Bulwarks in a “Religious Triangle”

International Conference about Borderland Myths in East European Multiconfessional Societies in the Age of Nationalism

Poster „Bulwarks in a Religious Triangle“


History of frontier regions presents clashes and overlaps of socio-cultural and religious formations. Often, it results in mutual influences, but sometimes it may also lead to harsh confrontations, or the occurrence of typical socio-cultural patterns not to be met elsewhere. Historically based boundaries between cultures, ethnic groups, and religions influence various (and interdependent) debates about civilization and barbarism, religious missions and self-identifications with a role of “chosen people” (e.g. as defenders of faith or culture) in the region. Antemurale (bulwark) myths are the products of such discourses and thus a one specific phenomena of these regions. Their purpose is to demonstrate the belonging of a certain group to the bigger community which is supposedly more “developed”/”civilized” then the neighbor one(s). Such a legitimation and provides the society with orientation and sense by drawing imaginary boundaries within the denominationally and ethnically mixed borderland societies. As typical political myths, they help to explain the origins of the evolving nations.

The concept of antemurale christianitatis was born in the 15th century and reached its peak during the anti-Osmanic wars in the 16th and 17th centuries. The suggestion of being a "bulwark" against the Muslim threat was widely spread in early modern Croatia, Hungary, Venice, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the lands of the Habsburg monarchy. From the very beginning, the (self)-definition of antemurale was mostly limited to the Catholic lands. Territories dominated by the Eastern-rite believers, like Serbia, Muscovy, Rhodes, or Crete, were granted by the Holy See this title only with certain reservations. Although typical for the Christian-Islamic border, antemurale myths can be found in the regions where different Christian confessions meet, too. Here, the extrapolation “civilization/barbarism” is often enriched with reflections about “true faith.” In this way the antemurale myth is used as a legitimation source for different kinds of missionary activities (religious, political, and cultural).

East European frontier zones are typical regions of the spread of antemurale myths. One of it is situated along the southern, south-western and western borders of the late Russian Empire, encompassing the lands of the modern Ukraine and the Black Sea region which had been contested since the antiquity and contributed to the growth of the Byzantine, Ottoman, Habsburg, and Russian Empires as multi-ethnic and multi-confessional communities. There, the logic of antemurale worked on both sides.

Since the 19th century, the mythic narration on "bulwarks" has undergone considerable changes, due to the rise of nationalism and the transformations of political borders. The antemurale myths experienced a revival: Old topoi of "chosen people" and the civilization/barbarism divide have remained intact, but the anti-Islamic was replaced sharply by an anti-Russian rhetoric. Political myths of antemurale, due to its semantic flexibility, turned to be essential elements of local national ideologies.

The conference aims at discovering the peculiarities of the antemurale rhetoric’s application upon various national ideologies and respective “mental mapping.” But it seems more important to ask how the antemurale myth contributed to the coherence of the given local community. Thus, one focus rests upon the longue durée processes in the national consciousness, from the end of the 18th century until the interwar period. A second one lies on a synchronic perspective, which allows tracing mutual transfers as well as multi-sided national ideological competitions and the intertwining of mythical narrations.
The participants of the conference contribute to the discussion according to the following questions:

  • What were the specific features of the modern “bastion myths”? How do modern national “bulwark” myths relate to the old, pre-modern ones?
  • How did the changing political landscape and the loss of power of the empires influence the mythical narration? How did the new pan-movement ideologies (i.e. Panslavism) influence transformations in the antemurale myths? Can we trace the influence of specific Romantic and messianic ideas and religious concepts on the formation of modern “bulwark” myths?
  • Were there any differences in mythic narration of antemurale on the Christian/Islamic and Western Christian/Eastern Christian borders? Were there any differences in denominationally homogeneous and in mixed areas and can we find any specifically confessional facets of it?
  • How did the national “bulwark” myths correspond to other myths in the region (of the Golden Age, victim role, heroes, etc.)? Are there local nuances of the mythical narration and can we thus assume specific ”core“ and ”peripheral“ perspectives in the narratives about bulwarks which hint at a certain “colonial view”?
  • Can we identify the major actors in these processes? Which role did the churches play? Was the antemurale myth implemented in the lower layers of the society? Can we trace certain modifications on its way “to the bottom” and vice versa? What were the most influential intermediaries in these processes?


Thursday, 15 May 2014

09:00 Registration
09:15 Opening remarks Liliya Berezhnaya (Münster), Heidi Hein-Kircher (Marburg)
09:30-10:45 Antemurale Topos: ‘historical and political backgrounds’ (European and religious applications), Moderation: Heidi Hein-Kircher
Antemurale Concepts in Vatican Politics till the End of the 18th Century Kerstin Weiand (Frankfurt a.M.)
The Function of the “Antemurale”-Notion in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the Turn of the 16th-17th Centuries Edward Opaliński (Warsaw)
11:00-13:00 Frontier mythology in Ukrainian historical and political discourses in the times of nationalism, Moderation: Liliya Berezhnaya
Borderland into Heartland? Antemurale Mythology in Ukrainian historical Writing of the first half of the 19th century Volodymyr Kravchenko (Edmonton)
Religion and Nation in Frontier Mythology: Re-reading the History of the Rus Serhii Plokhii (Boston)
Some Remarks on the Antemurale Myth from a Galician Perspective. Polish and Ukrainian Schoolbooks from 1848 to 1918 Philipp Hofender (Wien)
14:30-16:45 “Mental mapping” in arts, cartography, and travel guides, Moderation: Serhii Plokhii
The Bulwark Mission: Polish Travel Guides on Galicia and Lviv at the End of the 19th- the First Decades of 20th Century Heidi Hein-Kircher (Marburg)
Speaking in Maps: Spatially Rethinking East Central Europe's National Geographers Steven Seegel (Greeley, Colorado)
Canvas Bulwarks: Art, Religion, and Nationhood in Late 19th century Eastern Europe Stephen Norris (Upham Hall, Ohio)
18:15-19:45 Keynote: Die Funktion des politischen Mythos in der Demokratie Yves Bizeul (Rostock)

Friday, 16 May 2014

9:00–10:15 Bastions of faith. Christian churches in the borderland societies. Part I, Moderation: Volodymyr Kravchenko
Bullwarks of Anti-Bolshevism: The Roman Catholic Church in East Central Europe and the Antemurale Propaganda of the Interwar Years Paul Środecki (Gießen)
Bastions of Faith in the Oceans of Ambiguities. Monasteries in the East European Borderlands (late 19th-beginning of the 20th centuries) Liliya Berezhnaya (Münster)
10:35-11:50 Bastions of faith. Christian churches in the borderland societies. Part II,
The Uniate Church in Transylvania, the “true” Eastern Church and the Promoter of the “true” National Values Ciprian Ghisa (Cluj)/ Mihai Olaru (Cluj)
Knowing “the Other”: Ukrainian Greek Catholics’ Views of the Russian Orthodox Church in the First Half of the Twentieth Century Natalia Shlikhta (Kyiv)
12:15-14:15 Frontier mythology in conflict and counteraction with the Islamic and Jewish “other”, Moderation:  Alfred Sproede
Holy Ground. The (Re)Construction of an Orthodox Crimea in the 19th Century Kerstin Jobst (Wien)
From Baku and Crimea to the Bosporus. Emigrés' Role in the Russian-Turkish intellectual Entanglement about Borderlands Zaur Gasimov (Istanbul)
The Walls of the Ghetto. Debates on Exclusion, Integration and Identity in Central Europe in the 19th and early 20th century Jürgen Heyde (Halle/Saale)
15:00 Concluding remarks Liliya Berezhnaya