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Religion and Identity in Germany Today

Doubters, Believers, Seekers in Literature and Film


Edited By Julian Ernest Preece, Frank Finlay and Sinéad Crowe

In German-speaking Europe, as in other parts of the western world, questions of religious identity have been discussed with sudden urgency since the attacks of ‘9/11’. Nowhere was this clearer than in the heated controversy over the building of a mosque in the city of Cologne, which is the subject of Michael Hofmann’s contribution to this volume. Turkish Germans have also found themselves defined by the religious background of their parents. For different reasons German Jews have faced pressure to reconnect with a religion that their forbears cast off sometimes more than a century ago. At the same time religious belief among the nominally Christian majority has been in retreat. These changes have generated poetry, drama, and fiction as well as a number of films by both well-known and emerging authors and filmmakers. Their works sometimes reflect but more often challenge debates taking place in politics and the media. The essays in this volume explore a range of genres which engage with religion in contemporary Germany and Austria. They show that literature and film express nuances of feeling and attitude that are eclipsed in other, more immediately influential discourses. Discussion of these works is thus essential for an understanding of the role of religion in forming identity in contemporary multicultural German-speaking societies. This volume contains eight chapters in English and six in German.


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JULIAN PREECE AND FRANK FINLAY Introduction These essays were first delivered as papers at a colloquium held in Swansea in July 2008. The initial suggestion for religion as a colloquium topic, which came from Dieter Stolz, seemed apposite for a number of reasons. These circled around identity and conflict in much of Europe, not just Germany and Austria, and a clash, if such is the right word, between an intellectually secularised ‘host’ culture and perceptions of fundamentalist Islamic militancy. Our underlying assumption is that novels, plays, poetry, and films explore questions of faith and non-faith as well as transcendence and its lack in ways which other forms of more discursive writing cannot. Problems immediately became apparent, however. Whereas a topic like literature and politics, even in times ostensibly dominated by consensus on the major issues of the day, would have excited immediate interest, religion was not a theme which many non-believing participants initially felt comfortable with. Whether British or German, academics in our field tend to come from non-religious backgrounds with often only a rudimentary grounding in Christian teaching and the Bible. There is a sense common to the five essays in the middle of the volume, which concentrate on ‘white’ German writers, that both the literary critics and the writers and poets whose work they examine were obliged to reinvent a set of terms and concepts to address the most ancient of literary themes: God. It is at first sight more straightforward to discuss Jewish self-perception and Muslim identity...

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