Catholics, Protestants, and the Violent Birth of European Religious Pluralism

  • Greenberg U
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This article explores one of postwar Europe’s most dramatic ideological transformations: the end of prolonged animosities between Protestants and Catholics. It charts how a series of political upheavals between the 1930s and the 1960s led Christian elites to develop new conceptions of religious pluralism and religious freedom, which called for political and legal equality between Christian denominations but simultaneously excluded religious minorities, especially Jews and Muslims. First, the article shows how the crisis of the 1930s, especially Nazism’s promise to unite the two denominations in a militarized racial community, instigated the first systematic interconfessional cooperation. Christian thinkers and politicians who sympathized with the regime’s fierce anti-Marxism and antisemitism launched joint publications and formed new organizations. Second, the article shows how the unfolding of decolonization in Africa and Asia in the 1950s and 1960s further expanded this early Catholic-Protestant cooperation. The loss of European governments’ support for missionary organizations, alongside anxieties about the spread of Islam among newly liberated nations, pushed Christian leaders to solidify an inter-Christian alliance. This entanglement of Christian cooperation and religious conflict helps explain why contemporary European politics and laws continues to accommodate both Christian denominations but often discriminates against non-Christians.




Greenberg, U. (2019). Catholics, Protestants, and the Violent Birth of European Religious Pluralism. The American Historical Review, 124(2), 511–538.

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