Protestantism and Politics in Europe

European politics is purported to be a secular affair, but when we look closely we see the foundational influence of several theologians and churchmen. Rarely read today, the church historian and theologian Adolf von Harnack is at the beginning of these developments.

The intellectual history of religious formulations is a tragically overlooked aspect of conflict formation, and Harnack’s influence on liberal Christianity’s self-identity and formulations is almost unparalleled. But Harnack was far more than the author of Das Wesen des Christentums or his Dogmengeschichte. He was also an internationally respected organizer of scientific research, education aide to Kaiser Wilhelm II, and chief advocate for Germany’s participation in World War I, all of which came under suspicion after 1945. My research thus pays particular attention to the process of de-establishing Harnack’s form of Christianity in the wake of its role in justifying, rationalizing, and supporting the war effort in 1914, aiming to highlight ways in which the varieties of Protestantism that rose to prominence as Protestant liberalism’s influence waned have inadvertently repeated many of the same errors (e.g., Barthianism). But it also pays equally attention to the ways that Harnack’s influence established itself in the educational regimes of North America, Great Britain, and Scandinavia. Paradoxically then Harnack’s influence has been so great because it was largely presumed to be dead. Below you can download an overview of this research project (in German – write to me if you want to see a roughly equivalent English version).

One of the issues that motivates me to study Harnack is that I do not believe we have yet to truly confront liberal protestantism’s contributions to the ‘bloody twentieth century’. By freshly re-assessing Harnack and his influence on these movements in the second half of the twentieth century we might be able to do this more adequately.