(C2-17) Universal Claims and National Identities: The Vatican’s Stance on Nationalist Conflicts in the Period Between the World Wars

In Europe, late modern history has been shaped to a considerable extent by the rise of modern nationalisms. Conflicts between nationalities were an inevitable consequence of this process. Such conflicts were a dilemma for the Catholic Church. On the one hand, it claimed universal validity of Church doctrines and, in this regard, opposed national norms. On the other hand, in many respects the Church was itself subject to nationalising tendencies, which made themselves felt in “national structures” such as episcopal conferences, for example, but also in the daily Church routine (in the language of the sermons, for instance).

Based on the question as to how the Catholic Church dealt with conflicts between nationalities, the research project will investigate as examples the conflicts over Alsace-Lorraine, Upper Silesia and South Tyrol between the First and the Second World War. As all three regions were deeply Catholic, the Church played an important role in both political and religious respects there. Within the Catholic population, therefore, a complex overlapping of religious and national patterns of identification can be identified. The project will analyse overlapping identities of this type, investigating the question as to how national and religious motives correlated.

In addition to regional processes, Vatican politics will also be taken into consideration. It will be investigated as to whether the Vatican’s Secretariat of State took a consistent line in dealing with national minorities or whether it acted rather on sympathies (with  Polish national Catholicism, for example) or antipathies (e.g., to French laicism). In what way, for instance, did concordats influence the Church’s alternatives for action in minority issues? How did the Catholic Church react in cases when the layout of the dioceses did not match the frontiers of the postwar period, with problems resulting from this situation?

Such questions concerning the conflicting priorities of transnational and national processes in the field of the Catholic Church history have not yet been investigated in a coherent manner. Sources from the Vatican Secret Archives, the archives of several foreign ministries, and from regional and Church archives, among others, will be analysed within the project.

The Project is part of interconnecting platform F Transcultural Entanglements.