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(Ch. 6.1.2) Religions in Modern History (ca. 1800–1900)

Together with Laszlo Csorba and Sylvain Lesage, I co-authored the chapter Religions in Modern History (ca. 1800–1900), which is part of the European history textbook The European Experience: A Multi-Perspective History of Modern Europe (edited by Jan Hansen, Jochen Hung, Jaroslav Ira, Judit Klement, Sylvain Lesage, Juan Luis Simal and Andrew Tompkins). Please find the chapter’s introduction in the next section, followed by the PDF of the whole text. Below is the bibliographical reference and the link to the publisher’s site.


The French Revolution and its exportation had a profound effect on the religious history of Europe in the nineteenth century. From the emancipation of the Jews and Protestants to the attempt to create a civic religion, or from the abolition of Catholicism as a state religion to the schism between the constitutional clergy and the refractory (non-swearing) clergy, this revolutionary episode encapsulates the upheavals in European religious practice throughout the nineteenth century. But this century was first and foremost the century of industrialisation and the affirmation of science. The affirmation of a rationalist stance on these developments was thus decisive in the evolution of religious thought and practice. On the one hand, the progress of science favoured a scientistic reading of the world, one of the major points of which was the theory of evolution, which denied divine creationism. However, the expansion of knowledge was only one of the factors in the decline of religious practice. The progress of industrialisation, increasing urbanisation, and the widening gap between the working classes and the churches are certainly more decisive factors. In return, the fragmentation of religious practice gave birth to new religious movements and favoured the rise of new forms of piety. Thus, the nineteenth century was marked by an intense philosophical, artistic, and scientific effervescence alongside debates on dogmas and religious institutions. The affirmation of modernity and the aspiration to freedom born of the French Revolution forced governments and religious authorities to redefine their respective positions within a changing society and to compete for control over education, thus laying the foundations of contemporary Europe. Analysing religions in Europe in the nineteenth century therefore raises two series of questions. First, from an institutional point of view, how did churches adapt to modern states and how did they maintain religious control over secularised populations? The second question is situated at a more personal level: what did it mean to be religious in modern times? How are faiths challenged and reconfigured by modernity, in its scientific, industrial, political, and social forms?

Full text

Bibliographical reference

Laszlo Csorba, Sylvain Lesage, and Thomas Schad: 6.1.2 Religions in Modern History (ca. 1800–1900), in: Jan Hansen, Jochen Hung, Jaroslav Ira, Judit Klement, Sylvain Lesage, Juan Luis Simal and Andrew Tompkins (Eds)(2023), The European Experience: A Multi-Perspective History of Modern Europe. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0323, S. 705-713. [LINK]

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