Winner of a Catholic Media Association Book Award
A revelatory account of the nouvelle théologie, a clerical movement that revitalized the Catholic Church’s role in twentieth-century French political life.
Secularism has been a cornerstone of French political culture since 1905, when the republic formalized the separation of church and state. At times the barrier of secularism has seemed impenetrable, stifling religious actors wishing to take part in political life. Yet in other instances, secularism has actually nurtured movements of the faithful. Soldiers of God in a Secular World explores one such case, that of the nouvelle théologie, or new theology. Developed in the interwar years by Jesuits and Dominicans, the nouvelle théologie reimagined the Church’s relationship to public life, encouraging political activism, engaging with secular philosophy, and inspiring doctrinal changes adopted by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Nouveaux théologiens charted a path between the old alliance of throne and altar and secularism’s demand for the privatization of religion. Envisioning a Church in but not of the public sphere, Catholic thinkers drew on theological principles to intervene in political questions while claiming to remain at arm’s length from politics proper. Sarah Shortall argues that this “counter-politics” was central to the mission of the nouveaux théologiens: by recoding political statements in the ostensibly apolitical language of doctrine, priests were able to enter into debates over fascism and communism, democracy and human rights, colonialism and nuclear war. This approach found its highest expression during the Second World War, when the nouveaux théologiens led the spiritual resistance against Nazism. Claiming a powerful public voice, they collectively forged a new role for the Church amid the momentous political shifts of the twentieth century.
Superbly expands our knowledge of the nouvelle théologie…The book describes a movement begun in exile and youthful rebellion, tested in clandestine anti-Nazi resistance, and shaken by political turmoil and ecclesiastical opprobrium before eventually remaking the face of the Catholic Church…[A] groundbreaking book.
Soldiers of God is rich in political and intellectual historical insights, and it paves the way for a new agenda in the literature on secularism, religion, and politics, not least for understanding the role of Christianity in European politics today.
Shortall’s long-awaited book exceeds expectations. On both the micro- and macro-levels—archival research and overarching narrative—the work marks an inflection point in the study of these twentieth-century Jesuit intellectuals (and their Dominican counterparts)…Will remain a touchstone for years to come.
A profound and important book. Tracing the history of the nouvelle théologie, Shortall shows how religious thinking can scramble our political categories and open up new ways to imagine the future.
Across a tumultuous century, as Sarah Shortall reveals, French Catholic thinkers were able to make momentous contributions to politics precisely because they insisted on the irreducibility of religion. Restoring theology to intellectual history, this book is a remarkable debut.
A pathbreaking account of how the nouveaux théologiens reshaped both Catholic theology and secular philosophy in the twentieth century. Shortall thoughtfully retells modern European intellectual history, upending conventional definitions of politics and ultimately transcending the secular–religious divide.
What happens when theology and politics mix? Sarah Shortall’s compelling study proposes an answer that is incisive and illuminating from the first page to the last.
- 2022, Winner of the Laurence Wylie Prize in French Cultural Studies
- 2021, Winner of the Alberigo Award
- 2022, Winner of the Catholic Media Association Book Awards
- 2022, Winner of the College Theology Society Book Awards
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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