Despite the political unification of the German Empire in 1871, the longstanding confessional divide between German Catholics and Protestants persisted through the early Wilhelmine era. Because confessional identity and difference were pivotal to how Germans imagined a nation, the meaning of German national identity remained contested. But the formation of German national identity during this period was not neutral—confessional alterity and antagonism was used to imagine confessionally exclusive notions of German national identity. The establishment of a “kleindeutsch” German Empire under Prussian-Protestant hegemony, the anti-Catholic policies of the Kulturkampf, and the 1883 Luther anniversaries all conflated Protestantism with German national identity and facilitated the marginalization of German Catholics from early Wilhelmine society, culture, and politics. While scholars have recognized this “confessionalization of the German national idea” they have so far neglected how proponents of church unity imagined German national unity and identity. This paper examines how Ut Omnes Unum—an ecumenical group of German Catholics and Protestants—challenged the conflation of Protestantism and German national identity and instead proposed an inter-confessional notion of German national identity that was inclusive of both Catholics and Protestants.
(Online publication May 13 2011)
Stan Michael Landry is Lecturer in History at the University of Arizona.