Cover image for God on the Western Front: Soldiers and Religion in World War I By Joseph F. Byrnes

God on the Western Front

Soldiers and Religion in World War I

Joseph F. Byrnes

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$114.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09510-3

$34.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09511-0

Available as an e-book

264 pages
6" × 9"
30 b&w illustrations
2023

God on the Western Front

Soldiers and Religion in World War I

Joseph F. Byrnes

“Drawing on a wide array of sources to illuminate the soldiers' perspective on faith and morals at the service of warring states, Joseph F. Byrnes’s insightful book explicates the inexplicable—that is, the confluence of God-talk and nation-talk among theologians, clergy, the faithful, and the irreligious during a major challenge to Western civilization itself.”

 

  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
From 1914 to 1918, religious believers and hopeful skeptics tried to find meaning and purpose behind divinely willed destruction. God on the Western Front is a history of lived religion across national boundaries, religious affiliations, and class during World War I, utilizing an expansive record of primary sources.

Joseph F. Byrnes takes readers on a tour of the battlefields of France, listening to the words of German, French, and English soldiers; going behind the lines to hear from the men and women who provided pastoral and medical care; and reviewing the religious writings of priests, bishops, ministers, and rabbis as they tried to make sense of it all. The story begins with citizens at home as they responded to the obligation to make war and then focuses on the “God-talk” and “nation-talk” that soldiers used to express their foundational religious experiences. Byrnes’s study attends to the words of average men who struggled to articulate their religious sentiments, alongside the generals Helmuth von Moltke, Ferdinand Foch, and Douglas Haig and the soldier theologians Franz Rosenzweig, Paul Tillich, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. In doing so, he shows how religious and battle experience are intertwined and showcases the wide range of spiritual responses that emerged across boundaries.

Going beyond the typical constraints of studies focused either on one nation or one confessional affiliation, Byrnes’s international and interfaith approach breaks new ground. It will appeal to scholars and students of modern European history, religious history, and the history of war.

“Drawing on a wide array of sources to illuminate the soldiers' perspective on faith and morals at the service of warring states, Joseph F. Byrnes’s insightful book explicates the inexplicable—that is, the confluence of God-talk and nation-talk among theologians, clergy, the faithful, and the irreligious during a major challenge to Western civilization itself.”
“Byrnes demonstrates a mastery of the sources available in several languages, and his prose is straightforward and enjoyable to read. This, coupled with the numerous carefully chosen illustrations through the text, assures that God on the Western Front will reach a wide audience, both among scholars and non-experts.”

Joseph F. Byrnes is Professor Emeritus of Modern European History at Oklahoma State University. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Priests of the French Revolution and Catholic and French Forever, both of which were published by Penn State University Press.

List of Illustrations

Prologue

1. To the Front: Cities, Departures, and Churches

2. The Search for Allies in Heaven

3. God-Talk in the Armies: From Foot Soldiers to Generals

4. Clergy at the Front

5. Jewish Chaplains and Their Soldiers: Ministry and Preaching

6. Day-to-Day War Experience: The Diaries

7. Behind the Lines: Religious Traditions at War

8. Theology Out of War Experience

Envoi

Acknowledgements

Notes

Further Reading

Index

Download a PDF sample chapter here: Prologue