Introduction: Comparing Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Culture Wars

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This special issue of the Journal of Contemporary History on ‘Europe’s interwar
Kulturkampf’ explores the religious dimensions of the deep conflicts that characterized the interbellum. The heightened sense of contingency, the partisan violence, and the political polarization have led observers to call this period an ‘age of anxiety’, an ‘age of catastrophe’, ‘a second thirty years war’, even a ‘world civil war of ideologies’.1 Introducing the term ‘culture war’ into this crowded field of catchphrases is meant as a useful provocation. It inserts religion into the analysis of the clash of modern worldviews, which have hitherto been viewed largely from the perspective of political ideology. Furthermore, it prompts comparisons with other ‘culture wars’, in particular the nineteenth-century clashes over the public role of the Catholic Church, during which the term Kulturkampf was originally coined. The aim of this article is to sketch out the dimensions of such a comparison, drawing on some of the key findings of the contributors to this special issue. Finally, it asks what bearing these investigations of the interwar Kulturkampf could have on our understanding of the course of twentieth-century European history as a whole.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)489-502
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of contemporary history
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2-Jul-2018


  • Kulturkampf, Interbellum, Culture Wars

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