Siegfried Hermle, Claudia Lepp, Harry Oelke, eds. Umbrüche: Der deutsche Protestantismus und die sozialen Bewegungen in den 1960er und 70er Jahren. Arbeiten zur Kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte, Series B. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007. 408 pp. EUR 68.90 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-525-55748-8.
Reviewed by Benjamin C. Pearson (Department of History, Tusculum College)
Published on H-German (October, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
A Time of Transformation: German Protestantism in the 1960s and 1970s
Over the past several decades, a great deal of research has been conducted on the German Protestant churches during the Third Reich and in the communist GDR. However, the study of the Protestant churches in the comparatively "normal" Federal Republic has been largely neglected, even in the work of German church historians. This conference volume, based on the proceedings of the fiftieth anniversary conference of the Evangelische Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, held in 2005 at the Evangelische Akademie in Tutzing, seeks to remedy this defect. Like the conference on which it was based, it attempts to redirect the energy of German church historians and other interested scholars to the dramatic transformations that have shaken and reshaped West German Protestantism in the postwar era, focusing on the period between the 1960s and the 1980s. It brings together the work of many different scholars from a variety of disciplines, with contributions ranging from broad historical and conceptual overviews to narrower case studies. As is the case with most conference volumes, the individual essays vary greatly in interest and quality. However, the volume as a whole succeeds admirably as a starting point for future research.
The volume begins with three essays that examine the broad historical context for understanding the transformation of West German Protestantism during the 1960s and 70s. In the first essay, Hugh McLeod offers a useful overview of the major social and cultural factors that formed the backdrop for the transformation of European Christianity during the 1960s. Arguing that the 1960s were a "hinge decade” between the culturally Christian 1940s and 50s and the "secular" 1970s and 80s, he begins by examining the roots of this transformation in late 1950s modernization (changing demographic patterns, growing material prosperity, mechanization, commercialization, and so on). He goes on to argue that for European Christians, the early 1960s were a period of optimism as church institutions sought to adapt their tradition to these changes. However, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, these moderate reform efforts had given way to deep-seated polarization between radicals and conservatives, a state of affairs that further undermined church authority and opened the door to present-day religious pluralism and individualism. Wolf-Dieter Hauschild makes similar arguments, highlighting several examples specific to the West German state churches. Like McLeod, he sees the 1960s and 70s as a transitional phase, in this case between the conservative 1950s and the left-wing activism of the 1980s. While the structure and leadership of the churches underwent only minimal change during the 1960s, Hauschild argues that this decade was an important "incubation period" for a new generation of leaders and movements. Finally, Dieter Rucht rounds out this background section with an examination of West German protest movements between the late 1950s and the late 1970s.
The following sections go into more detail on specific movements and individuals that played a role in these changes. In one of the more interesting of these essays, Angela Hager examines the complex relationship between the 1960s student movement and the Protestant churches. While many members of the student movement were indifferent or hostile to Christianity, and the literature on 1968 has generally downplayed the role of faith in the student movement, Hager points out that many student leaders, including Rudi Dutschke, saw deep connections between their politics and their personal Christian faiths. Hager also examines the variety of responses to the student movement from within the church, including the strong antipathy of many older, conservative leaders and the attempts at dialogue advanced by more progressive theologians, such as Helmut Gollwitzer. These disparate reactions are examined further in other chapters, including Claudia Lepp's essay on Gollwitzer's relationship to the student movement, Peter Cornehl's far-too-brief examination of Dorothee Sölle and the Politische Nachtgebet movement, Norbert Friedrich's profile of influential conservative theologian Helmut Thielicke, and Siegfried Hermle's excellent examination of the origins and development of the German "evangelical" movement (in the Anglo-American sense of the word) as a backlash against the modern theology and left-wing politics of new church movements. In other chapters, Helga Kuhlmann offers a useful, but overly sketchy overview of the process leading to women's ordination, and Simone Mantei looks at church reactions to the sexual revolution. Reinhard Frieling and Roland Spliesgart examine growing interest in the "Third World," including the development and popularization of peace and liberation theology, and Marc-Dieter Ohse looks at the influence of the Prague Spring on the East German Protestant churches.
Finally, several essays examine changes in church institutions and culture. In an overview of these trends, Jan Hermelink argues that the church reform movement of the 1960s failed to achieve its more ambitious goals. Indeed, the core institutional structures of Germany's Protestant state churches have changed little since the 1960s. However, he also points to the creation of a dense network of parallel institutions and organizations within the churches that has served to expand the church's activities, albeit gradually, in new directions. Moreover, he argues that the growing professionalization of the clergy, the bureaucratization of church government, and small steps toward institutional democratization have succeeded in subtly effecting more substantial changes. In a related essay, Harald Schroeter-Wittke examines the role of the prominent lay gathering, the Deutsche Evangelische Kirchentag, as a laboratory for the development of new forms of popular piety and new social and political movements in the churches. Peter Bubmann looks at the reception of new forms of church music, ranging from avant-garde high-art compositions to jazz- and pop-influenced spiritual music. The volume concludes with commentary and discussion by Hartmut Lehmann, Detlaff Pollack, and several other participants in the 2005 conference, and with a paean by Bishop Wolfgang Huber to the dramatic democratization of German Protestantism in the years since 1945.
While the overall quality of this volume varies somewhat from essay to essay, on the whole it provides a valuable introduction to the transformation of West German Protestantism in the 1960s and 70s. It also succeeds quite well in identifying important questions and topics for future research. As such, it is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the history of the German churches, while several individual chapters will be of great interest to historians of the 1960s and 70s more broadly. That said, the entire volume--and the research project upon which it is based--does suffer from one major blind spot. As an explicit attempt to shift the research agenda of German church historians to developments in postwar West Germany, it is odd that this volume chooses to begin in 1960, skipping almost entirely over developments in the 1950s. This decision is especially questionable since so many of the essays treat the 1960s as a transitional phase with strong continuities to that which came before. Indeed, many chapters refer back to the 1950s origins of the movements and ideas that they chronicle. While this framework does not undermine the considerable value of the volume as a whole, it does highlight its limitations. How, after all, can one gauge the full import of the developments in the 1960s and 70s without understanding the decade that came before?
. For a concise overview of the historiography on the Protestant churches in West Germany, see Thomas Sauer, "Die geschichte der evangelischen Kirchen in der Bundesrepublik – Schwerpunkte und Perspektiven der Forschung" in Evangelische Kirche im geteilten Deutschland (1945-1989/90), ed. Claudia Lepp and Kurt Nowak (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2001), 295-309.
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Benjamin C. Pearson. Review of Hermle, Siegfried; Lepp, Claudia; Oelke, Harry, eds., Umbrüche: Der deutsche Protestantismus und die sozialen Bewegungen in den 1960er und 70er Jahren.
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