Workshop on the First World War and Global religions

Saturday 1 November at the Oxford Humanities Building.

This small informal workshop brought together participants from the Universities of Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge, Galway and Exeter to examine the relationship between the First World War and two global faiths: Islam and Roman Catholicism. This was to mark the centenary of Pope Benedict XV’s first encyclical addressing the warring nations and the declaration of Jihad in Constantinople. The intention was to break down boundaries between historians of Europe and other regions and to provoke new ideas about the transnational and comparative dimensions of religion in wartime. The discussion was wide ranging and lively. In the morning the social and cultural dimensions of quotidian religious practice were considered both within the armed forces of the opposing coalitions and amongst civilians. The practical significance of the proximity of places of worship, of the ability to conduct religious ritual and the role of both formal and informal ‘chaplaincy’ was explored.

After lunch, attention turned much more to the political and intellectual significance of the war. The conversation produced interesting insights into the tendency to overstate certain political responses amongst religious believers at the expense of others. Whilst bringing out clear differences in the operation of theological authority between the two faiths the conversation also suggested that specific networks of believers were perhaps more significant than overstating the universality of response. The dialogue between nationalism and religion remains significant.

There was a general feeling that this was an interesting and productive exercise which hopefully can be further sustained by this network. A more complete report will be posted shortly.

We would like to thank the The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities (TORCH) for the venue, sandwiches and refreshments!