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The Secular Beyond: Free Religious Dissent and Debates over the Afterlife in Nineteenth-Century Germany1


Toward the end of the first third of the nineteenth century, German writers began to favor a new metaphor for the afterlife: “das Jenseits” (“the Beyond”). At first glance, the emergence of such a term may appear to have little bearing on our understanding of the history of religious thought. However, as the late historian Reinhart Koselleck maintained, the study of semantic changes can betray tectonic shifts in the matrix of ideas that underpin the worlds of politics, learning, and religion. Drawing on Koselleck's method of conceptual history, the following essay takes the popularization of “the Beyond” as a point of departure for investigating secularization and secularism as two linked, yet distinct, sources of pressure on the fault lines of nineteenth-century German religious thought.

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Kari Palonen , “The History of Concepts as a Style of Political Theorizing. Quentin Skinner's and Reinhart Koselleck's Subversion of Normative Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 1:1 (July 2002): 96111

Hans Rosenberg , Politische Denkströmungen im deutschen Vormärz (Göttingen: 1972 [1930])

Sylvia Paletschek , Frauen und Dissens: Frauen im Deutschkatholizismus und in den freien Gemeinden 1841–1852 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990)

Dagmar Herzog , Intimacy and Exclusion: Religious Politics in Pre-Revolutionary Baden (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996)

Richard Steigmann-Gall , The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

Alister McGrath , A Brief History of Heaven (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2003)

Monika Fick , Sinnenwelt und Weltseele: der psychophysische Monismus in der Literatur der Jahrhundertwende (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1993)

Niles Holt , “Ernst Haeckel's Monistic Religion,” Journal of the History of Ideas 32 (1971): 265280

Ulrich Oevermann sees atheism as a step of separation from monotheism before a more secular position of religious indifference is reached: see his article “Strukturelle Religiösität und ihre Ausprägungen unter Bedingungen der vollständigen Säkularisierung des Bewusstseins,” in Atheismus und religiöse Indifferenz, eds. Christel Gärtner , Detlef Pollack and Monika Wohlrab-Sahr (Opladen: Leske & Budrich, 2003), 339387

Todd Weir , “The Secularization of Religious Dissent: Anticlerical Politics and the Freigeistig Movement in Germany 1844–1933,” in Religiosität in der säkularisierten Welt, ed. Christel Gärtner , Manuel Franzmann , and Nicole Köck (Wiesbaden: VSVerlag, 2006), 155176

Christopher Clark and Wolfram Kaiser , eds., Culture Wars: Secular-Catholic Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
  • URL: /core/journals/church-history
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