Brandon Bloch

Position title: Resident Fellow (2023-2024)

Assistant Professor, Department of History, UW-Madison

Headshot of a man with brown hair standing in front of a brick wall.

Reinventing Protestant Germany: Religious Nationalists and the Origins of Post-Nazi Democracy

“Reinventing Protestant Germany” offers a fresh look at the formation of West Germany’s post-Nazi democracy through the lens of a critical but often neglected institution: the German Protestant Church. Since the mid-nineteenth century, Germany’s Protestant churches had served as strongholds of nationalism and militarism. Church leaders, pastors, and lay activists linked dreams of national and religious revival, culminating in widespread Protestant support for the Nazi regime. By the 1950s and 1960s, however, Protestant pastors and lay intellectuals emerged as leading figures in West Germany’s earliest human rights movements. West German Protestants launched campaigns for the expansion of conscientious objection to military service, the recognition of Germany’s postwar borders, and the limitation of executive power during emergencies.

Contrary to narratives of postwar religious decline, this project argues that the political transformation of German Protestantism profoundly shaped West Germany’s democratic institutions and political culture. Yet Protestants influenced West German politics less through repudiating Nazi legacies than by recasting longstanding nationalist traditions. Under the pressures of Allied occupation and the early Cold War, a generation of church leaders and lay intellectuals reimagined Germany’s Protestant heritage as a fount of democratic values, without fully rejecting their church’s antisemitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-liberal heritage. “Reinventing Protestant Germany” traces the winding path by which these Protestant activists embraced West German democracy as their own, while simultaneously whitewashing Protestant participation in dictatorship and genocide. The study thereby sheds light on broader questions about the sources of contemporary European democracy, the politics of Cold War Christianity, and the role of religious forces in putatively modern, secular states.

Brandon Bloch is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has taught modern European history since 2020. He was previously a College Fellow at Harvard University, where he completed his PhD in 2018. His research interests include histories of democracy, religion, human rights, memory politics, and social thought, with an emphasis on German-speaking Europe in the twentieth century. His first book, Reinventing Protestant Germany: Religious Nationalists and the Origins of Post-Nazi Democracy, is under contract with Harvard University Press. He has published related articles in The Journal of Modern History and Central European History, and his writings have also appeared in Modern Intellectual History, Boston Review, and elsewhere. His next project will examine the political and legal evolution of claims to a “right to the homeland” in twentieth-century Central Europe.