Alvis, Robert E.
Alvis, Robert E.
Home—Santa Claus, IN. Office—St. Meinrad Archabbey, 200 Hill Dr., St. Meinrad, IN 47577.
St. Meinrad School of Theology, St. Meinrad, IN, assistant professor of church history.
Religion and the Rise of Nationalism: A Profile of an East-Central European City (nonfiction), Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 2005.
Contributor to journals, including American Historical Review, Journal of Religion, and Catholic Historical Review.
Robert E. Alvis, a professor of church history, has done much research on the relationship between religion and political organization, society, and culture in modern Central and Eastern Europe. One result of this is his first book, Religion and the Rise of Nationalism: A Profile of an East-Central European City. The city under consideration is Poznan (Posen in German), a Polish city on the border with Germany. The book covers the period from 1793, when it came under the rule of Prussia (one of the nations that would eventually make up modern Ger- many) through the Second Partition of Poland by European powers, to 1848, a time of revolution across Europe, when Poland won the city back.
Some scholars have seen nationalism, which became widespread in nineteenth-century Europe, as a substitute for religion at a time when secularism was increasing. Alvis, however, says that religion informed nationalism and coexisted with it. Those who were drawn to nationalism, he writes, tended to "remain faithful to their religious traditions, and to draw from their traditions in articulating their nationalist visions." According to Alvis, Protestants in Poznan generally identified with German nationalism, while Catholics became Polish loyalists.
The city was religiously and culturally diverse. In the 1790s, its population was sixty percent Catholic, twenty-five percent Jewish, and fifteen percent Protestant. Most of the Catholics spoke Polish, while German was the primary language of the Protestants and Jews. That the nationalistic alliances would follow this pattern, however, was not a foregone conclusion, Alvis relates. Poznan's German speakers were generally unfamiliar with the Germans of Prussia until the occupation, and they were concerned about the implications of Prussian control. Meanwhile, the Prussian regime appointed some Polish Catholic aristocrats to local government offices.
Eventually, though, Prussia's favoritism toward Protestant religions helped develop German nationalism among Protestants, who had been resentful of Catholicism's pre-Occupation dominance. Prussia also urged city residents to speak German, and the ethnic Germans of Poznan began to have more interaction with the Germans of Prussia and to regard them as compatriots. Catholics, for their part, were dismayed by Prussia's hostility toward their church and the Polish language.
Several critics deemed Religion and the Rise of Nationalism a well-researched, well-written study that filled a void in scholarly literature. "A new and talented generation of scholars" is beginning to address the once-neglected topic of religion's relationship with politics in Eastern Europe, noted Church History contributor Briane K. Turley, and Alvis "reflects the very best of this promising trend." James E. Bjork, writing in Sarmatian Review, called Alvis's work "a welcome contribution" to studies of the factors that influenced nationalism in the region. The book is "tightly written, highly readable, and based on a solid array of church and state archival sources," Bjork added. Roisin Healy, writing in H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, found the breadth of Alvis's research "impressive."
Some also thought that Alvis made his points convincingly. Bjork pronounced the book "a generally persuasive account," while Healy observed that Alvis provides clear evidence that "events and developments of the period encouraged Protestants to opt for German identity and Catholics for Polish." Timothy A. Byrnes, reviewing for the Journal of Church and State, remarked: "This history is told with clarity and sensitivity to nuance. The narrative is persuasive and adds to the depth and specificity of our understanding of this crucial era in European history."
A few critics expressed disappointment that Alvis did not address nationalism among Poznan's Jews. They might have made a particularly interesting object for the study of nationalization, Healy wrote. Bjork also wished for a fuller treatment of the Jewish population, but nevertheless praised Alvis's inclusion of "quite a few interesting tidbits regarding attitudes toward Jews." The lack of attention to Jews, Bjork added, is one of his "relatively minor quibbles about a well-written book that deserves a broad audience." Several other reviewers made similar recommendations, with Healy calling the work a particularly attractive book for students and Turley summing it up as a "stimulating and meticulously documented book" that will be useful to "anyone who seeks to gain a sophisticated understanding of how nationalisms tend to rise."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, December 1, 2006, William W. Hagen, review of Religion and the Rise of Nationalism: A Profile of an East-Central European City, p. 1625.
Church History, March 1, 2007, Briane K. Turley, review of Religion and the Rise of Nationalism, p. 197.
German Studies Review, October 1, 2007, Robert Weldon Whalen, review of Religion and the Rise of Nationalism, p. 639.
Journal of Church and State, March 22, 2006, Timothy A. Byrnes, review of Religion and the Rise of Nationalism, p. 466.
Journal of Modern History, March 1, 2008, Roland Spickermann, review of Religion and the Rise of Nationalism, p. 182.
Reference & Research Book News, November 1, 2005, review of Religion and the Rise of Nationalism.
Sarmatian Review, September 1, 2006, James E. Bjork, review of Religion and the Rise of Nationalism, p. 1240.
Slavic Review, December 22, 2006, Brian Porter, review of Religion and the Rise of Nationalism, p. 805.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online,http://www.h-net.org/ (July 31, 2008), Roisin Healy, review of Religion and the Rise of Nationalism.
St. Meinrad School of Theology Web site,http://www.saintmeinrad.edu/ (July 31, 2008), author profile.
Syracuse University Press Web site,http://www.syracuseuniversitypress.syr.edu/ (July 31, 2008), author profile.