When the Christian church began society assumed that what one believed affected every detail of an individual's life, and the direction of the society was determined by its constituent members. As Christianity developed into the dominant cultural perspective it reinforced the constant prevailing belief that the whole world was infused with spiritual significance. Yet today, and especially in America, the reigning assumption is that Church and State can be neatly distinguished and kept separate by a wall of laws. One should wonder how we got here. How is it that the radical religious force once considered so central and vital to the entirety of life, is now conveniently domesticated for personal consumption? Christopher Clark and Wolfram Kaiser draw together numerous essays that examine the conflict which broke out in the nineteenth century as the dominant culture of Catholicism came under siege by the secularizing forces of emerging nation-states.
In twelve essays European scholars examine the struggle that broke out between secular and religious worldviews in late nineteenth century Europe with the emergence of constitutional and democratic nation-states stimulating anticlerical prejudices. Case studies from ten countries (France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Hungary) depict the rising conflict between secular liberals and religious Catholics between the years of approximately 1850 and 1920. These religious-secular culture wars have generally been seen as independent chapters in the history of specific nation-states. Yet it has recently become increasingly clear that the Europe of the nineteenth century should also be seen as a common cultural entity.
Most of the case studies in the collection follow a similar form. They are introduced with a general overview followed by the country's specific struggle between the religious and secular parties. This general pattern makes Culture Wars an excellent teaching volume, more useful in many ways than some of the more narrowly focused texts of a particular national field. The volume concludes with an annotated bibliography which is a welcome resource for transnational study. Especially useful are contributions on the culture wars in smaller or more remote European countries that are often neglected in many of the narratives of nineteenth century Europe: Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and Hungary. For example the essay on Belgium by Els Witte, describes the ideological civil war over schooling and educational control that took place between Catholics and secular administrators between 1879 and 1884 producing a very different outcome than it had in France.
This volume demonstrates how increasingly during the nineteenth century antireligious and secular forces attempted to push religion out of virtually every sphere of social life: schools, universities, the press, marriage and gender relations, burial rites, associational culture, the control of public space, folk memory and the symbols of nationhood. In short, these conflicts were clashes of radically different world views, in which the values and collective practices of modern life were formed. As is common in heated battles both sides radicalized themselves in the argument, which led voices on both sides that were moderate and ready to compromise, being pushed to the edge or banished from their own camp. In most cases the religious forces were overcome or so badly defeated that their future impact would become negligible. The decline of many of these victorious secular states into fascism and communism in the twentieth century gives this earlier struggle greater significance for understanding the continuing decline of the church in the modern world.
The usual approach taken by most historians is to place the secular and religious conflicts within a specific national context. Culture Wars opens with two overview essays by its editors, one on the prior state of European Catholicism by Christopher Clark, and the other on European anticlericalism by Wolfram Kaiser, both of which serve to highlight the European dimension of the culture wars, often lost in the specifics of national histories. These two opening essays provide useful perspective on the international aspects of both the catholic revival and the anticlerical response that bolster the editors' claim that the culture wars were a pan-European phenomenon. Thus Culture Wars breaks with the conventional approach by setting developments within specific states into an all-European comparative context, offering a fresh and revealing perspective on the rise of secularism as one of modernity's primary intellectual foundations. Kaiser argues that anticlerical forces in different European countries developed a common intellectual foundation through the translation of key texts. Secular advocates made contacts across borders and consciously adopted models from other countries; such that "the energies generated by conflict in one state raised the emotional temperature among anticlericals in other states" (p. 65). Kaiser's essay provides a useful survey of the main anticlerical agents (liberals, freemasons, socialists) as well as their propaganda political chants (rationality, freedom, education) and their well chosen scapegoats: Catholicism, the papacy, and the Jesuits. Culture Wars, published by Cambridge University Press, proves itself to be a welcome historical perspective on the European religious experience that lead to the modern secular period were the wall remains high between Church and State.