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Reading and Rebellion in Catholic Germany, 1770–1914


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Part of Publications of the German Historical Institute

  • Date Published: June 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108460743

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About the Authors
  • Popular conceptions of Catholic censorship, symbolized above all by the Index of Forbidden Books, figure prominently in secular definitions of freedom. To be intellectually free is to enjoy access to knowledge unimpeded by any religious authority. But how would the history of freedom change if these conceptions were false? In this panoramic study of Catholic book culture in Germany from 1770–1914, Jeffrey T. Zalar exposes the myth of faith-based intellectual repression. Catholic readers disobeyed the book rules of their church in a vast apostasy that raised personal desire and conscience over communal responsibility and doctrine. This disobedience sparked a dramatic contest between lay readers and their priests over proper book behavior that played out in homes, schools, libraries, parish meeting halls, even church confessionals. The clergy lost this contest in a fundamental reordering of cultural power that helped usher in contemporary Catholicism.

    • Contains lively and detailed accounts of popular rebellion at the core of the Catholic church as Catholics resisted their church's book rules
    • Challenges dominant perceptions by highlighting that the most important structuring force of change in the modern church was popular literacy
    • Addresses the national integration of a minority group
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    • Winner, 2020 DeLong Book History Prize, Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP)

    Reviews & endorsements

    'With the scarcity of English language works on nineteenth-century German Catholic culture, Zalar's study is truly welcomed. He has produced a brilliant [and] sophisticated examination of the changing reading habits of Catholics over two centuries.' Kevin P. Spicer, Contemporary Church History Quarterly

    'Zalar's work illustrates how German Catholics engaged in a long process of resistance against clerical direction and authority over what lay Catholics read … This resistance demonstrates fundamental problems with traditional conceptions of clerical authority over the laity, it questions the religious milieu's cohesion and it gives lay Catholics … much greater agency in their own history as Catholics and Germans.' Eric Yonke, German History

    'A fluently written historical narrative … Zalar's account is a very welcome one that engages with the research on Catholicism and enlarges it in a promising way.' Bernward Schmidt, Historische Zeitschrift

    'Zalar here makes a distinguished contribution to the rich historiography of German Catholicism that has developed from the 1990s.' Oliver Logan, European History Quarterly

    'Zalar's willingness … to explore issues too often overlooked - popular religion, reading habits, book culture - make this volume an impressive discussion of cultural response to those socio-economic and political changes that accompanied Catholic Germany's transition to modernity.' Ronald J. Ross, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

    'Jeffrey Zalar's excellent new study of Catholic lay reading praxis in the 'long' nineteenth century … debunks the myth that [clerical control] was an effective instrument of book discipline within Germany's Catholic population … Other reviewers of this book have highlighted its importance for general, European, and German historians … [Yet it] also contains a wealth of information and insight specifically for library and book historians.' Jeffrey Garrett, Libraries: Culture, History, and Society

    '[This] study is a substantial contribution to the history of Catholicism, cultural history, and book history … The title will be an indispensable resource for scholars interested in modern German Catholicism, the history of religious reading, and intellectual history.' Joanna Rzepa, The Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

    'Zalar's book is a welcome addition to our knowledge of nineteenth-century German Catholicism. It is based on impressive research in a variety of ecclesiastical archives and painstaking analysis of obscure journals and tracts, and [it] pushes the critique of a monolithic view of the Catholic Church further than has been done before.' Michael Schaich, The English Historical Review

    '[An] insightful and eminently readable account of the reading habits of German Catholics between the Enlightenment and the First World War … [A] subtle and sophisticated work of major significance … deserving of the widest possible readership.' Derek Hastings, The Catholic Historical Review

    'This [is] a richly contextualized and deftly argued history of Catholic reading that powerfully dispels the notion that Catholic were not participating in the worlds of learning and of entertainment that the reading of books opened up … [B]old and ambitious.' Benjamin Ziemann, The American Historical Review

    '… an impressive discussion of cultural response to those socio-economic and political changes that accompanied Catholic Germany's transition to modernity.' Ronald J. Ross, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History

    'Reading and Rebellion in Catholic Germany is a deeply researched and carefully organized book that makes a strong case not only for rethinking the reality of a disciplined Catholic milieu, but also for rethinking the importance, in general, of reading as a force for historical change. It will be of interest to historians of modern Germany, German Catholicism, the nineteenth century, reading, and commercial culture.' Kara Ritzheimer, The Journal of Modern History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108460743
    • length: 400 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 25 mm
    • weight: 0.8kg
    • contains: 1 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. At the origins of Germany's book wars, 1770–1815
    2. Gall and honey in the Catholic theology of cultural taste
    3. Reading run amok in Prussia triumphant, 1815–1845
    4. Book mischief in the 'papal monarchy', 1845–1880
    5. Catholics and their 'deficit in education'
    6. The tail wags the dog: the lay rebellion against Catholic libraries after 1880
    7. Brave new world: lay reading in the libraries they want
    8. An appetite for pleasure: private reading in Germania Profana

  • Author

    Jeffrey T. Zalar, University of Cincinnati
    Jeffrey T. Zalar is Associate Professor of History and the inaugural holder of the Ruth J. and Robert A. Conway Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies at the University of Cincinnati. He writes and lectures on the cultural and intellectual history of Roman Catholicism, the history of modern German religion, and the history of modern knowledge.


    • Winner, 2020 DeLong Book History Prize, Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP)

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