments: first the separation of state and church on the level of a common government, of school administration, of support for the poor, etc.; second, the diminishing attendance of church -members at public worship and the decline of private worship, of prayers, reading biblical and other religious writings, etc.; third, the renunciation of religious explanations for natural phenomena, of Christian cosmology; fourth, the diminishing use of religious symbols in public and private life: of the religious oath, the religious formulas used when people met or said goodbye—formulas like 'God save you', 'Gr¨uß Gott', 'A Dieu', etc.

In the twentieth century the concept of 'secularisation' seemed to be useful to bind all these trends together into one big historical movement. For its dissemination among historians, sociologists and other learned persons before and after the First World War, it was very important that influential theories made it the cornerstone of their concept of modernity: Max Weber used it to describe a very ambiguous historical trend of modern society towards rationalisation and—the other side of the coin—what he called the Entzauberung, the disenchantment of the modern world. Ernst Troeltsch, his theological friend, was more optimistic, when in the secularisation of modern society he recognised the dominating influence of the Protestant Reformation with its concepts of individual liberty, of active Christian practice in social institutions, etc.

But very early we find at least two different strategies of historical argumentation, both combined with the concept of 'secularisation'. Starting from the positive origins of the concept, a small group of liberal Protestants used the term for the idea of bringing together the opposing concepts of God and world, of church and society, of the holy and the mundane. Mostly among Protestant German theologians the vision of a religiously inspired secular society was articulated, which was based not on the church as institutional framework but on the religious conscience of the Christians themselves. However, after the First World War the term 'secularisation' was also used in a rather pessimistic sense by most Catholic authorities and the more orthodox wing of Protestantism. In their view the influence of religion was constantly diminishing in modern society. In a strange alliance of orthodox churchmen and secular scholars this view was adopted by many historians and sociologists as well. They disagreed in their moral judgement of the trend but agreed on its direction.

However, the apocalyptic and the progressive concepts of 'secularisation' had one thing in common. They both took it for granted that history moves to one final goal, the 'eschaton' of biblical prophecy. It is exactly this implication which makes the concept so problematic today. In recent years, the hypothesis of a final goal in history has been opposed by many historians and sociologists of religion. They have argued that historical development differs in different countries. For example, church membership has increased in the United States within the last decades, whereas in western Europe it has fallen to a new minimum. There is no common trend to be seen. And even in one country the various trends of religious life cannot be bound together to one universal trend or development: we find periods of increasing and decreasing church attendance, of hostility and co-operation between church and civil authorities, of religious inspiration and anti-religious rationality, and sometimes we even find them at the same time in different parts of society. And what is more, we find different criteria of what is religious at different times and places. Therefore, what is a decreasing level of religiosity for some observers may be seen as an increasing level by others.

This shows the problems of adapting the concept of 'secularisation' to our present situation and to our knowledge of the past. Today the fact that in the past the concept has been successfully used for the interpretation of historical change in the religious culture of the last centuries probably tells us more about the mentality of those who used it than about the past itself. This is the first step towards historicising the concept; the second would be to ask which other concepts were used in earlier periods of history to interpret long-term religious change. But since I have already done this in another paper 2 I can be brief in the present context. Within the last 250 years one can distinguish between at least four periods—not so much of religious change in the traditional sense of objective structures in society, but rather of different ways of conceptualising this change. In sketching these periods I mostly rely on the situation in Germany, which may sometimes differ from that in other European countries; but in general the periodisation was the same in most parts of Europe.

1. Up to the first half of the eighteenth century people had no long-term vision of historical change at all, since the world was expected to come to an end very soon and the sins of men could be easily ascribed to the activity of the devil which, according to the Bible, would be most intense in the period immediately before the Last Judgement.

2. But in the later part of the eighteenth century this pessimistic perspective was radically overthrown. In the period of Enlightenment most educated people in Europe believed in religious progress. Today, they argued, the religious ideas of a growing number of men were more enlightened than a century ago; why should they not be even more enlightened and widespread (especially among the lower classes of society) after another hundred years? Religion was more or less identified with morals and rational thinking.

3. After the French Revolution this optimism broke down, giving place to almost the opposite perspective. People now became aware that church services and other religious obligations had lost much attraction within the

'enlightened' century, that now open contempt for church authorities and doctrines had become more and more frequent. The German concept Kirchlichkeit which was invented around 1800 probably describes best the new perspective on religious life. In this concept religious practice was much identified with church attendance and loyalty to the church authorities. The decreasing readiness to follow this ideal was called Entkirchlichung. It produced a pessimistic view on the future of Christianity which dominated the following century, especially among the clergy and orthodox members of all Christian churches.

4. However, already in the second half of the nineteenth century a new model began to win attraction mainly among liberals. It tended to define the future of Christianity neither as pure decline nor as pure progress, but rather as a dialectical process of both decline and progress. The most appropriate term for this concept which dominated historical discourse from about the turn of the century onwards was, as I have pointed out already, 'secularisation'. Different from the concept of Entkirchlichung, it analysed religious culture in the broader context of state and society and described its change in terms of both loss and profit.

What can we learn from this story of conceptual change for the methodology of historical investigations in general? It is a characteristic assumption of the history of mentalities that the past can be seen on two different levels: the level of 'objective' reconstruction (which in fact is our present perspective in terms of mentality) and the level of 'subjective' perception by contemporaries (which is a mental fact in terms of 'objective' history). Our example shows, on the one side, how differently religious change could be conceptualised in different periods of history. It demonstrates that changes of religious concepts are closely linked with the changes of religious culture. Each of them can be seen as the 'expression' of the other. But it would be too simple to restrict each of our concepts of religious change only to that period in which it dominated in public discourse. As we are used to extending our own concepts (like 'secularisation') to periods without knowledge of these concepts, so other concepts of earlier periods can be extended to other periods as well. That means, for example, that the concept of Entkirchlichung (vanishing attendance at church services and loyalty to church authorities) can be applied to our own time as well as the concept of 'secularisation'. There is no historical privilege for one concept, except as a result of our own rational choice.

The semantic analysis of religious concepts

This is true for other fields of religious culture as well. What follows is the first sketch of a greater project of historical research dealing with the changing meaning of religious concepts from the eighteenth century onwards. The purpose of such a project is: first to make clear the differences between the current meaning of religious concepts and the ways in which the same terms were used in the past; second to understand these concepts as mental realities of past religious cultures, as basic parameters for the change of religious attitudes as well as of ecclesiastical structures. I think that in doing so we have an opportunity to take these concepts much more seriously than we usually do. 3

As far as I can see, investigations into the changing meaning of religious concepts have been much neglected in theology and historiography so far. 4 To most theologians it even seems to be a kind of sacrilege to concede that religious concepts are constantly changing. This is true for Protestants as well as for Catholics. Protestant theologians probably would allow that Luther, Zwingli and Calvin had found new religious concepts for their new teachings, and some of them would even concede that important modern philosophers and professors of theology, like Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schleiermacher or Karl Barth, had imported new religious concepts—if not defined the old ones in a better way, adequate to the understanding of their time. But in studying the history of modern religion I get the impression that they do not realise the profound impact of changing religious terms on the religious consciousness of modern societies; and that this change affects not only religion itself, but also the way of living in the modern world as a whole. Of course, the dogmatic differences between the Christian denominations are often represented in different terms. But what strikes me more is the existence of a common feature of religious change, which is not confined to one Christian church or school of theology, but involves all Christian churches with all their different theological schools. To stress my point even more: I get the impression that a certain change of religiosity is basic to all Christian churches, and if it is not one religious pattern, it is at least a certain structure of opposite positions which we find in almost all denominations. To put it in other words: I do not deny the profound differences of religious belief and lifestyle in various Christian (and non-Christian) groups, but I think that there is something like a common change of religious culture 'beyond' or 'behind' the constitutional and dogmatic framework of the churches.

I shall demonstrate this by analysing the conceptual change of some religious terms and notions, which to me seem to be vital for the religious orientation of bourgeois society from the eighteenth century onwards. Since it is a huge project, I shall do this on the small basis of encyclopedias only. Encyclopedias usually register the change of meaning only with some temporal delay, but on the other hand they do, as I hope, represent a broader use of terms than we find in most other historical sources. It is true that in my material there is to be found a strong bias towards Protestant sources, and—what is even worse— to the German idiom. Therefore the following sketch can be no more than the hypothetical basis of further comparative investigations, which in years to come may work out the common and different features of various religious cultures within Europe.


To start with the concept of 'religion' itself, it is well known that there is no definition of the term which is generally accepted. Different religious groups have established different religious cultures; different theological schools defined the term in different ways. Hence it may be a practical hypothesis to take the term 'religion' for whatever people declare it to be. At least for the purpose of historical research this is a helpful hypothesis, because even contradictory definitions tell us a lot about the mentality of religious groups and their relationship to one another. But following the line of changing religious discourses in encyclopedias from the eighteenth century onwards, we find some common semantic patterns beyond the difference of religious confessions and organisations.

In the encyclopedias of the mid-eighteenth century the term 'religion' was still defined in a very traditional way. It is partly 'knowledge of God', partly 'service and reverence to God' ( Erkenntnis, Dienst und Verehrung Gottes ) (Walch (1740), 2146). 5 In this respect no difference can be found either between the Christian denominations or between the European languages (Furetière (1690), Art. religion; Encyclopædia Britannica 3 (1771), 533; Encyclop´edie 28 (1782), 248). Many religious controversies of the time go back to the traditional distinction between 'natural' and 'revealed religion' ( nat¨urliche and Off enbarungs-Religion )(Walch (1740), 2146; Zedler 31 (1742), 443ff; Pierer 17 (1835), 656). It gives a starting-point for two kinds of religion, which in the modern religious culture tend to oppose one another: for the theology of the Enlightenment and its modern successors there was but one religion, which was seen to be more or less identical with the true principles of morals (Mellin 5 (1802), 114; Kr¨unitz 122 (1813), 527; Krug 3 (1828), 451). This natural religion was said to be common to all mankind, a kind of human predisposition— as normal to human beings as hunger and thirst. On the other side there were the religions of the churches, the positive or revealed religions, which were based on historical constitutions and dogmas. Some religious parties differed in preferring natural or revealed religion, but normally people were inclined to combine or reject both of them.

But the inclination to natural or revealed religion also changed with time: whereas the religious culture of the Enlightenment was based mainly on natural religion, by the turn to the nineteenth century we find a new esteem for revealed religion in all Christian churches. This is true not only for religious orthodoxy, but also for its liberal opponents, because parallel to the restoration of traditional religious concepts we also find an increasing emancipation of bourgeois morality from what was called 'natural religion' before. This can be demonstrated by the fact that, in the nineteenth century, for an increasing part of 'secular' society it was possible to hold up high moral standards without being 'religious' in the sense which the word tended to assume within the discourse of the churches—some secularists even started to quit church membership—and vice versa. It was a commonplace for the enlightened critics of religion from the eighteenth century onwards that 'religious' people were sometimes known to be very immoral in their behaviour (Krug 1 (1827), 87, Frömmigkeit; 3 (1828), 465, Religiös ). It may be that for parts of the nineteenth century this conceptual differentiation of religion and morals was stronger in France and Germany than in England, but in general, I think, it was quite the same historical tendency in all European countries, which makes a strong distinction between modern and premodern religion.


Closely linked with the change of meaning of 'religion' is the birth of another religious concept in the late eighteenth century: the concept of 'religiosity', 'subjective' or 'private' religion (Mellin 5 (1802), 114; Kr¨unitz 122 (1813), 527; Krug 3 (1828), 451; Pierer 17 (1835), 656). It leads us to one of the most typical features of modern religious culture: the now established distinction between the religion of the church and the religion of the individual. In premodern societies there is no comparable distinction to be found between 'objective' and 'subjective', or between 'public' and 'private' religion. 6 By many Protestant theologians (especially those with a Pietist background) it was even acknowledged that the two—public and private religion—could be in disharmony, and what is more, in case of dissent, they taught that it was more important to follow one's own convictions than to obey the dogmas of the church.

At the time of the Enlightenment it seems to have been important that religiosity was to be seen as a common characteristic of all mankind, not of one church or religion in particular. Therefore 'religiosity' was almost identical with morality; or as the Brockhaus Encyclopedia of 1820 put it: 'Religion and religiosity relate to one another as morality to reason, as conscientiousness to consciousness, as the fruit to the blossom; religious sentiment is moral sentiment, related to the eternal and the divine' ( Die Religiosit¨at verh¨alt sich zur Religion, wie die Moralit¨at zur Vernunft, wie die Gesinnung der Gewissenhaftigkeit zum Gewissen, wie die Frucht zur Bl¨ute; religiöses Gef¨uhl ist das moralische Gef¨uhl auf das Ewige und Göttliche bezogen ) (Brockhaus 8 (1820),180; cf. also Krug 1 (1827), 87). It is true that the enlightened position cannot stand for modern religion as a whole, but up to our days the moral—or immoral—dimension of religion is one of its most vital features. Moral values like veracity, helpfulness and compassion are seen to be almost synonymous with practical religiosity. Since religion has lost its monopoly of cosmological interpretation it is limited to the sphere of history and human society, which is the sphere of morals.

The importance and novelty of this new idea of individual religiosity is under lined by the fact that we find new words emerging in the religious discourse of the eighteenth century: in France and England it was the term 'religiosity' itself (instead of the older 'religiousness') which, although much older as such, by the middle of the eighteenth century took up the new meaning Larousse 6 (1977), 5039; OED 13 (1983), 570; 7 Robert 8 (1985), 201), followed by the German variant Religiosit¨at, which was adopted from France by the end of the century (Schulz/Basler 3 (1977), 295). At the same time also the new term Frömmigkeit emerged, expressing more or less the same quality of religious sentiment.

Let us stay for a moment with this point, because besides expressing a common feature of religion in all modern societies, in the new term Frömmigkeit we find something very characteristic for German Protestantism. Upto the eighteenth century there were two religious attitudes defined in Protestantism as well as in Catholicism: one for the clerics, the other for the laity. Whatever was related to the life of the clergy was called 'religiosus' ('religious', 'religiös', 'religieux'). The term stood for a special virtue of clerics. Laymen had to be 'fromm', a word that is best translated as 'brave'. Under the influence of Pietism both religious attitudes melted together at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the word 'fromm' took up the meaning of 'religiös', this now being no longer restricted to the world of the clerics and of the church. Of course, there were other terms of similar sense, like 'pious', 'godly', 'devout'.Butthe German term 'fromm' is broader in describing a human attitude common to both God and world, Sunday and weekday, the holy and the secular.

The semantic convergence of the originally different concepts of 'religiös' and 'fromm' is a characteristic feature of Protestant culture in Germany. 8 It may be seen as an expression of the long-term convergence of ecclesiastical and civil culture in Protestantism, of what was called 'secularisation' by later theologians. The Catholic Church was well aware of this new type of religious attitude which the Protestants called Frömmigkeit. Asa consequence it was rejected by Catholic authors as being a new invention of Friedrich Schleiermacher's theology for a long time. But by the twentieth century we find the item Frömmigkeit in Catholic German encyclopedias too ( LThK 4 (1960), 398), demonstrating that the new culture of religious individualism laid hold of Catholicism as much as of Protestantism. In recent years, however, it seems that there is an equivalent transfer of religious attitudes from Catholicism to Protestantism to be found in the concept of 'spirituality', a transfer which has not been explored so far.

'Confession' (Konfession) and 'creed' (Bekenntnis)

For the historians of conceptual change in history an interesting aspect of non-Romance languages like English and German is that sometimes new ideas and cultural structures go together with the difference of language. One example is the term Frömmigkeit. When it was established in late eighteenth-century German it showed much better than the old Romance term Religiosit¨at that a new idea or concept of religion was born. The same is true with the German terms Konfession and Bekenntnis. For the English and French user the term 'confession' refers to activities which people do either at church under the guidance of a father confessor or at high court. But in Germany the term Konfession and its German counterpart Bekenntnis are used with at least two additional religious meanings today. First they express the religious creed of an individual or a religious group; second they point to the denomination of a Christian church (Brockhaus 1 (1820), 743). It was the Lutheran Confessio Augustana of 1530 that introduced both the Latin and the German term into the German language. But by the eighteenth century the concepts began to separate: Konfession was used rather for the Christian communions or denominations which were no longer seen as being different 'religions'; whereas Bekenntnis was limited to the personal creed of an individual, his 'religiosity' ( RGG 3 (1959), 1746).

Again, the semantic change of concepts points to a structural change in the religious culture itself: by the eighteenth century the Christian churches were no longer seen as different 'religions' but as different variants (denominations) of one and the same religion. The new concept Konfession allowed a definition of a difference of ecclesiastical organisations beneath the niveau of different religions. It made it possible to adhere to the idea of the unity of Christianity beyond the difference of Christian denominations ( Konfessionen ). This was essential because in the new era of tolerance the state was defined as being neutral in religious affairs (Rotteck/Welcker 3 (1836), 646). But on the other hand, to belong to a certain Christian denomination ( Konfession )no longer meant that somebody necessarily shared the public creed of this denomination, as it had done before: beside the public Konfession of the churches there were to be found a lot of individual Bekenntnisse, i.e. secular 'creeds'. They established something like a private religion or, as it was called later, an individual Weltanschauung.

It is not difficult to see how the semantic change of religious concepts reflected—and also promoted (!)—the change of religious attitudes. The concepts of Konfession and Bekenntnis helped to structure the relationship between different religious groups, between state and churches, between the public religion of the churches and the private religiosity of secular society. For a comparative description of religious cultures in Europe it would be helpful to see how other European languages managed these structural problems of religious life in terms of their own semantic possibilities.

The 'dissenter' (Dissident)

Very similar was the semantic structure established by the term 'dissenter' ( Dissident ). Today it is used in the case not only of religious but also of political dissent. But up to the mid-twentieth century it served to define the relationship between competing Christian groups with in a Christian state or society. It semergence is bound to a specific social and political constellation: the co-existence of several Christian groups, which on the one hand are tolerated by the public authorities, but on the other hand are not equal in civil rights (Bluntschli/Brater 3 (1858), 146; RGG 2 (1958), 209). As with the concept of Konfession, the churches concerned had to treat one another as Christian cousins, well aware that they were not Christian brothers. It is a modern constellation, made possible by the Protestant Reformations, but only in Poland realised during the second half of the sixteenth century.

In German dictionaries we find Dissidenten applied to the members of those Protestant groups in Poland (Lutherans, Calvinists and the Bohemian Brothers) which in 1570 agreed to come together and in 1573 fixed the lex dissidentium, an agreement of mutual toleration, with the Catholics (Zedler 7 (1734), 1071; Brockhaus 2 (1820), 214; Ersch/Gruber 1.26 (1835), 83). Later it was highly disputed whether the term 'dissident' was properly used for the Protestant minorities only, as the Catholic side maintained, or for both sides, as the Protestants argued (Meyer 7.4 (1846), 877; Wetzer/Welte 3 (1857), 180). But anyway, at least from the early seventeenth century onwards, the one-sided use for the Protestant groups demonstrated the growing weakness of the legal status of the Protestants in Poland. Finally by the middle of the eighteenth century they were excluded from nearly all public positions and from voting to the Diet, and even faced the loss of the civil rights of ordinary citizens. With the intervention of Russia, Prussia and Austria in the 1770s this tendency was reversed, and legal equality re-established. The term Dissident now lost, step by step, its political significance and was almost dismissed by the 1830s (Ersch/Gruber 1.26 (1835), 83)— but only to become a much more general concept (Krug Suppl. 1 (1829), 73) in other European countries which participated in the tragic destiny of the threefold divided country.

In Germany up to the revolution of 1848 the status of public churches was reserved to the Lutheran, the Reformed (Calvinist) and the Catholic churches only. By the 1850s the word began to be used as official label for private religious societies, which were tolerated by the constitution but not endowed with the privileges of public churches (such as financial support by the government, school teaching, etc.). But at the same time that state and society were expected to tolerate also the newly called 'dissenters' such as the German Catholics ( Deutsch-Katholiken ), Mennonites, Methodists, Baptists, etc. (Wetzer/Welte 3 (1857), 180), the term lost its former meaning, to distinguish religious groups of a minor legal status in relation to those not recognised by the constitution at all (such as the Baptists and Quakers in Poland). It had become a purely negative specification enclosing even those who quitted church membership without entering another church or chapel. As a consequence, after the First World War, the concept of 'dissent' was very much associated with atheism, because the dissenting Christian groups rejected the term, whereas for freethinkers it was an acceptable self-denomination ( RGG 2 (1909), 90; Meyer 3 (1925), 844). This slow erosion of religious substance was the background for an instruction of the Nazi government in 1937 to eliminate the term from public formulas, arguing that leaving the church would not necessarily mean becoming an atheist. For the Nazis the term blocked the possibility of believing in God without being a Christian (Meyer 3 (1937), 133). Although the term Dissident was re-established after the Second World War, in official documents it was still ambiguous, as it could have both a positive (being a member of a dissenting religious group) and a purely negative (belonging to no religious group) status in religious discourse ( dtv-Lexikon 4 (1966), 132).


With the concept of 'atheism' I come to my last example of the usefulness of semantic analysis in historical perspectives. The concept of 'atheism' is much more complicated than it seems at first glance. Today the meaning of the term is ambiguous: on the one hand it is used to denote those who do not believe in God, but on the other it is also used for a certain form of positive creed or philosophical attitude. Since elaborated theories of atheism such as Nietzsche's nihilism emerged in the nineteenth century, the term can be used in a well-defined sense. This is something new, because as Lucien Febvre demonstrated in his marvellous study of 1942, 'Le problème de l'incroyance au 16ème siècle', at this time the word 'atheism' by no means referred to a welldefined concept, but rather to a vague idea of religious nonconformity.

This situation did not change much in the following centuries. But by the eighteenth century we at least find an internal differentiation between a 'theoretical' and a 'practical' atheism established in encyclopedias of that time (Zedler 2 (1732), 2016, 'Atheisterey'; Walch 1 (1740), 134, 'Atheisterey'; Encyclop´edie (1751); Encyclopædia Britannica (1771); Krug 1 (1827), 204; Brockhaus 1 (1833), 474; RE 1 (1854), 577). This differentiation had far-reaching consequences. In German dictionaries 'theoretical atheism' now was called Gottesleugnung (Grimm 8 (1958), 1281), practical atheism Gottlosigkeit ('godlessness') (Zedler 11 (1735), 411; Walch 1 (1740), 1368; Adelung 2 (1807), 763; Campe 2 (1808), 434; Krug 2 (1827), 279; Grimm 8 (1958), 1396ff).

As far as theoretical atheism is concerned, we find numerous variants from the early nineteenth century onwards: 'materialism', 'positivism', 'pantheism', 'naturalism' and 'deism'; later Nietzsche's 'nihilism', Haeckel's 'monism', 'Marxism' and many others (Ersch/Gruber (1821), 172; Krug 1 (1827), 204; LThK 1 (1957), 983). We can leave it an open question (highly disputed at the time), how far all these more or less 'religious' philosophies are to be called 'atheism', because for the investigation into the history of religious concepts it is much more important to see how contemporaries drew the line between their concepts of 'religion' and 'atheism'. For the orthodox wing of both Christian churches it was already atheism to believe in God not as a person, but as an idea or as the essence of natural order. (The different concepts of 'God' were reflected in the semantic difference between Gott and Gottheit, 'god' and 'deity', dieu et d´eit´ e, which had its own, so far undetected history.) On the other side, today we are confronted with modern theologians who teach an 'atheistic creed', preferring the theoretical concept of 'atheism' as a definition of the essence instead of the limits of religion.

Very different from the concept of theoretical atheism was the conceptual structure of practical atheism, that is of 'irreligiosity' or Gottlosigkeit ('godlessness')—new terms established by the end of the eighteenth century. In the eighteenthth and nineteenth centuries, for the enlightened and liberal parts of society an irreligious person was primarily defined as a wicked, immoral person. But this did not necessarily imply that he was an atheist in theory too. It was something new in the nineteenth century, that somebody could be an atheist in theory without being irreligious in practice and vice versa. Whereas theoretical atheism was a widespread and often respected philosophy in bourgeois society, people were not yet prepared to tolerate practical atheism, i.e. irreligiosity in society (Krug 5 (1827), 279; Ersch/Gruber 1.76 (1863), 113). Only by the second half of the century did practical atheism, that is, offence to bourgeois morals, begin to be an ideal for the secular avant-garde of intellectuals and artists. Again we find the semantic differentiation of terms reflecting the change of religious attitudes and social values.

The concepts of religious terms were defined on different levels in different periods of history; they changed in use and meaning together with the change of religious attitudes and discourses. 'Superstition', by the age of Enlightenment one of the most important counterparts to religion and reason, was by the second third of the nineteenth century rather seen as a minor, imperfect form of religion. In the superstition of the uneducated classes of society many clerics discovered a basic religiosity which they found to be eroded by the patterns of modern learning and civilisation. More or less the same could be said of the concept of 'myth': in the eighteenth century a counter-concept to religion and history, by the early nineteenth century 'myths' were found to be the outward shape of true religion in early periods of mankind.

I could give a lot of other examples for the long-term semantic change of religious concepts and its significance for the changing structure and organisation of religion in modern societies (concepts like 'church' and 'parish', etc.). But I hope my examples are clear enough to demonstrate two things: first that the semantic change of concepts can be fruitfully related to the changes in mentality and social organisation of modern societies; and second that it will be a very promising project, to work on the common and different features of religious concepts in different times, different countries and different Christian denominations. In this chapter I can give but a foretaste of what could be learned by systematic comparison of religious concepts. But maybe one day we shall be able even to understand the secret links between our own secular view of the modern world and the religious tradition of our ancestors. Then we may find that it was wrong to think of Christian culture in terms of 'decline' as much as it was wrong in earlier periods to hope for an eternal 'progress' of history towards the Kingdom of God.


Johann Christoph Adelung, Versuch eines vollst¨andigen grammatisch-critischen Wörterbuches der hochdeutschen Mundart, 2nd edn (Leipzig, 1793–1801). Johann Caspar Bluntschli and Karl Ludwig Theodor Brater, Deutsches Staatswörterbuch (Stuttgart, 1857–70).

Brockhaus, Allgemeine deutsche Real-Enzyklop¨adie f¨ur die gebildeten St¨ande, 5th edn (Leipzig, 1819–20), 8th edn (Leipzig, 1833–37).

Johann Heinrich Campe, Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (Brunswick, 1807–11).

dtv-Lexikon, Ein Konversation slexikon in 20 B¨ anden (Munich, 1966).

Encyclopædia Britannica, 1st edn (Edinburgh, 1771).

Encyclop´edie, ou Dictionnaire raisonn´e des sciences, des arts et des m´etiers, published by M. Diderot et al. (Lausanne, 1781–82).

Johann Samuel Ersch and Johann Gottfried Gruber, Allgemeine Encyclop¨adie der Wissenschaften und K¨unste (Leipzig, 1818–89).

Antoine Furetière, Dictionnaire universel (Rotterdam, 1690).

Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch (Leipzig, 1854–1965).

Wilhelm Traugott Krug, Allgemeines Handwörterbuch der philosophischen Wissenschaften nebst ihrer Literatur und Geschichte (Leipzig, 1827–29).

Johann Georg Kr¨unitz, Oeconomische Enzycklop¨adie oder allgemeines System der Land-, Haus-und Staats wirts chaft (Berlin, 1773–1858).

Grand Larousse de la langue franc¸aise (Paris, 1977).

LThK, Lexikon fur Theologie und Kirche, 2nd edn. (Freiburg, 1957–65).

Georg Samuel Mellin, Enzyklop¨adisches Wörterbuch der kritischen Philosophie (Magdeburg, 1797–).

Meyer, Das große Conversations-Lexikon f¨ur die gebildeten St¨ande, 1st edn (Hildburghausen, 1839–52); 7th edn (1924–35); 8th edn (1936–42).

H. A. Pierer, Universal-Lexikon oder vollst¨andiges enzyklopödishes (Altenburg, 1835–6).

RE, Real-Encyclop¨adie f¨ur protestantische Theologie und Kirche (Gotha, 1854–68).

RGG, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 1st edn (T¨ubingen, 1908–13); 3rd edn (T¨ubingen, 1957–64).

Grand Robert de la langue francaise, 2nd edn (Paris, 1985).

Carl Rotteck and Carl Welcker, Staats-Lexikon oder Encyclop¨adie der Staats wissens chaften (Altona, 1835–43).

Hans Schulz and Otto Basler, Deutsches Fremdwörterbuch, 3rd edn (Strasbourg, 1913).

Johann Georg Walch, Philosophisches Lexikon, 2nd edn (Leipzig, 1740).

Heinrich Joseph Wetzer and Benedikt Welte, Kirchen-Lexikon oder Encyclop¨adie der katholischen Theologie und ihrer Hilf swissens chaften (Freiburg, 1847–56).

Johann Heinrich Zedler, Großes vollst¨andiges Universallexikon aller Wissenschaften und K¨unste (Leipzig, 1732–50).


1 Cf. Hermann L¨ubbe, S¨akularisierung: Geschichte eines ideenpol it is chen Begriffs (Freiburg, 1965).

2 Lucian Hölscher, 'Secularization and urbanization in the nineteenth century. An interpretative model', in Hugh McLeod (ed.), European Religion in the Age of Great Cities 1830–1930 (London, 1995), 263–88.

3 For the general theory of conceptual history cf. the articles of Reinhart Koselleck: 'Begriffsges chichte und Sozialgeschichte', in Vergangene Zukunft: Zur Semantik geschichtlicher Zeiten (Frankfurt, 1979), 107–29; 'Sozialgeschichte und Begriffsgeschichte ', in Wolfgang Schieder and Volker Sellin (eds.), Sozialgeschichte in Deutschland (Göttingen, 1986), vol. I, 89–109, and the 'Introduction' to the encyclopedia Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe (Stuttgart, 1972), vol. I, xiii–xxvii.

4 Cf. the great religious encyclopedias in Germany, Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Theologische Realenzyklop¨adie and Lexikon f¨ur Theologie und Kirche.

5 For the full titles see the list of encyclopedias and dictionaries above.

6 The concepts 'public' and 'private' would have pointed rather to the political status of churches—that is to religions which were acknowledged by public authority and those which were not—but not, as it was by the late eighteenth century, to the difference between the official dogmas of church teaching and what the churchmembers themselves believed in.

7 The term is not to be found in Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1805).

8 It has to be checked out whether this is true for other Protestant countries as well.


Master narratives of long-term religious change

Jeffrey Cox

During the last two decades, the theory of secularisation has been the subject of critical discussion by doubters, sceptics and open adversaries. 1 Historians and sociologists who claim no longer to accept the theory, at least in its classic form, have created a valuable body of alternative scholarship. 2 Simon Green is correct in his observation that 'It is the anti-secularisation model which has made most of the running in recent British religious historiography.' 3 But in surveying the debate I remain impressed with the sturdy durability, abiding persuasiveness and rhetorical usefulness of the theory of secularisation. Green also commented that various 'counter-theories…taken together…are something less than entirely persuasive'. 4 Despite the efforts of doubters, sceptics and adversaries, the most influential general account of religion in modern Europe, and in the modern world, remains the theory of secularisation. Why?

It is important not to underestimate the extent to which secularisation continues to be invoked uncritically. Upon occasion I encounter the assertion that no one believes in secularisation any more. Jay Demerath, an American sociologist of religion, recently put it even more emphatically: 'for a long time there was a notion that society would just become secularised over time, that this was part of modernisation and westernisation, and that religion would disappear due to the legacy of the Enlightenment. I don't know any sociologists of religion worth their salt who really believed that.' 5

Perhaps there were no sociologists who believed that religion would disappear, but there certainly are many sociologists, not to mention historians, anthropologists, economists, clergy and journalists, who believe that religion in the modern world will survive only in forms that are sectarian and therefore marginal, fundamentalist and menacing, or internally secularised and therefore 'not really religious'. That account of modern history has its own history, as David Martin and Lucian Hölscher have reminded us, 6 but part of the intellectual history of the theory of secularisation is its enduring persuasiveness. The secularisation story retains much of its persuasive force for anyone pondering the situation of religion in the modern world, and it has been reinforced by recent scholarly and public interest in the problem of 'fundamentalism'. 7

The New York Times, for instance, has only three stories about religion. It appears in their columns either as marginal, and therefore unimportant or picturesque, or as a phenomenon which everyone thought was dead but remains surprisingly alive, or as reactive, anti-modern and 'fundamentalist', and therefore a threat to all the values we hold dear. 'Church stifled by good life's roar', reads their headline on religion in Spain, followed by a story of how the words of Spanish bishops are 'drowned out by the roar of discotheques, clinking glasses, fast cars and luxury motor cruisers'. 8 In Turkey, however, it is 'Secular Turks alarmed by resurgence of religion'. 9 More recently, the 'fundamentalist' story has provided a justification for military action against those who can be labelled anti-modern. 10

You need not read very far in the recent historical literature of modern Europe and the Americas, or indeed most of the world, to find statements just as blunt and old-fashioned as the boldly written assertion of Kingsley Martin that 'Rationalism has argued the church out of existence.' 11 What is more important is the pervasive off-hand invocation of secularisation. Sitting on my desk as I write is the TLS of 15 February 2002. On page 12 Jack Goody observes that 'Christians, too, were divided first into the Orthodox and Roman branches… and later into the Catholic and Protestant Churches, a division that promoted the gradual secularisation of society and knowledge.' Further along, on page 30, Anne Crowther notes that 'This handsome book offers further insights into Roy Porter's extensive medical history of the “long eighteenth century”, this time by using pictorial images to reflect on the secularisation of health and disease.' 12

In remarking on the continuing, pervasive use of the secularisation story, I do not intend to overlook or downplay the importance of discontent with the theory, as a theory. Even Bryan Wilson concedes that 'If one looks at those who are actively engaged in discussion of the subject…the majority are undoubtedly disposed to reject the secularisation thesis.' 13 Secularisation has become an open question during the last two decades. But even those who have ceased to be sure about the process have a habit of returning to it after a period of wandering in the wilderness of uncertainty. As early as the late seventies Peter Burke began his article on religion in The New Cambridge Modern History by making fun of the simplicities of the theory, with a tongue-in-cheek 'secularisation may have spread with chemical fertilizer', only to conclude that 'The simple picture with which we started was not radically wrong, but lacking in nuances.' 14 The most instructive case is that of David Martin, whose article 'Towards eliminating the concept of secularisation', published in 1965, is an essential starting-point for any major intellectual effort to develop alternatives to secularisation. His A General Theory of Secularisation, published in 1978, does little to eliminate the concept of secularisation, however. Incorporating thoughtful modifications, alterations and variations into the story, it strengthens the theory through its sophisticated handling of history. A General Theory is testimony to the sheer usefulness of the secularisation theory, which has great explanatory power precisely because it accounts for so many apparently unconnected changes.

Jay Demerath followed up his bold declaration that no sociologist ever believed in the simple theory of secularisation with a summary of his own work on American urban religion that provides another illustration of the adhesive power of the theory: 'Secularisation is certainly at work in Springfield and has been for 350 years, just as it has been at work in the country. That is not to say you don't get instances of resacralisation. You certainly do, but they are in response to that secularisation. They confirm that secularisation. They're not so much a rebuttal to it, but are linked to it. It's a subtle point, but I think it has to be understood that way.' 15 It is a point sufficiently subtle to raise doubts about the rhetorical utility of the secularisation theory.

One element of Demerath's resacralisation theory, which has been worked out in more detail by Rodney Stark and W. S. Bainbridge, 16 is the attempt to modify a central persuasive feature of the secularisation story, the metaphor of the universal downward slope. Resacralisation changes the slope. Two forces at work in modern history, secularisation and resacralisation, produce a graph that is no longer a downward slope, but a wave. (It is possible to envisage the resacralisation interaction as a dialectic, but the result is difficult to graph.) The resacralisation theory is based on the Durkheimian assumption that there is something natural about the presence of religious sentiment in society, that on a social level religion is society. 17

The Durkheimian approach is a very powerful one. Since first reading Durkheim's Elementary Forms of the Religious Life as an undergraduate, I have never been able to contemplate religion without asking, 'religion and what else?' But the argument that all societies are fundamentally religious in one way or another is not one that I find of much use in understanding the course of modern European history. In their neo-Durkheimian 'supply-side reinterpretation' of European religious history, Rodney Stark and Laurence R. Iannaccone propose 'dropping the term secularisation from all theoretical discourse' because 'the observable instances to which to apply it seem lacking'. 18 They are on to an important point when they emphasise the institutional peculiarities of religion in modern European history. But in their determination to 'dispute the claim that any European nation is very secularised', 19 they seriously underestimate the significance of the contrast between popular attitudes towards religion in most European countries and the United States, as well as many other parts of the world. They reinterpret poll evidence about European religious practice and opinion in an attempt to deny outright that the slope points downward. But an unwillingness by most Europeans to declare themselves entirely atheistic, or to abandon irrevocably all hope of life after death, is not persuasive evidence that Berlin and Amsterdam are throbbing with a hidden Durkheimian numinosity.

One of the great stories of modern European history is the emergence of openly declared and publicly sanctioned irreligion and indifference. Popular and elite resistance to religious ideas, to religious mobilisation, to religious institutions, characterise much of modern European history. In large areas of modern Europe, religious men and women who attempt to create new religious institutions or promote religious ideas run into a brick wall of resistance and indifference. That history requires an explanation. Furthermore, if we value fairness, we should allow individuals to be indifferent or irreligious without asserting instead that they are really religious whether they know it or not. On an individual level there is the analogy between Stark and Iannaccone's Durkheimian point of view and Paul Tillich's argument that no one is an atheist since everyone worships something (an argument that I have always found discourteous to atheists). 20

By the same standard, we should allow people who believe that they are religious to be religious. The 95 per cent of American teenagers who believe in God, and the 91 per cent who pray at least occasionally, are saying something important to pollsters, as are the 29 per cent who claim to have experienced the presence of God. 21 So are the 60 per cent of all Americans who believe that the only assurance of eternal life is personal faith in Jesus Christ, and the 70 per cent who believe in the devil. 22 Like all poll findings in this context, the figures can be knocked down to account for conformism in the face of a pollster. I do not believe the very large poll figures for church attendance in America, any more than I believe the poll results showing surprisingly modest levels of alcohol consumption. If Americans are to be believed, more individuals attend a church or synagogue on any given Sunday than attend all amateur and professional athletic events in the course of an entire year. But the figures for religious participation are notably high when compared to Europe, and the degree of genuine religious piety in the United States should not be dismissed with speculation about the 'internal secularisation' of religious institutions. 23 Fora historian, questions of how people view immortality, where they take advice on how to live, and what institutions they support and fund are matters of fundamental importance.

Assertions that Americans are 'not really religious', that American religion is so superficial that it is itself secular, as Bryan Wilson argued in his Religion in a Secular Society, 24 are subject to the same objections as the Stark and Iannaccone observations on European religion. There is something about the theory of secularisation that leads repeatedly to a stripping away of the legitimacy of the religious point of view of individuals in the modern world. In America, according to Wilson, 'though religious practice has increased, the vacuousness of popular religious ideas has also increased'. 25 In the words of Roy Wallis and Steve Bruce, men and women with a religious point of view are likely to live in 'society's margins or in its interstices', from which they may emerge into the mainstream 'in times of trauma or major social transformation'. 26 Religion can survive, but only in forms that are secularised, sectarian or fundamentalist. These three categories simply fail to do justice to the diversity of religion in the modern world, or even in modern Europe. The spectrum of modern religious forms cannot be contained within the theoretical boundaries of secularisation theory. Furthermore, invoking the theory does an injustice to individuals, who should be allowed to define their own point of view.

Part of the difficulty with the arguments of Stark and Iannaccone and other resacralisation theorists lies with the global explanatory power of secularisation theory, described rightly by Bryan Wilson as a 'many sided phenomenon'. 27 When they attempt to change the direction of the graph, they find it incorporated into the theory. The all-purpose nature of secularisation theory, by which the major forces at work in the modern world are the cause of decline, allows for a kind of intellectual sleight of hand in meeting objections. Daniel Bell's early resacralisation essay 'The return of the sacred?' met with Bryan Wilson's observation that the returning sacred was not the same phenomenon as the departed religion. Therefore, secularisation remains in place. 28 Callum Brown's persuasive demonstrations that industrialisation and urbanisation cannot have been the primary causes of the decline of religion in England were answered in advance by Alan Gilbert, who identified 'latent' secularisation in the 'manifest' growth of religious denominations during the Industrial Revolution. 29

Even more important than the promiscuous flexibility of secularisation theory is the persuasive power of the metaphor of the downward slope. When the facts of decline are conceded, the explanatory power of the theory comes into play spontaneously.

Secularisation is an invocatory theory, operating as a kind of stage set in the background of all intellectual effort to understand religion. On many occasions I have addressed audiences who respond to lists of objections to the secularisation theory by agreeing with the specific points of criticism. Yes, the secularisation theory is teleological, Eurocentric, deterministic and deceptively value-laden. Yes, it devalues and marginalises the religious experiences of millions of people in the modern world. Yes, but (comes the query), is it not the case that the overall trend in the modern world is one of decline? It is very difficult to envisage decline without invoking the metaphor of a universal downward slope with an implicit explanatory cause. Karel Dobbelaere surveys the statistics of recent declines in European church membership, and places them firmly on the slope: 'My conclusion is very straightforward: in Europe, I cannot see that the near future will bring a reversal of the trends described above. Rather, I see a consolidation on the individual level of the secularisation of European society.' 30 Critics like Stark and Iannaccone who attempt to deny that the slope runs downhill invariably run into a triumphant empirical rebuttal. 31 The evidence for a decline in the significance of religion in modern European history is overwhelmingly persuasive. In his exchanges with Rodney Stark on Welsh religious history in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Steve Bruce has had much the better of the argument largely because Stark remains trapped in the shadow of the downward slope, a metaphor that invokes the whole theory of secularisation. 32

Bryan Wilson, who is the best-known defender of the orthodox model of secularisation, has responded to the 'secularisation controversy' with a complacent survey of the facts of decline, those 'items of common knowledge' that 'suggest a process of decline in the social significance of religion'. 33 As a point of logic, it is not clear why the facts of decline should substantiate a particular theory of the causes of decline. But Wilson's error is one not primarily of logic but of rhetoric, a misunderstanding of the rhetorical uses of secularisation theory. He argues that 'secularisation is merely the description, for which empirical evidences can be advanced of a process of social change in which religion loses social significance'. 34 The many-sided theory of secularisation is far more than a description. 35 It is a powerful, all-embracing explanation of religious change in the modern world. As an explanation, it is causal. Furthermore (see Dobbelaere above), it is a prediction. It goes beyond the scope of the normal scientific hypothesis. As Roy Wallis and Steve Bruce concede, 'secularisation is a multi-faceted notion which does not lend itself readily to definitive quantitative test'. 36

Instead of conceptualising secularisation as merely descriptive, or as a scientific hypothesis to be verified as if conducting a laboratory experiment, it makes more sense to think of secularisation as a story. The practice of history involves comparative story-telling. There are many different kinds of stories, overlapping stories, stories of different levels of generality and even visibility. Historians who make the conventional distinction between narrative history on the one hand and analytical history on the other run the risk of ignoring the narrative nature of analysis, and the explanatory nature of narrative. An analysis is often a story of how a historian has solved a problem. A narrative, far from being a simple arrangement of facts, usually serves some explanatory rhetorical purpose. 37

Allan Megill outlines a useful classification of the levels of narrative employed by historians. 38 There is the narrative, encompassing not only the familiar chronological ordering of argument usually labelled narrative, but also the story of how the historian has solved a problem. There is the master narrative, the big story that lies behind the narrative, the story that fills in the gaps, as it were. The master narrative is sometimes deployed overtly by the historian, but at other times allowed to stand in the background, making the simple narrative intelligible. Because it is a master narrative, it is often partly hidden from both audience and historian. Finally there is grand narrative, the whole story, the story that God would tell if God could tell a story. 39

There are several characteristics of Megill's master narrative that come to mind when considering the secularisation theory, or as I will now call it, the secularisation story. The first is that it is partly hidden. It remains in the background to fill in the gaps of the historian's narrative, and to provide implicit explanations where explicit ones cannot be found. It is the master narrative that allows Owen Chadwick to write of secularisation that 'It is often easier to be sure that a process is happening than to define precisely what the process contains and how it happens.' 40 The secularisation story can also be invoked for an audience by an image, such as the downward slope on the graph, or by the use of a key word or phrase, such as attaching the word 'only' to a statistic. Only 30 per cent of Spaniards practice their faith, according to The New York Times. The word 'dechristianisation', although in many respects both accurate and useful when applied to aspects of modern European history, brings in its train the master narrative of secularisation. It can have that effect despite an author's disclaimers.

The great explanatory power of the secularisation story accounts for its usefulness to such a broad range of people, including many who are not scholars. Secularisation may cause difficulties for those of us who wish to look into religious history in some detail, but invoking the master narrative of secularisation solves the problem of interpreting religion in the modern world for many in the modern European and American professional classes. Bryan Wilson makes this point explicitly and economically:

When…one raises this subject with historians, sociologists, economists, or psychologists, one sees how readily those engaged with other aspects of the social system and its culture take secularisation for granted. Their overwhelming tendency…is to regard religion as a peripheral phenomenon in contemporary social organisation, and one which, in their studies of the broad contours of social change, productivity, economic growth, or human psychology, they rarely find need to consider. Not infrequently they express some amusement that religion should be given the serious attention which I and others in the sociology of religion devote to it. 41

Wilson is here appealing to authority: 'these various and numerous social scientists could be overlooking a social force of paramount importance in the operation of those facets of the social system in which they are expert, but I doubt it'. 42

Frank Turner has outlined the history of this appeal to authority in the struggles among late nineteenth-century British professionals over who has the right to speak with authority within contested spheres of authority. 43 To make this point is not to engage in a reduction of scholarly ideas to class or professional interests. The religious views of professionals vary from time to time and country to country. Although some members of the medical profession were actively secularist in late Victorian England, many doctors are prominent in evangelical

Protestant circles in the United States today. But I have no doubt that Bryan Wilson is right to observe that many social scientists and others in the knowledge industry, especially journalists, take secularisation for granted. David Martin and others based their critique of secularisation in part on an unmasking of its origins in Enlightenment ideology. 44 Some evangelical scholars have complained that the anti-religious bias of the secular academy distorts scholarly discussions of religion. 45 But the uses of the secularisation story today appear to transcend secularist ideology or secularist bias. The secularisation story is apowerful rhetorical device, an explanatory tool with multiple uses. Scholars with an evangelical or other religious point of view resort to it as often as scholars with a secular or 'objective' point of view. 46

However, Wilson's assertion that social scientists are objectively considering all the alternatives from a disinterested, Olympian point of view, searching for the importance of religion and not finding it, is no more persuasive than accusations of bias or ideology. Social scientists, like historians and other scholars, cannot be questioning all aspects of history and society all the time. They need persuasive, partly hidden master narratives to organise their inquiries. The master narrative of secularisation tells them that religion is not important in the modern world. They need not in any way be hostile to religion in principle, or even irreligious in person, to find the master narrative useful, particularly when a cursory glance at the statistics of religious change in modern Europe will show that religion has, as predicted, declined.

One task of scholarship on modern religious history is the unmasking of the master narrative. We do not always realise how dependent we are on it until it is identified and labelled. But once the secularisation story is unmasked, a third characteristic becomes evident. It is not only partly hidden, and extremely useful, but uncontested. If we set aside celebratory stories of religious triumphalism, the secularisation story is the only master narrative of religion in modern history. In some cases it is possible to unmask a master narrative, and discover that it is one of several in contest. The competing master narratives can then be compared directly.

Which is the best story to tell about British history between 1780 and 1840? The growth of working-class consciousness in the face of state oppression and economic exploitation, or capitalist progress and a higher standard of living? Which is the best story to tell about western imperialism? Are all aspects of western culture tainted with the corruption of power, as Edward Said has argued? 47 Or is it possible to write stories of individuals who transcend the boundaries of western power, or to draw up balance sheets on the imperial project? In each of these areas of inquiry there are competing master narratives, acknowledged as such in full or in part by scholars.

When considering the decline of Christendom in modern Europe, however, it is not yet possible to invoke an alternative master narrative. It is possible to write a persuasive critique of the master narrative, and also to write a history of the emergence of the secularisation story. It is also possible to declare the issue open and proceed to write a good book with only an implicit alternative master narrative. But the alternative is never labelled, or identified, or made explicit. It remains implicit, not only partly hidden but altogether hidden. It is not surprising that Sheridan Gilley and W. J. Sheils, editors of the new History of Religion in Britain, resort for a summing-up chapter to a secularisation theorist, Alan Gilbert, whose commitment to a linear view of history leaves him unable to imagine an alternative to secularisation other than a 'kind of demodernization which would radically reverse the process of secularisation' and 'might prove catastrophic for civilization as a whole'. 48

It is difficult to see how civilisation would be threatened, and possible that scholarship would be strengthened, if historians of modern European religion could envisage an alternative master narrative to account for modern religious history. The secularisation story is too complex and many-sided to be 'verified' or 'falsified'; it can only be compared in its persuasiveness to another story, or other stories. As long as secularisation is presented as the only story, one cannot say that it is the best story. Of course, a new master narrative cannot be summoned into existence. Any alternative to the secularisation story, like the secularisation story itself, must emerge from the talks and writings of scholars, theologians, writers, critics and artists, not to mention pastors, priests, nuns, missionaries, and men and women from all walks of life, with religious or irreligious points of view, who are engaged with religion as an historical problem.

Callum Brown has provided a useful starting-point in the form of a list of propositions that constitute his 'revisionist approach to religious change':

The social significance of religion (1) can rise and fall in any social and economic context—pre-industrial, industrial, post-industrial; (2) does not decay automatically or irreversibly with the growth of human knowledge, rationality or technology; (3) does not decay automatically or irreversibly with industrialization or urbanization; (4) is not to be measured by unity of religious belief or uniformity of religious adherence in a given nation/region; (5) can be challenged by fundamental social and economic change, and can suffer short to medium-term decay, but can adapt to the new context and can show significant long-term growth; (6) can change the ways, or the balance of the ways, in which it arises from one social and economic context to another. 49

The difficulty with drawing up any list of propositions that might constitute elements of an alternative master narrative to the secularisation story is that, by the nature of the intellectual enterprise, they will be less persuasive than the fully formed master narrative. One cannot write a new master narrative from scratch. One can only begin discussions, as Brown has done, and point the way to themes that might emerge in conceptualising an alternative. One theme, evident in Brown's propositions, is the emergence of the possibility of decline. When religion is enforced by state power and force of law, and the only cosmology available is a religious one, then religion cannot decline in the wayit has declined in modern European history. There may be broad levels of indifference to religious institutions and ideas, but indifference is never allowed public sanction or even public acknowledgement. The defining characteristic of religion in the modern world is not its decline, but the possibility of its decline. An alternative master narrative will focus on state and legal power and the origins of religious toleration rather than structural differentiation, urbanisation and industrialisation; it will concentrate on the emergence of conflicts over the significance of Newtonian and Darwinian cosmologies, rather than assume that either is in some way intrinsically lethal to religion. There has been enough scholarship on the relationship of science and theology to recognise that scientific views of the world are compatible with religious points of view, and also capable of generating competing irreligious points of view. 50

The consequences of religious toleration and the emergence of a scientific cosmology have been the creation of alternatives to religion, in the form either of publicly sanctioned indifference or of active opposition to religion. This is compatible with Brown's assumption that decline is a possibility, along with growth. In a new master narrative, decline ceases to be inevitable. It becomes, instead, a topic of historical inquiry.

To the rise and fall of religion in modern history should be added transformation. When measuring the 'declining social significance of religion', one must recognise that the unit being measured has changed its character. The dot on the downward slope does not cease to represent a phenomenon known as religion, but it does represent a different kind of religion. Religion is no longer a sacred canopy, imposed by state power or by the universal force of social opinion. It is a private, voluntary activity, one which occasionally uses social opinion and political force, depending on historical circumstances. The eighteenth-and nineteenth-century European churches contributed to, and participated in, a momentous transition from a 'confessional' religious settlement to a 'voluntarist' religious settlement. Under the early modern 'confessional' religious settlement, the fate of religious institutions was primarily a matter for political and social elites to settle for the benefit of those below them in the social scale. Under the 'voluntarist' religious settlement, public forms of religious institutions are treated as consequences of the conscientious choices of individual believers. 51

Far from being passive in responding to the emergence of a voluntarist religious settlement, the nineteenth-century churches were extremely aggressive both at home and abroad in a struggle to recruit members, build religious institutions, maintain their influence and create new forms of influence. As a result of that struggle, new religious forms were created that would have been difficult to envisage in the seventeenth century. England was blanketed with parish churches in 1600, a year in which some connection with religious institutions would have been difficult to avoid. England was blanketed with Sunday schools in 1900, a year in which it was very difficult to make it through childhood without some connection with Sunday school. There are important theological and institutional continuities linking the two historical moments, but there are also radical changes in the nature of religion.

Brown's propositions turn the decline of Christendom into a problem, and reflect an implicit alternative master narrative which may be found in the work of sociologists and historians who have attempted to focus attention on new explanations of decline in Europe. These scholars look for causes of decline other than those cited in the orthodox model: urbanisation, industrialisation, 'modernisation' (with its various meanings) and structural differentiation. Their implicit alternative master narrative points the way to a focus on (among other things) a comparative history of the institutions of European Christendom. Stark and Iannaccone, for instance, before they became distracted with an attempt to refute secularisation theory, called attention to the lack of competitiveness of European religious institutions. This lack of competitiveness was the theme of a path-breaking study of the churches in Reading by Stephen Yeo, whose influence has perhaps been limited by his choice of a colourless but none the less precisely accurate title: Religion and Voluntary Organizations in Crisis. 52 Subsequent work on New York, Berlin, the West Riding of Yorkshire and the much studied boroughs of South London, although different in many respects, continues the institutional focus found in Yeo, as does the work by Robin Gill on the mentality of Victorian architectural over-supply. 53

Another line of inquiry, especially in the work of Hugh McLeod and Jim Obelkevich, concerns the peculiarities of social class in its relationship to religion. 54 European religious institutions have been seriously hampered by the class nature of the religious settlement of the early modern period, one that left elite class overtones to acts of voluntary participation that were very difficult to overcome in the nineteenth century, and generated a popular culture of indifference to institutional and therefore to religious claims in the twentieth century. I am using class in the imprecise sense that we find in nineteenthcentury public discourse. Frank Turner's work is important in showing how the English professional classes were polarised along lines of religion by a specifically Victorian struggle for professional influence. 55

Discussions of an alternative master narrative will revolve around these themes: (1) the emergence of the possibility of a decline in the social significance of religion; (2) the importance of the change in character of religion as it ceases to be imposed from above; (3) the relative competitiveness of European religious institutions, in terms of both social location and membership recruitment; (4) the distinctive imprint of social class on particular religious settlements. It is also important to treat modern religious history in the context of what Dipesh Chakrabarty has referred to as 'provincialization of Europe'. 56 The theory of secularisation represents a globalisation and universalisation of European experience, one that should be placed where it belongs, in the histories of particular places and times. The decline of Christendom in Europe may turn out to be a European experience, only some of which is replicated in the experiences of other parts of the world. The examples cited in this chapter have been for the most part from England, but they bring to mind the contrast with the United States, comparisons with other European countries that share in the decline of Christendom, and the story of large-scale overseas and imperial expansion of European Christendom in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

One of the most useful aspects of studying the missionary movement is the light it throws on the history of the churches in Europe and North America, since missionaries were forced openly to confront problems abroad which remained hidden at home. My own research comparing British and American Protestant missionaries in colonial Punjab demonstrates that missionaries with similar theological views, but different denominational and national backgrounds, behaved in very different ways. 57 The Victorian English missionary theorist, Henry Venn, speculated on this point as early as the 1860s: the Missions of other denominations, supporting their own teachers and of their selfexertion for the extension of the Gospel:—as in the case of the American Baptist Mission among the Karens of Burmah, or the Independents among the Armenians of Asia Minor, and of the wonderful preservation and increase of Christianity in Madagascar after the expulsion of European Missionaries. The unfavourable contrast may be explained by the fact that other denominations are accustomed to take part in the elementary organization of their Churches at home, and therefore more readily carry out that organization in the Missions. Whereas in our Church the Clergy find everything relating to elementary organization settled by the Law of the Land:—as in the provision of tithes, of churchrates, of other customary payments, in the constitution of parishes, and in parish officers, our Clergy are not prepared for the question of Church organization; and therefore in the Missions they exercise the ministry of the Word without reference to the non-existence of the organization by which it is supported at home. 58

At the time Venn wrote, the Church of England was in the midst of a lengthy and uneven transition from an early modern confessional church to a modern voluntary church. Venn recognised the unique problems faced by an established church, or by a denomination which shared the attitudes of an established church, under the new voluntarist religious settlement. Even missionaries often failed to realise that long-term success in a voluntarist environment rests upon a foundation of membership recruitment. The Church of England and other denominations were making choices about how to recruit members and maximise their influence at home as well as overseas, but like many European churches it confronted a contested and confusing definition of 'membership'. Among the strategies available to them were aggressive membership recruitment, the maintenance of social and political influence, a struggle to maintain or extend state funding, and the raising of private funds for the construction of religious institutions, including churches, schools and charities.

Recent scholarship has focused on the extent to which the British churches made decisions to defend and extend their social influence, and create new religious institutions to supply religious, educational and social welfare services to a general population. Examples include a very popular early twentiethcentury British Sunday school programme that did not lead into church membership; 59 a Victorian church building programme that produced buildings designed more for the external effect on the pedestrian than for the convenience of the congregation; 60 a large-scale, decentralised commitment to maintaining social welfare services; 61 and a large investment in church -related schools, and later in religious broadcasting, that might have generated a vague 'diffusive Christianity' but failed to generate new members for the churches. 62

These strategies were not 'mistakes'. To an historian, influence is as important as membership recruitment, and the churches have played important roles in education, politics, social welfare and the shaping of public values in nineteenthand twentieth-century Europe. From an early twenty-first-century perspective, the nineteenth century appears a time of vigorous institutional revival. 63 What they have not produced is a body of individuals willing to make the sacrifices of time and money necessary to perpetuate these religious institutions from generation to generation. The large investment in the construction of institutions for the people, rather than of the people, has left many European churches with large, expensive, inflexible commitments. The struggle for influence nurtured avague unaffiliated popular piety in modern European nations which is a substitute for active membership, and acts as a kind of inoculation which prevents new denominations from recruiting successfully in the general population.

The debilitating effects of a lengthy struggle for privilege and influence are not limited to Europe, but obviously affected the American Congregationalist and Episcopalian denominations in the period of the early Republic. American exceptionalism is taken much too far by many American church historians. A struggle for influence and privilege is a theme in American religious history as well as European, as is the declining social influence of the clergy. But in surveying the history of American religion one is struck with the sink-orswim commitment to membership recruitment by nineteenth-century Baptists and Methodists, and twentieth-century Mormons and Pentecostalists. It may be the case that American institutional success has generated a popular culture that is more receptive to religious argument. Or as Simon Green has suggested of British religion: 'Conventional wisdom and common sense suggest that the people stopped going to church because they no longer believed what the churches taught them. Perhaps the causal mechanism was really closer to the opposite: they stopped believing because they stopped going.' 64 In the history of the success or failure of religious institutions in modern history, we may find the key to understanding the decline of Christendom in modern Europe.

At the heart of critical historical scholarship is a decision: which is the best story? The history of religion in modern Europe is impoverished by an absence of alternative stories. In recent scholarship, however, it is possible to see the outlines of an alternative master narrative, tentative and sketchy and relatively unpersuasive though it may be when compared to the master narrative of secularisation. As the discussion continues we may soon be able to ask: which is the best story to tell about the decline of Christendom in modern Europe? 65


1 See Steve Bruce (ed.), Religion and Modernization: Sociologists and Historians Debate the Secularization Thesis (Oxford, 1992).

2 For a summary see Hugh McLeod, Religion and Society in England, 1850–1914 (New York, 1996), introduction, 1–10.

3 S. J. D. Green, Religion in the Age of Decline: Organisation and Experience in Industrial Yorkshire, 1870–1920 (Cambridge, 1996), 17.

4 Ibid., 16.

5 'Religious change in an American city. A conversation with Jay Demerath', in Religion and Values in Public Life: A Forum from Harvard Divinity School, 1(4) (1993), 8.

6 David Martin, 'Towards eliminating the concept of secularization', in Julius Gould (ed.), Penguin Survey of the Social Sciences (Harmondsworth, 1965), reprinted in his The Religious and the Secular: Studies in Secularization (New York, 1969); Lucian Hölscher, 'Secularization and urbanization in the nineteenth century. An interpretive model', in Hugh McLeod (ed.), European Religion in the Age of Great Cities 1830–1930 (London and New York, 1995), 263–88.

7 See Malise Ruthven, 'The fundamentalism project', TLS, 4700, 30 April 1993, 14.

8 The New York Times, Friday, 4 August 1989.

9 The New York Times, Thursday, 13 February 1997.

10 The New York Times, Thursday, 7 March 2002, A14, quoting an American major in Afghanistan: 'the local fundamentalists have called a jihad against the Americans …we'vegot confirmed kills in the hundreds'.

11 Kingsley Martin, Critic's London Diary: From the New Statesman, 1931–1956 (London, 1960), 130.

12 TLS, 15 February 2002.

13 Bryan R. Wilson, 'Reflections on a many sided controversy', in Bruce (ed.), Religion and Modernization, 195–210, 209.

14 Peter Burke (ed.), The New Cambridge Modern History, vol. XIII, Companion Volume (Cambridge, 1979), 312, 316.

15 Demerath conversation, discussing his book, N. J. Demerath III and Rhys H. Williams, Bridging of Faiths: Religion and Politics in a New England City (Princeton, 1992).

16 Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, A Theory of Religion (New York, 1987), especially chapter 9.

17 Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, trans. from the French by Joseph Ward Swain (New York, 1915).

18 Rodney Stark and Laurence R. Iannaccone, 'A supply-side reinterpretation of the “secularization” of Europe', Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 33(3) (1994), 230–52, at 231.

19 Ibid., 231.

20 See Paul Tillich, What Is Religion? (New York, 1969).

21 The Des Moines Register, 11 January 1992.

22 The Baptist Standard, 28 October 1992. Half of those who believe in the devil believe that he/she is an impersonal force.

23 Wilson, 'Reflections', 203.

24 Bryan Wilson, Religion in a Secular Society (Baltimore, 1966), chapter 6.

25 Ibid., 122.

26 Roy Wallis and Steve Bruce, 'Secularization: the orthodox model', in Bruce (ed.), Religion and Modernization, 21.

27 Wilson, 'Reflections', 206.

28 Daniel Bell, 'The return of the sacred?', British Journal of Sociology, 28 (1977), 419–90; Bryan Wilson, 'The return of the sacred', Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 18 (1979), 268–80.

29 Callum Brown, 'Did urbanization secularize Britain?', Urban History Yearbook (1988), 1–14; and 'The mechanism of religious growth in urban societies: British cities since the eighteenth century', in McLeod (ed.), European Religion in the Age of Great Cities, 239–61; Alan D. Gilbert, Religion and Society in Industrial England: Church, Chapel and Social Change, 1740–1914 (London, 1976), viii, 205.

30 Karel Dobbelaere, 'Church involvement and secularization: making sense of the European case', in Eileen Barker, James A. Beckford and Karel Dobbelaere (eds.), Secularization, Rationalism, and Sectarianism: Essays in Honour of BryanR. Wilson (Oxford, 1993), 31.

31 See for example Phillip E. Hammond and Mark A. Shibley, 'When the sacred returns: an empirical test', in Barker et al. (eds.), Secularization, 37–46.

32 Steve Bruce, 'The truth about religion in Britain', Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 34(4) (1995), 417–30; with comment, 'Truth? A reply to Bruce', Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 34(4) 1995, 516–19.

33 Wilson, 'Reflections', 198.

34 Ibid., 209.

35 Unless one takes description in a broad, analytical sense that encompasses explanation, but that is not the way Wilson appears to be invoking the word.

36 Wallis and Bruce, 'Secularization: the orthodox model', 9.

37 See Allan Megill, 'Recounting the past: “Description”, explanation, and narrative in historiography', The American Historical Review, 94(3) (1989), 627–53.

38 Allan Megill, '“Grand narrative” and the discipline of history', in Frank Ankersmit and Hans Kellner (eds.), ANew Philosophy of History (Chicago, 1995), 151–73.

39 Dorothy Ross uses the phrase 'grand narrative' to mean roughly what Megill means by 'masternarrative'.Dorothy Ross, 'Grandnarrative in American historical writing: from romance to uncertainty', American Historical Review, 100(3) (1995), 651–77. Others use the phrase 'meta-narrative', which takes us beyond narrative altogether.

Megill's distinctions are imprecise but none the less useful, especially perhaps to historians.

40 Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1975), 2 (emphasis mine).

41 Wilson, 'Reflections', 210.

42 Ibid.

43 Frank M. Turner, Contesting Cultural Authority: Essays in Victorian Intellectual Life (Cambridge, 1993).

44 Martin, 'Toward eliminating the concept of secularization'.

45 See for instance Lamin O. Sanneh, Encountering the West: Christianity and the Global Cultural Process: the African Dimension (Maryknoll, NY, 1993).

46 See for instance Os Guinness, The Gravedigger File (London, 1983).

47 Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York, 1978), 204.

48 Alan Gilbert, 'Secularization and the future', in Sheridan Gilley and W. J. Shiels (eds.), A History of Religion in Britain: Practice and Belief from Pre-Roman Times to the Present (Oxford, 1994), 503–21, at 520.

49 Brown, 'A revisionist approach to religious change', 31–58, 55–6.

50 On the British and American clerical response to the challenge of 'positivism', see Charles D. Cashdollar, The Transformation of Theology, 1830–1890: Positivism and Protestant Thought in Britain and America (Princeton, 1989); on evangelical Protestant adaptations to Darwinism see James R. Moore, The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870–1900 (Cambridge, 1979).

51 For the large literature on 'confessionalism', see the summary in Benjamin J. Kaplan, Calvinists and Libertines: Confession and Community in Utrecht 1578–1620 (Oxford, 1995), Introduction. I am using the word 'voluntarist' in a different sense from the variant of the nineteenth-century term 'voluntaryist', implying simply a commitment to the separation of church and state. For this use of the term see J. P. Ellens, Religious Routes to Gladstonian Liberalism (Pennsylvania, 1994). I do not intend here to invoke the misleading metaphor of a 'free market' in religion, which I discuss in Jeffrey Cox, 'Religion and imperial power in nineteenth-century Britain', in R. W. Davis and Richard Helmstadter (eds.), Freedom and Religion in the Nineteenth Century (Stanford, forthcoming), 339–428, 340–1.

52 Stephen Yeo, Religion and Voluntary Organizations in Crisis (London, 1976).

53 Hugh McLeod, Piety and Poverty: Working-Class Religion in Berlin, London, and New York, 1870–1914 (New York, 1996); Jeffrey Cox, The English Churches in a Secular Society: Lambeth, 1870–1930 (New York, 1982); J. N. Morris, Religion and Urban Change: Croydon, 1840–1914 (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1992); Robin Gill, The Myth of the Empty Church (London, 1993); S. C. Williams, Religious Belief and Popular Culture in Southwark, c.1880–1939 (Oxford and New York, 1999).

54 Hugh McLeod, Class and Religion in the Late Victorian City (London, 1974); McLeod, Religion and the Working Class in Nineteenth-Century Britain (London, 1984); McLeod, Religion and the People of Western Europe, 1789–1970 (Oxford, 1981); James Obelkevich, Religion and Rural Society: South Lindsey 1825–1875 (Oxford, 1976).

55 Turner, Contesting Cultural Authority; see also James R. Moore, 'Theodicy and society: the crisis of the intelligentsia', in R. Helmstadter and B. Lightman (eds.),

Victorian Faith in Crisis: Essays on Continuity and Change in Nineteenth Century Religious Belief (Stanford, 1990), 153–86.

56 Dipesh Chakrabarty, 'Post-coloniality and the artifice of history: who speaks for “Indian” pasts?', Representations, 37 (1992), 1–26.

57 See Jeffrey Cox, Imperial Fault Lines: Christianity and Colonial Power in India, 1818–1940 (Stanford, CA, 2002).

58 Church Missionary Society Minute of 1861 on the Organization of Native Churches, cited in Max Warren (ed.), To Apply the Gospel: Selections from the Writing of Henry Venn (Grand Rapids, MI, 1971), 66–8.

59 Green, Religion in an Age of Decline, chapter 5.

60 Gill, The Myth of the Empty Church.

61 Cox, English Churches, passim.

62 Asa Briggs, 'Christ and the media: secularization, rationalism, and sectarianism in the history of British broadcasting, 1922–1976', in Barker et al. (eds.), Secularization, 267–86, at 282.

63 Callum G. Brown, The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation, 1800–2000 (London and New York, 2001).

64 Green, Religion in an Age of Decline, 390–1.

65 A conference on 'Alternative master narratives of religion in the modern world' was convened at the Research Center Religion and Society, University of Amsterdam, in April 2002.

A Missiological Postscript

Werner Ustorf

The Missiology of Western Culture's History Group had the intuition that Christendom might be a useful lens through which to gain a missiological perspective on the history of Christianity in the West. When twenty-two scholars from eight countries gathered in the Maison Nicolas Barr´e, Paris, in April 1997 for the group's third colloquium and to discuss the decline of Christendom in western Europe in the last two or so centuries, there was already a sense of unease about the future and, more importantly, the nature of Christianity. In our brief to the participants, the History Group had defined Christendom rather broadly, but in distinction to Christianity: Christendom is a civilisation in which (a) Christianity is the dominant religion and (b) this dominance has been backed up by social or legal compulsions. For discussion we offered the following working hypothesis: the coercion, control and domination that were part of the Christendom model of church and mission carry within themselves the seeds of the modern repudiation of Christianity in Europe. 1 (In focusing on western Europe, we did not consider how far our definitions might apply to other Christendoms, such as Ethiopia.)

The participants, representing different national, cultural, political, historical and often denominational traditions and each being an expert in his or her field, quickly detected the dissenters' voice or the radical Reformation bias in all of this and demonstrated that the matter was much more complex and the overall picture more diverse and even ambiguous than this (see Hugh McLeod's Introduction). Since understandings of religion are continually changing, and since there has been no consensus even at any one point as to what religion (and Christianity) is, there can be no objective criteria that would justify the language of decline. Nor has any new grand narrative been found that would cover the multifarious historical evidence. It seems that, by Christianity, different cultural and social groups, different periods of history, and different contexts have understood rather different things.

A missiological interpretation of Christianity's history in the West will gain in credibility and reliability if it is informed by the wealth of material and readings historians have to offer. So far, this is a task still to be accomplished. On the other hand, it must be said that historians—even church historians—do not 218 really read missiological literature. Crossing the boundaries of the disciplines and looking at the interplay between gospel and culture within the lands of the West is a promising approach—and one that gave the Paris Colloquium a sense of a new venture. 2 How do this venture and its in many ways inconclusive results then fit into the wider missiological discussion?

In the first century of its academic existence missiology was very much a domain of the West. It had often been applying a practical form of missiological materialism: unable to demonstrate rationally or philosophically the non-truth of other religions, ways of life and convictions, or the certainty of the victory of Christianity over its rivals, it resorted to resolving the question of truth through practical means by claiming that, ultimately, numbers and 'spiritual experience' would endorse and vindicate the superiority of Christianity. This position is intellectually untenable and historically a high-risk strategy to say the least. It still has its defenders. Much celebrated among missiologists today is the metamorphosis of Christianity into a non-Western religion. The church, indeed since 1492, has experienced a double process, namely a large numerical increase, or accession (in the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific), and a substantial decrease, or recession (mainly in Europe). The alternation of periods of accession and recession in the history of Christianity was made an organising principle by Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884–1968), Yale's prominent mission historian, in his A History of the Expansion of Christianity. 3 Statistically, these developments have always been carefully monitored. The leading authority in this field is currently David B. Barrett, professor of missiometrics (in the US, not surprisingly) and one of the authors of the World Christian Encyclopedia. 4 This encyclopedia supplies us with data such as these: the Christian share of the world's population has been static (around 33 per cent) for the last hundred years, and will very likely remain so for the foreseeable future—despite the increasing number of Christian missionaries working in countries other than their own (at present around 420,000) and despite sophisticated plans for global evangelisation (770 such projects are currently underway).

After all, the making of Christians is expensive: 46 billion dollars per year are currently spent on home and foreign missions. Statistically, however, mission is a lot cheaper in the Third World than in the West: the 'cost-effectiveness' of baptism in the Third World, i.e. of getting one person baptised in the Congo (Zaire) for example compares to that of the UK at a ratio of about 1 to 693. The meteoric rise of the Pentecostal, Charismatic and neo-Charismatic renewal (at present 27.7 per cent of organised global Christianity) is in its majority (more than two thirds) a non-white and non-Western phenomenon. The West is indeed a problem for those who apply the inherited (sometimes rather Victorian) images of church and mission to world Christianity, and not only in terms of money: despite what Barrett describes as the 'massive gains' of Christianity in the Third World, particularly in Africa (23,000 new Christians per day), the total numbers are kept down by 'the massive defections' in the West (7600 per day), mainly in Europe and in North America. Where do these western defectors go? According to the Encyclopedia, they join the 'secular quasireligions', a term that lumps together agnosticism, atheism, materialism, secularism, communism, nazism, humanism and 'constructed or fabricated pseudo-religions'. As said before, the inclusion of the materials and readings historians have to offer can only improve the reliability of this kind of missiometrics. In one regard, however, all missiologists, whatever their particular point of view, would agree: the topography of world Christianity has changed beyond recognition. Christianity today is split into approximately 34,000 separate denominations (a number that includes the African Independent Churches)—it is a 'massive Babel of diversity' (Barrett) or, in the words of the late Adrian Hastings, a 'chameleon' and 'many-faced monster'. 5 How does one describe the shape of this monster without imprisoning it in one's own views and tradition, likes and dislikes?

Two examples, taken from the missionary movement, will show that the idea of Christianity as a shape-shifter outside the West has a tradition and that, therefore, the transformations of the European shape of Christianity discussed in this volume are actually endorsing a wider perception of the realities of the faith. A first attempt at what was later called a 'new style of missionary historiography' 6 goes back already to the 1950s. In 1954 the International Missionary Council commissioned a series of depth studies of churches in the non-Western world, and in the sixties these were published by the Division of World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches (WCC) under the title World Studies of Churches in Mission. 7 The novelty of these studies lay in their approach, since they were written not from the point of view of mission boards or of mission historians from the West, but from the indigenous churches' own understanding of what it meant to be Christian in their specific contexts. This approach reflected on the one hand the process of decolonisation, on the other a shift in missiological methods: instead of coming with pre-established biblical criteria against which to measure these churches, the process was reversed, with the hope being that the life of these churches would in turn generate a new interpretation of scripture.

When, in the sixties, following the slogan of the world mission conference of 1963 in Mexico City, 'mission in six continents', a couple of Western church contexts were added to the study series (Hamburg and Birmingham), it was made sure that non-Western scholars authored or at least co-authored these volumes. 8 The purpose of these studies was to take account of the variety of church contexts and of the diversity of Christian responses to different cultural and social situations. The great surprise, however, was that the variety and the diversity were far greater than had been anticipated. In fact, the research was, as the evaluation study put it, 'gloriously disappointing'. 9 It is quite ironic to note that one of the proposals of the WCC conference at Uppsala in 1968 had been to examine the worldwide church through field studies and decide 'whether any general principles emerge from them', 10 and here was such a field study which found no such principles, unless diversity as such is seen as a general principle. A simple and general pattern in church development could not be established, and none of the many possible definitions of church seemed to describe a single one of the churches analysed in the study. The differences ran much deeper than surface level, and every church situation was different: its history, the cultural patterns, the self-definition, and the ways in which the boundaries to its environment were drawn; even biblical interpretation differed from context to context. The tighter the description was, the more contradictions surfaced, and the more elusive became the notion of 'the' church. Apart from the fact that they all related to the story of Jesus Christ and, hence, to the New Testament, there wasno discernible unifying principle. At the end of the day, the church was regarded as beyond empirical or historical research, a comparison of churches did not lead to a safe knowledge about the church and Christianity, and the whole evaluation ended in a cheerful but 'very humble agnosticism'. 11

The other example relates to the scholarly œuvre of the African missiologist Lamin Sanneh, one of the successors to the chair once held by Latourette at Yale Divinity School. Sanneh offers a rereading of colonial and mission history (just as the present volume does in relation to the recent Christian history of Europe) and presents a challenge to what he calls the received academic orthodoxy or the 'standard historiography' of Christianity. 12 Early on, Sanneh decided that the discipline of missiology ought to be liberated from its captivity to 'Western ethnocentrism', 13 and focus on the central aspect of religious transformation in the recipient local culture. This had two immediate consequences for the further direction of his scholarly work: one is the rehabilitation—in this case—of the African agency, or 'the African factor', in the process of religious change. The other is the question of the relationship between culture and religion, because one can only single out the religious nature of the transformation if one makes the distinction between what is, and what is not, religious.

Focusing on the African factor led to a reinterpretation of mission history and to the twin result (1) that Africa actively 'captured' Christianity (and Islam) for herself, and therefore changed their interpretation, and (2) that 'Western charts' and interpretations are no longer to be regarded as the universal yardstick in world Christianity. 14 The implication of this is not only that African cultures had a substantial import in reinterpreting the Christian message, that the colonialist verdict of inferiority was untrue, but that Christianity and mission, in so far as the message is 'captured' through a process of translation and vernacularisation, are not the destroyers of local cultures, but their allies and preservers. Embracing Christianity therefore actually meant to embrace African culture. 15 In other words, operating here is implicitly a modified theory of fulfilment (the Christian message as fulfilling the aspirations of the previous religion). That leads to the second aspect.

The relationship between culture and religion is seen as a dialectical process oscillating between the destigmatisation and the relativisation of culture. This is based on the familiar paradox of their essential disparity and formal unity. Christianity is at the same time in 'profound continuity' with, and thus the 'fulfilment' of, African traditional religions, and 'a radical force' in their critique and transformation—because culture, including cultural expressions of the faith, is always 'non-divine', 'earthly' and 'non-absolute'. 16 God remains different from any cultural presupposition, and the gospel keeps its culture-critical stance. However, without cultural life-images of God the Christian message becomes fossilised. We are touching here a cornerstone of Sanneh's interpretation : just like Greschat in this volume, he makes the struggle between using culture as a trajectory of the search for God and as the deification of cultural images of God an implicit principle, 17 even a universal law, of Christian and cultural history as such. 18 The regulative statement is anti-perfectionist, and claims that neither 'pure faith', i.e. a universal and transcultural standard of the faith, nor 'cultural purity' do exist. 19 On the other hand, the vernacular definition of the Christian message is highly profitable because this expands the general scope for understanding the message. When Christianity went through 'the crucible' of African traditional religions this new host-environment contributed the interpretation of hope, reconciliation, tolerance of diversity and the inclusiveness of human community as central issues of Christianity. 20 This still is culturally limited, but represents a new set of 'interpersonal ethics', a new model of 'normative principles' of what 'God might be saying to us'. 21

What made Sanneh go against the Western concept of Christendom certainly is the root experience of God's inclusiveness, which he puts as 'God's faithfulness toward all peoples'. 22 If he is right about the nature of Christianity as a pluralist religion, and there is no transcultural concept of truth, we are actually facing a built-in structural vulnerability or disadvantage at the heart of the Christian religion. It is indeed rooted in the idea of the incarnation itself. 23 The only way for us to see the 'face' of God or, more theologically correctly, to be met by the 'divine self-disclosure', 24 is by using our respective cultural glasses or spectacles, without, however, sacralising or absolutising these tools. This struggle for the authenticity of the faith with, in and through culture then generates the space for human development, including the development of the faith, human freedom and the acceptance of our limitations, intercultural communication and intellectual inquiry, in brief the arena of history. 25 Sanneh does not deny the existence of exclusive norms of truth or an essence of Christianity, butitisaffirmed that this is not at our disposal. 26 What is within our reach, and indeed of utter necessity, is what he calls a critical comparative perspective. This is the organising principle of Translating the Message, and it has a negative tendency: the comparison of one cultural expression of the faith in the light of another expression does not lead necessarily to 'truth', but it is the 'antidote' to the 'monolithic tyranny' of a particular inculturation of the faith, and therefore works against the forces of uniformity and centralisation. 27

Missiologically, then, the big picture is like this: terms such as mission and Christian are holding precariously together what is in fact an enormous variety of experiences and expressions. Churches and theologies, on the one hand, are individual manifestations of Christian identity and history and, on the other, are improvisations, transition stages or transit camps of a much larger continuing and unfinished intercultural communication. Each of the new beginnings in Christian identity (that is the formation of new knowledge as to what it means to be Christian) is subjective and starts its rereading of all other Christian identities from its own specific contextual location. In this regard, each variation of Christian identity has its own centre, as every sphere its own centre of gravity. Differently perhaps from other great religions, Christianity does not insist on a specific cultural and linguistic shape—however, the necessary translation and appropriation of the message and the meaning of faith into the local context almost amounts to a kind of reinvention of the faith. This reinvention sketches a new vision of humanity, a new language of the sacred, and therefore constitutes a widening of the Christian vision. The Christian story is characterised by a high degree of malleability and a permanent trend towards the revision of its previous shapes ( fides semper inculturanda ). If Christianity, seen from an historical point of view, appears to be a chameleon it is clear that historians cannot claim to find the universally valid measure for all things Christian within the historical process. Domesticating the chameleon (that is: making a particular shape of Christian identity the yardstick of all others) is not their job.

If missiologists were to emancipate themselves from the point of view of mission boards or from the standard historiographies and look at the postChristian (in Callum Brown's view) context of Britain or, perhaps, Europe, in the way the WCC study of the 1960s looks at the world church, or Lamin Sanneh at African Christian history, a new picture and interpretation of the transformations within European Christianity may emerge. This volume has produced some of the data that are useful for creating this new picture. The important methodological decision is to start not with the inherited and now often rejected doctrinal or institutional images Christianity in Europe has generated (this would represent a 'shrivelling of the spirit', to apply a phrase by Isaiah Berlin), 28 but with people's own understandings and the interpretations generated by the local European cultures in action and reaction to what they understand to be the gospel. This would require missiologists to pay attention to the European factor in the appropriation of Christian memory and to ask how far a European intepretation of Christianity, which has gone through the crucible of modernity, might enlarge the Christian vision. Christian faith is in a constant conversation with the realities of the past. The European past is that of the Enlightenment and its secular trends. We can only work in the culture we have got. This culture may be, as Grace Davie argues, exceptional on a global scale, but it has produced a new agenda and anew set of questions that, at the end of the day, end up as questions about Jesus Christ. Christianity, in this cultural context, cannot avoid answering the questions the Enlightenment and, then, the post-Enlightenment have asked, in particular those they themselves could not answer. Other forms of Christianity, in Africa for example, have indeed demonstrated their strength to flourish largely outside the Enlightenment world-view. It would even be fair to say that the questions posed by the Enlightenment and postmodernity are not at the top of the priority list of most of the other varieties of Christianity. There, issues of poverty, war, marginalisation and environmental degradation are much more in the centre. The Christian discourses in our days just are very diverse. They are certainly not mutually exclusive. They even help, as Sanneh pointed out, to critique and correct one another. But the Enlightenment provided a new intellectual framework for the understanding of Christ in the west. The Christian appropriation of this culture is not, as Andrew F. Walls emphasises, a 'betrayal of Christian faith', but 'an indigenization of Christianity in Western terms'. 29 It has introduced new cultural and religious materials into the Christian story and is therefore, just like any other variety of Christianity, syncretistic. What matters, to continue the position of Walls, is not the religious and cultural content of the faith, but its direction towards Christ. A missiological perspective on the West does not mean to replace something old by something new, but to reorder the elements that are already there in such a way that they face towards Christ. God calls us into the future and to Himself, not necessarily into religion, Christianity or church. Viewing the Western context missiologically also means that there are no safe ways and that there is no predetermined pattern of Christian life and thought. All these are not to be prescribed by those who repeat what they always used to say, but by the new converts of the faith.


1 The working methods of the History Group are described by Alan Kreider, The Origins of Christendom in the West (Edinburgh, 2001).

2 It is not really new; at least there are precursors; compare, for example, the succinct title of the German project to describe Kirchengeschichte als Missionsges chichte in the 1970s. Two volumes only were eventually published; the first one contains the historio graphical rationale of the project and was edited by H. Frohnes and U. Knorr (on the Ancient Church) (Munich, 1974).

3 Seven vols., New York and London, 1937–45.

4 David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian and Todd M. Johnson, World Christian Encyclopedia : A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World,

vol. I, The World by Countries: Religions, Churches, Ministries; vol. II, The World by Segments: Religions, Peoples, Languages, Cities, Topics, 2nd edition (New York, 2001).

5 A. Hastings (ed.), AWorld History of Christianity (London, 1999), Introduction.

6 Thus the Dutch missiologist (then teaching at Union Theological Seminary, New York) Johannes Christian Hoekendijk in 1969.

7 Up to 1970 thirteen volumes had been published. An overall assessment of the study process is contained in Steven G. Mackie (ed.), Can Churches Be Compared? Reflections on Fifteen Study Projects, Research Pamphlet 17 (Geneva, 1970).

8 The church study on Birmingham, UK, for example, was done by K. A. Busia, a theologian and sociologist from Ghana, cf. Urban Churches in Britain: A Question of Relevance (London, 1966).

9 Mackie, Can Churches Be Compared?, 99.

10 Norman Goodall (ed.), The Uppsala Report (Geneva, 1968), 202.

11 Mackie, Can Churches Be Compared?, 101.

12 The following of Sanneh's publications have been looked at: West African Christianity : The Religious Impact (Maryknoll, NY, 1983); Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (Maryknoll, NY, 1989); Encountering the West: Christianity and the Global Cultural Process: The African Dimension (Maryknoll, NY, 1993).

13 This impulse is to be found throughout his work, and within the here analysed materials first and strongly expressed in West African Christianity, xvii.

14 Cf. West African Christianity, xiv, 249.

15 Encountering the West, 16, 24.

16 West African Christianity, 227; Translating the Message, 1, 15, 53, 229.

17 This is the methodology of Translating the Message, enlarged in scope in Encountering the West.

18 He even extends this model to the interpretation of the presence of Islam in Africa. In this perspective Islam, rejecting African religions as a matter of principle (not always of praxis though), and unwilling to have the Qur'an translated into the vernacular, can be seen as guilty of the deification and then universalisation of the Arabic cultural expression of the faith. Translating the Message, 222–7.

19 West African Christianity, xvi, 215; Encountering the West, particularly 25.

20 West African Christianity, 244.

21 Encountering the West, 26, 31, 235.

22 Translating the Message, 233, also 31. In Encountering the West (141) the formula is 'the precious jewel of God's impartiality towards all peoples and cultures'.

23 Translating the Message, 83.

24 Ibid., 32.

25 Cf. Ibid., Introduction.

26 The definition of Jesus Christ given in Translating the Message (158) is accordingly 'soft': 'the historical and personal manifestation of God's power'.

27 Translating the Message, 30, 48, 51, 83.

28 I. Berlin, Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas (London, 1980), 215.

29 'Enlightenment, postmodernity and mission', in T. Foust, G. Hunsberger, A. Kirk and W. Ustorf (eds.), A Scandalous Prophet: The Way of Mission after Newbigin (Grand Rapids, MI, 2002), 145–52, here 150.

Index of people and places

Aaron 166
Ab´elard (and H´eloise) 146
Africa 10, 219, 220, 223, 224
African factor in Christian history 221
compared to the west 220,
Europe 220,
North America 220

Agulhon, Maurice 151
Ambrose, church father 175
America, the Americas 1, 219
America, North 6, 34, 39, 50, 101, 107, 109, 169, 178
compared to Africa 220
Piety 204
and urban religion 203

America, South 34, 105
Amsterdam 203
Angers 150
Anglo-Saxon countries 171
Anjou 149
Antoine l'Empereur 113
Antwerp 113
Aquinas, Thomas 176
Ariès, Philippe 147, 158
Aristotle 176
Armagh 101, 108
Asia 10, 219
Asia, East 16
Asmussen, Hans 136
Assisi, St Francis of 157
Augsburg 5
Augustine, church father 115, 176
Australasia 101, 107
Austria 6, 69, 116, 193

Babel 220
Bad Boll 133
Badone, Ellen 156
Bainbridge, W. S. 203
Baltimore 173
Bamford, Samuel 86
Barbey d'Aurevilly 169
Barmen Theological Declaration 133, 134
Barret, David B. 219, 220
Barth, Karl 131, 132, 133, 139, 188
Basque Country 3, 107
Bavaria 131

Beccaria, Cesare 7
Becker, Annette 155
Beckford, Jim 77
Belgium 4, 9, 116, 117, 163
Bell, Daniel 205
Bellah, Robert 66, 73
Bentham, Jeremy 7
Berger, Peter 14
Bergey, abb´e 155
Bergson, Henri 163
Berlin 7, 12, 30, 131, 203, 211
Berlin, Isaiah 81, 223
Birmingham (UK) 220
Bismarck, Otto von 138
Blaschke, Olaf 18
Bloy 177

Boers (and Protestantism) 121
Bonaventure 176
Bontoux, P. B. F. 149
Bossy, John 103
Boullée, Etienne-Louis 148
Bowen, Desmond 104
Branly 165

Britain 2, 4, 5, 12, 13, 19, 20, 29, 37, 82, 89, 103, 108, 109, 121, 131, 163, 223 mission work,
compared to that of the US 212
compared to the Netherlands 124
and religions 30, 31, 34
religious authority, compared to the US 207
and religious knowledge 86
and secularisation 37, 38
social influence of churches 212,
compared to the US 213
and statistics 43

British Empire 10, 107
Brittany 3, 74, 107, 156, 165, 171 and its changing culture 156

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