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Revolution, Revival and Reaction: The culture and politics of religion in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France


The crusade to dechristianise France during the Terror represents Revolutionary politics at its most radical. After a winter of forced church closures and feverish iconoclasm in 1793-4, and scarcely 200 of France’s 40,000 parishes celebrated Easter openly in 1794, the public practice of religious belief effectively ended across the Republic. For many French men and women, the violent dechristianisation of their communal life, and dechristianisation invariably arrived ‘les armes ŕ la main’, was the decisive experience of the Revolutionary decade. This research aims to uncover what it meant to live through, and come of age during, the culture wars that dechristianisation gave rise to. It explores the Revolution’s attempts to invent and impose alternatives to customary religious culture and asks what religion came to mean in a Republic where few clergy were available to baptise the newborn or bury the dead, where churches remained closed and cemeteries secularised, where waves of religious revival, repression and resistance alternated rhythmically for almost a decade after the most violent phase of dechristianisation had ended. By tracing the experience of a generation across the Revolutionary and Napoleonic years, this project seeks to analyse the nature of the Revolutionary rupture at its most radical and to understand the limits of cultural change in a time of Revolution. For further information contact Joseph Clarke.

Last updated 30 May 2012 History (Email).