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Spirit of Power: Bunsen and the Anglo-Prussian Axis of Protestantism, 1815-1860

  • Author(s): Keeley, Samuel Blaine
  • Advisor(s): Sabean, David W
  • et al.
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This dissertation examines the role and status of Protestant religious belief in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, as it was harnessed and deployed by a network of diplomats, theologians, and missionaries in Prussia. Domestically, religious practice was being reconfigured by the Prussian state to foster social cohesion as they dealt with an influx of Catholic subjects after annexing new territories in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat. Beyond Prussian borders, officials sought to promote Protestant strength on the global stage, as a counter against Prussia’s Catholic rivals in Austria, France, and Italy, while attempting to strengthen ties with the other major Protestant superpower of the era - England.

Drawing upon evidence from British and Prussian archival sources in Germany and England, I reconstruct the transnational network that formed around its central figure: the diplomat Christian Carl Josias von Bunsen, a powerful and pious Prussian ambassador to the Vatican and to England between 1817-1839 and 1840-1854, respectively. I look at the projects of Bunsen and his allies to protect the faith of German Protestants living beyond German territory, and their attempts to inject a new flavor of revivalist religious sentiments via a re-worked liturgy and hymnbook for the German churches. At the same time, the network was used as the basis for a bilateral, transnational alliance between Prussia and England in the 1840s. This culminated in the establishment of a colonial, jointly-run Anglican-Lutheran Protestant Bishopric in Jerusalem in order to convert Jews and other non-Protestant Christians to Protestantism.

This dissertation reveals a robust and lively network of elites bound together by eschatological, millenarian, and revivalist theological ideas, with official positions within the Prussian and English administrative apparatuses of both state and church, university faculties, missionary, social-welfare, and philanthropic institutions. Crucially, these findings show that a small group of elites were able to wield enormous influence over the configuration of religion in society, and attempted at every turn to steer both nations towards each other, while also promoting spiritual revival based on dramatic, emotional inner conversions. With these studies, I challenge the narrative of secularization and disenchantment that once characterized the historiography of the nineteenth century, in order to argue that enthusiastic religious beliefs had lasting consequences on statecraft, diplomacy, and colonial ambitions well into the latter decades of the century.

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This item is under embargo until September 12, 2021.