Nationalizing the Global and the Local: Demarcating Church Authority in German States following the End of the Holy Roman Empire

Zef Segal

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The end of the Holy Roman Empire marked the beginning of a new era in the German world. Napoleon transformed hundreds of small political entities into 37 sovereign states, each one with an individual tale of integration and territorialization. The delimitation of religious boundaries was an important feature of these tales, since a centralized administration would not accept cross-border religious authorities. The previously existent competition between religious and political authorities could not be tolerated by these developing new states. This was not just a matter of legal reforms or secularization but rather a question of spatial boundaries regarding the formal definition of religious districts and their correspondence with the state ones. The reformation and counter-reformation roughly divided the German population into three religious churches: Catholic, Lutheran and Reform. The subsequent religious wars of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries led to a relatively clear spatial and political division between the different churches. The Peace of Augsburg (1555) in particular, which officially ended the first wave of religious wars, established the principle of “Curius region, eius Religio”, thus forming a legal and binding connection between the choice of religion and political affiliation. However, the chaotic Holy Roman Empire was not a place for homogeneity or rational distribution of authority. Consequently, Catholic principalities with small Protestant minorities and Protestant principalities with small Catholic minorities were quite common in the eighteenth Century. As a result, religious authorities often operated beyond the realm of their political territorial affiliation. The late eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century brought about two fundamental changes to church/state relations: first, the restructuring of German territories into 37 states changed the demographics and the relative homogeneity of past centuries; second, the evolving modernization and growing bureaucracies of the various states expanded the horizons of the state public sphere and the levels of centralization it aspired. Officials of these new states, influenced by French centralism, operated under a primary directive of integrating the new territories. The existence of cross border religious authorities was both a threat to the concept of state centralism and popular integration, due to the large religious minorities. This led to both legal and spatial delimitation of religious authorities, Catholic and Protestant, in all the states. In this article, I will analyze the spatial strategies used by five medium sized German states, Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover, Württemberg and Baden. Although these states differed in demographic, political, social, economic and geographical circumstances, I will show that the essential strategies were identical, and were a response to the nature of the Catholic and Protestant Churches, and not the specific circumstances of each state.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationWichmann-Jahrbuch des Diözesangeschichtsvereins Berlin
PublisherVerlag F. W. Cordier
ISBN (Print)9783939848479
StatePublished - 2015


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