WINNER OF THE WCGS BOOK PRIZE FOR 2018!
Michael E. O’Sullivan. Disruptive Power: Catholic Women, Miracles, and Politics in Modern Germany, 1918-1965. (University of Toronto Press)
Disruptive Power examines a surprising revival of faith in Catholic miracles in Germany from the 1920s to the 1960s. The book follows the dramatic stigmata of Therese Neumann of Konnersreuth and her powerful circle of followers that included theologians, Cardinals, politicians, journalists, monarchists, anti-fascists, and everyday pilgrims. Disruptive Power explores how this and other similar groups negotiated the precariousness of the Weimar Republic, the repression of the Third Reich, and the dynamic early years of the Federal Republic.
What's the one key idea or message you want readers to take from your book?
Religion and modern life are intertwined rather than in conflict with one another. The book rejects narratives about the disenchantment of the modern world as well as studies that examine organized religious institutions in isolation. Although the topic of my book seemingly deals with Catholic mystical traditions of centuries past, such as stigmata and apparitions of the Virgin Mary, it shows how they were endowed with uniquely modern meanings. Nowhere is this more evident than in the connections between seers such as Therese Neumann of Konnersreuth and the tumultuous political events of her lifetime. Catholic followers of modern miracles played an important role in the failure of the Weimar Republic, Catholic compliance with National Socialism, and the success of Cold War Christian Democracy.
What got you interested in the topic of your book?
When researching my dissertation about Catholic secularization in twentieth-century Germany I came across archival files about the stigmata of Therese Neumann of Konnersreuth and apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Heroldsbach almost by accident. Each of these sets of documents were briefly mentioned in the dissertation. However, I quickly realized that such case studies would form the basis of a compelling book. This led me on a journey to several archives throughout Germany and a rewarding project.
Books answer questions, but they also raise new questions. What questions does your book raise?
This book raises many questions about gender in German Catholic history. It probes the limits religious women faced when attempting to exercise agency within a highly patriarchal religious institution and complicates the balancing act between gender transgression and conformity by Catholic men and women hoping to accumulate power. However, more research is required to properly highlight the role of Catholic women in German history especially. They not only attended church in far greater numbers than their male counterparts, they also formed the voting bloc that empowered both political Catholicism and Christian Democracy. Therefore, my second book project looks at the relationship between mainstream Catholic women's organizations in Germany and the clergy and lay men who wielded the most power over the faith's ideas about sex, family, and gender in the twentieth-century.
What are you currently reading, in your field or just generally, and what do you like about it?
I just re-visited a book I read earlier this fall and featured on a podcast I co-host entitled New Books in German Studies. In this book, Teaching Migrant Children in West Germany and Europe, 1945-1992 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), Brittany Lehmann examines the right to education for migrant children in Europe between 1949 and 1992. I really enjoyed this monograph as an example of transnational history. It explores migrant children in West Germany from all different parts of Europe. It also analyzes policy about these children at the European, national, and local level. Finally, it sheds light on the nature of xenophobia in West German history, especially as it was directed toward Turkish Guest Workers, asylum seekers, and Muslims during the 1980s. I re-read parts of this book last week as I prepared to teach several classes about post-1945 Europe and the importance of migration.