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4. Religion, Education, Social Welfare
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Overview: Forging an Empire: Bismarckian Germany, 1866-1890   |   1. Demographic and Economic Development   |   2. Society   |   3. Culture   |   4. Religion, Education, Social Welfare   |   5. Politics I: Forging an Empire   |   6. Military and International Relations   |   7. Politics II: Parties and Political Mobilization

Protestants and Catholics. Historians were once prone to argue that religious allegiances inevitably wane in the face of modernizing trends like those charted in the first three chapters of this volume: population explosion, urbanization, industrialization, the rise of a self-conscious working class, the deification of technology and science, and cultural despair. Similarly, when historians observe that modernization had overcome the traditional Kirchturmhorizont – literally, the horizon as seen from the local church steeple – they imply that religion had been superseded by other structuring categories like class, gender, and ideology. But religion did not become irrelevant in this way during the Empire (IM1, IM2). Quite the reverse: religion continued to condition the outlook of Germans as it had for centuries, while also providing the impetus for important new departures on a national scale.

Of these, the Kulturkampf [“cultural struggle”] between the German state and the Catholic Church was the most important. The Kulturkampf was not conjured out of nowhere by Bismarck; it drew on the determination of Protestant liberals to break what they saw as the archaic and dangerous influence of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in general, and the authority of the Pope specifically (D2, D4, IM6, IM7, IM8, IM9). Because the Pope, Catholic priests, and the political party leaders who defended the rights of Catholics were defined by Bismarck and the liberals as “enemies of the empire” [Reichsfeinde], most documents illuminating the course and consequences of the Kulturkampf are included in Chapter 7, where other state-sponsored campaigns of discrimination against minority groups are considered. Yet this conflict was a cultural one: it cannot be reduced to its purely confessional or party-political dimensions. Based on the tremendous growth of popular piety in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, religion continued to provide a filter through which the overwhelming majority of Germans viewed the material circumstances of their lives and the “Christian state” to which they looked for guidance (D1, D3, IM4, IM5). Thus religion helped shape discourses about the role of women in society, the proper practice and legitimate beneficiaries of charity, the scope of social reform, and the acceptable bounds of censorship.

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