The First World War and Global Religions

This AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) funded project runs from April 2016 to March 2019. It explores how and to what extent religion was a transnational and global force during the First World War. Focussing on Islam, Roman Catholicism, Judaism and Protestantism, the project will investigate the role religion played as a means of supporting people through conflict, how it inspired both consent and resistance, provided comfort and reassurance and helped with hardship and bereavement. War divided communities, pitting faiths against faiths, challenging an individual sense of self and community cohesion. This was particularly the case when religion became a political tool. The project questions what it means to belong to a religious faith and asks whether war reinforced or challenged religious belief. How did the First World War change religion, then and now?

In order to explore the nuances of these overarching questions, the four researchers will investigate the significance of religious solidarities in shaping varieties of internationalism, including liberal internationalism, socialist internationalism, and humanitarian agency, and determine the extent to which these solidarities either respected or transcended ‘denominational’ divisions. They intend to examine the way in which religion contributed to the policing of female behaviour in wartime at a local level and how this related to global debates about gender roles in the wider religious community including, in some cases, far reaching reconsiderations of the concept of ‘female ministry’. They will also establish the significance of religious solidarity as an element in transnational humanitarian activity, for example as it related to prisoners of war and famine victims. How far did such impulses respect traditional ‘denominational’ boundaries and how far did they transcend them, including shaping liberal and even socialist humanitarian action and organization? Finally, they question the theological responses to industrialized warfare in relation to pre-war debates about ‘modernism’ and, in particular, responses to German theological ‘liberalism’. Did the war represent a global turn to a new ‘orthodoxy’ as opposed to a perceived failure of new thinking?

The main research dissemination will be in the form of conferences, conference and seminar papers, work in progress documents, refereed articles and research monographs. The final output will be a significant joint authored work addressing religion and the war. The ongoing research outputs will not only be of interest both to historians of the First World War and to scholars of twentieth century religion, but also academics in sociology, anthropology of religion, theology and political science departments in the UK and worldwide. The researchers also anticipate that the research will be of interest as ‘public history’ and ‘heritage/commemoration’ for schools and the general public and that it will have a particular resonance with community faith groups. As the project develops, public engagement will become of increasing importance, though media, broadcasting and, potentially, a museum exhibition. There are also possible public policy implications in the study of twentieth century religion and war, religious violence for inter-faith relations and the role religion can play in socio-cultural politics.


adrian-gregoryDr Adrian Gregory (Pembroke College) is the Principal Investigator for the project. His research interests lie in twentieth century British and European History with special reference to the World Wars. He is currently working on the social and cultural history of the British Home Front from 1914 to 1919. He will provide intellectual leadership and have overall responsibility for the development and delivery of the project. His specific research contribution will be to work on global ‘Protestant’ communities. It will focus, in particular, on the Anglican Communion and on the Baptist churches. He will supervise the postdoc working on Roman Catholicism and will liaise with the Co-I and the other academics involved in the project.

Faisal DevjiDr Faisal Devji (St Antony’s College) is the Co-Investigator for the project. He is an expert in the intellectual history, political thought and global politics of modern India, Pakistan and the Muslim world. He will undertake research on developing ideas of the Caliphate and Muslim World during this period, and supervise the postdoc working on Pan-Islamic politics in India. Dr Devji will organize the conference to be held in Oxford in year 2 on Pan-Islamism.

patrick.houlihanDr Patrick Houlihan will work closely with Dr Gregory. Patrick has already conducted substantial archival research in Germany and Austria for his earlier work on Roman Catholicism and everyday life in the Central Powers during the war. He will undertake research on Roman Catholicism, specifically how the stereotypically archaic Catholic Church confronted the horrors of modern war and its global legacies.


HusseinHussein A H Omar will work closely with Dr Devji. Hussein’s research examines the anticolonial insurrectionary movements in Egypt and Iraq between 1919-1920. His project will focus on ideas about sectarianism and ecumenism, not only between religions but within them. The project builds on his doctoral thesis, ‘The Rule of Strangers’, which examined political ideas, as well as the very emergence of politics as an autonomous category, in Egypt between 1869 and 1914. Other areas of research interest include: how the property endowed to God (waqf) was managed by the colonial and postcolonial state; the limits of pan-Islamism as a political project; and Muslim sovereignty and kingship, before, after and during the Ottoman defeat.