International Conference, Berlin, 19–21 September 2024

Christian Internationalism in war and post-war times, c. 1890–1930

International Conference, Berlin, 19–21 September 2024

Conveners: Prof. Dr. Judith Becker, Berlin, and PD Dr. Felicity Jensz, Münster

The late nineteenth century was a time of heightened nationalism. Somewhat paradoxically, it was also the period in which Christian internationalism and interdenominationalism – the young ecumenical movement (Becker/Robert 2024) – emerged. The ecumenical movement at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries was ‘young’ in two respects: one, it was the beginning, the formation phase of the movement, and two, agents were mostly young people, or at least people who worked in young people’s associations, such as the YMCA, the SCMs, SVMs etc. Through their work, they tried to overcome both national and denominational boundaries. Some groups advocated for peace, most prominently the World Alliance for International Friendship Through the Churches. Yet, peace was not their predominant goal. Their main goal was to build a worldwide Christian community that was based on fellowship and friendship. They felt called by God to work for this universal community. Of course, this approach had many downsides, not least that this global Christian community was, in reality and often unconsciously, a Protestant Christian community, and, furthermore, an Anglophone or Anglophone dominated Protestant Christian community. Moreover, the organisations and associations stemming from the young ecumenical movement were predominantly white and male dominated organisations based in Europe or the USA. Many young ecumenicals strove for community and justice and became increasingly influential in both Church leadership positions and, even more interestingly, in their respective national politics.

Given the historical tensions between Christian internationalism and national politics we are interested in exploring how these ‘young’ ecumenicals reacted to the wars that were fought by their countries? How did this influence their conceptions and their practices, both religious and political/social?

These research questions are timely given that the current global political situation is threatened by many different wars and that we can gain insights to current conflicts through historical examples. In recent academic debates, the role of religion in war and post-war times has regained central importance, particularly in Western countries. After decades of research on religion and peace – and especially Christianity and peace – public and academic attention has (re)turned to war and violence. While it is evident that war and physical violence cannot be separated from other forms of violence, at this conference we are primarily concentrating on wars and physical violence. For some scholars, such as Assmann, religion (and monotheist religion in particular) furthers, enables, or even causes war. This is in opposition to how many religious groups would perceive themselves.

The argument that links monotheist religion to violence often points to the exclusivist claim of all monotheist religions. With regard to early modern and modern times, this is often connected with nationalism, especially with reference to Western countries that, for centuries, privileged one (Christian) denomination, often to the detriment of other denominations and religions that were not privileged or at times even prohibited. One faith – the ‘right’ faith – and one religious practice were sometimes even inextricably tied to one nation, as in the cases of State Churches as in England or Sweden. Thus, says the argument, nationalism and certain forms of Christianity reinforced each other.

We aim to bring together scholars from different disciplines and academic backgrounds at a conference that will take place in Berlin in September 2024, which will examine the relationship between wars and Christian internationalism in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. It will explicitly not only focus on World War One but also invites papers on other wars, wars between non-Western countries such as the Russo-Japanese War or colonial wars. In this way, we intend to open the topic for non-Western perspectives and enlarge our understanding of this topic. The conference will work with an open definition of ‘war’ with a focus on physical violence and combat.

The leading questions are:

How did agents of the ecumenical movement at the turn of the century react to the wars that were fought by their countries? How did this influence their conceptions and their practices, both religious and political/social?

Further questions are (please address at least two of these):

In your case study, how did the war or post-war experience change attitudes towards, definitions or practices of internationalism?

How did the actors try to use the war/post-war experience for their internationalist (or nationalist) agenda?

How did they react to the war/post-war (in theology, religiosity, ideology, and practice) and how did their Christian internationalist beliefs shape this?

What is the definition of ‘war’ in your case? (Mainly applicable when not talking about WWI)

What was the link between nationalism and internationalism in relation to the respective wars?

How did the actors use their ecumenical networks to oppose wars?

Did the ‘international’ aspect of the ecumenical movement hold up in the face of war and its aftermath?

How did religious actors (re)interpret their networks and their religiosity in light of war?

What was the role of women and of non-Europeans in the shaping of ecumenical responses to war?

Organisational information:

Date: 19–21 September 2024

Venue: Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Faculty of Theology

Travel and accommodation costs are covered by the Humboldt University.

We invite proposals from all historical disciplines and all backgrounds. Please send us a title and a short abstract (300 words) by 15 February 2024. Please send also a one-page CV.

Please send your proposals to Franziska Schulze <>.          

Further proceedings:

About a month before the conference, we will ask you to submit an abstract of 2-3 pages to be distributed to the other participants before the conference.

The publication of a conference volume is envisaged.