Historical research on the university system of Nazi Germany has increased considerably during the last two decades. In this time, most of the German university subjects have contributed with particular studies to answer the question of what happened during the time of the Third Reich. However, the study of religion belongs to those disciplines just standing at the beginning of a common effort to investigate their own past. The ongoing jubilee congress gives us not only the chance to look back on a successful development, but should urge us also to reconsider a critical phase of our history.
Before I begin with my sketch of the situation, I have to make a preliminary remark concerning the problem that the shape of the discipline study, or, as we in Germany prefer to say, science of religion, was not clearly defined. To avoid unreasonable extension I confine my report therefore to those scholars whose teaching profession explicitly included the term study or science of religion. My main sources are university, state, federal, and to a lesser extent, church archives which I visited during a three-year-project sponsored by the German Research Foundation. A smaller part of my findings I already published last year.
Among the 23 German universities four, that is Bonn, Leipzig, Marburg, and Tuebingen, can be seen as main centers for the study of religion, developing their profile during the Weimar period. In Bonn Carl Clemen held the chair for comparative religions. When he reached his retirement age in April 1933, no reinstatement took place mainly because of problems arising with the candidates who ought to fill the vacancy. Although Gustav Mensching was supported by the Berlin Ministry of Education, he met with disapproval at the university of Bonn. Several members of the philosophy department expressed serious reservations about the scientific capability of Mensching, who was reproached for lacking deeper historical knowledge as well as for a superficial approach in his philosophy of religion. Finally Mensching was appointed and received a lectureship for history of religions in April 1936. Before that time he was associate professor at the Latvian state university of Riga. Already in 1934 he joined the NSDAP and also became a member of the so called "Dozentenund". Mensching continued his career at the university of Bonn, where he obtained a chair for comparative science of religion in 1941. During his denazification trial a discussion took place whether his involvement in the Third Reich should be traced back to an attitude of conviction or opportunism. I fear it was a combination of both. After a pause of two years, Mensching was rehabilitated in 1948.
At the university of Leipzig the follower of Nathan Soederblom Hans Haas died in 1934. The Dresden Ministry of Education first tried to establish Mensching as his successor, but the attempt failed because the theological faculty insisted on someone who was seen as a stronger counterbalance to the claims of the German Faith Movement. The quarrels arising therefrom postponed the appointment of Walter Baetke, the candidate of the faculty. Baetke, a supporter of the confessing church and a well-known specialist for Nordic studies, then became professor for history of religions at the beginning of 1936. At this time, Joachim Wach already had lost his associate professorship for science of religion in the philosophy department. As a volunteer of World War I and a member of the nationalist veteran association, the measure did not immediately come into effect. He was dismissed in April 1935 and emigrated to the United States. Since his absence caused a severe gap within the curriculum, the lectureship of the anthropologist Friedrich Rudolf Lehmann was enlarged to the study of religion. In 1937 Lehmann became associate professor. Being on an expedition to southern Africa, he was surprised by the war. After the steamer, he was traveling with, was scuttled 100 miles south of Cape town, he was locked up in a British internment camp. Supported by the director of the university of Johannesburg, he was released in 1941 and moreover received the opportunity to work at Witwatersrand university and finally got a job at the Department of Native Affairs. In 1950 Lehmann was appointed professor at the university of Potchefstrom.
Let us now return to Germany and the university of Marburg where the famous historians of religions Rudolf Otto and Friedrich Heiler taught. In 1934 Heiler was moved to another university and one year later to the philosophy department of Marburg. In contrast to the general opinion, I want to stress the fact that this measure was not directed at Heiler personally but had a more general claim. The Berlin Ministry of Education wanted to weaken the theology department as a whole and tried to replace the weakest link of the chain. It will probably be new to you that already in the 1920s plans existed inside the theological faculty to expel Heiler as a consequence of his catholic activities. Calculating on such antipathies, the Ministry proved right not to expect grave protest against his removal. Although the rector assessed Heiler in a letter to his Berlin superiors not to be incriminated at all, he was, of course, no supporter of National Socialism. But it would be far too much to say the opposite as Heiler frequently used to do after the war. In my opinion, Heiler's opposition to the Pagan aspirations of Alfred Rosenberg - whereas we have to state some kind of ambiguity in his attitude - was not connected with a general rejection of the Third Reich. It was quite normal that he swore his oath to Adolf Hitler in April 1935 to be, with the help of god, loyal and obedient to the "Fuehrer" and chancellor of the German Reich.
Due to the paper of Prof. Alles I will not refer to Rudolf Otto. Otto's successor Heinrich Frick also claimed to have been in opposition. Nevertheless he was a beneficial member of the SS for some time and had joined the National Socialist Teachers Union. From 1937 until 1945 Frick served as Dean of the faculty which was clear proof of the confidence the authorities put in him. The inauguration of the "Fuehrerprinzip" made it rather unlikely that someone got such a post who was suspected of being unreliable in his political convictions. Frick intensified Otto's earlier attempts to enlarge the famous "Religionskundliche Sammlung" to a whole institute for religious research. Under the name of a "Marburg Castle Institute", Frick's planning grew to enormous dimensions. An inordinate amount of money would have been necessary to realize these plans which therefore repeatedly were rejected by the Ministry of Finance. In contrast to that, Frick alleged after the war that political objections from the Rosenberg side prevented the institute from coming into existence. He moreover exaggerated his plans in describing them as a fight against the Third Reich in general.
I do not want to be misunderstood and do not assert that Frick or other scholars connected with Rudolf Otto had been party faithfuls of National Socialism. Such one-sided judgments are inappropriate to describe the real situation which normally was much more complicated. But we should avoid the other extreme too and maintain a critical stance on our own history. See my remarks therefore as an appeal for differentiation.
Turning now to the university of Tuebingen, I am almost obliged to withdraw the comment I just made. We find here that the relationship with National Socialism was hardly ambiguous. Under its director Jakob Wilhelm Hauer, the Tuebingen study of religion not only adopted the racist ideology of National Socialism as a whole but entered into close cooperation with Nazi organizations. I do not have enough time to give a description of all the unpleasant things that occurred, reaching from personal denunciation to an institutional involvement in the criminal activities of the "Gestapo". However, one should not forget that Hauer had been a close friend of Otto and Heiler in earlier days, sharing most of their scientific and religious convictions. Contrary to them, he left the realm of liberal theology and free Christianity and became the well-known "Fuehrer" of the German Faith Movement, an umbrella organization that linked most of Germany's voelkish religious groups. Hauer, who has to be seen as the leading religious studies scholar of the Third Reich, succeeded in increasing his seminar and staff to a sizable degree and was moreover promoted to be the director of an "Aryan Seminar" founded in 1940. After the end of the war it proved impossible for him to return to the university.
To be a supporter of National Socialism did not necessarily have to be accompanied by an anti-Christian attitude such as Hauer's. With Rudolf Franz Merkel in Munich and Johannes Witte in Berlin two examples produce evidence to the contrary. Merkel, who followed Heiler teaching history of religions at the university of Munich, became associate professor in 1933 and attained lifelong civil servant status in 1939. Until 1937 he was a pastor in the Protestant church of Bavaria. An ardent follower of Hitler and party member since May 1935, he made his vicarage into a meeting point for Nazi groups. Merkel repeatedly tried to establish a separate institute for the history of religions in Munich. Although he declared his scientific views to be totally congruent with the ideology of National Socialism, his attempts failed because his academic abilities were not esteemed as sufficient. In 1945 Merkel was dismissed. But two years later most of the measures against him were lifted as a result of interventions undertaken by Friedrich Heiler.
Johannes Witte was a like-minded nationalist, fighting against the democracy of Weimar as Merkel did. Holding the chair of missiology in Berlin, his teaching profession was extended in 1934 to general history of religions. Witte's career profited very much from his belonging to the German Christians who had a firm footing in the Berlin theological faculty. In 1935 he became its dean, the same year he joined the NSDAP. But misfortune struck when his membership in a Berlin Freemason's lodge became known. Even though he defended himself with strong reference to his national merits and antisemitic convictions, he had to resign and retreated a few years later from his university position.
In addition to the older centers for the study of religion, several new ones came into being. I was rather surprised to become acquainted with five new teaching professions, being unknown to me before I started my research. Besides the two systematical theologians Hermann Mandel and Karl Bornhausen, whose professorship was developed into the study of religion at the universities of Kiel and Frankfort, three new university institutes were founded in Halle under Wilhelm Brachmann, in Strasbourg under Otto Huth, and in Greifswald under the Swedish scholar Åke Ohlmarks. This is more than a respectable growth since public funds were increasingly cut down in favor of the war. But also outside the university education, the study of religion had been on the rise in semi-official institutions such as the "Ahnenerbe" of the SS and the Rosenberg office. Especially Rosenberg tried to gain access to the scholarly learning succeeding with branches for the study of religion in Halle and Munich.
Holding a position explicitly designated to the study of religion, the following were removed: Hans Alexander Winkler from Tuebingen university as former member of the Communist party. According to the anti-Jewish legislation Joachim Wach lost his lectureship in Leipzig, Martin Buber and his pupil Norbert Glatzer in Frankfurt. In 1937 Friedrich, then Frederic, Spiegelberg, lecturer for history of religions at the technical university of Dresden, emigrated to the United States. From 1941-1962 he then taught at Stanford University as professor for comparative religious studies.
Now I would like to turn your attention to the international context of the subject. When in September 1935 the 6th International Congress for the History of Religions was held in Brussels, only a handful of German scholars participated. Because the Berlin ministry feared international criticism against the cleansing of academic life from Jews and political opponents, only academics with strong national reliability got permission to attend the congress. Just a few days before the event began, the head of the German delegation Witte had to be released in great haste as former adherent of Freemasonry. His successor Bornhausen defended in his official greeting address the national awakening of Nazi Germany, focusing on its metaphysical grounding which not only led to religious enthusiasm but also to a remarkable improvement in the study of religion. Four weeks later Bornhausen stated in his final report a general backwardness of the congress, to which he counted a strong Jewish influence as well as the antiquated ideas of its participants. Nevertheless he claimed to have had a good success and that especially the countries of south eastern Europe had been susceptible to the German views. Due to World War II, the following convention had to be canceled. Originally Germany should have hosted it, but the expected participation of too many Jews had caused the German withdrawal, as stated in a report which is to be found among the files of the Reich Ministry of Education. Plans for Bologna as a substitute also remained inconclusive. The report - which incidentally noticed that it was based on internal congress matters stolen from Brussels by the German invaders - gave expression that Germany looked for possibilities to carry out the 7th international congress in 1943 in Berlin.
Another compelling example for the international impact of National Socialism is the newly established chair for science of religion at Strasbourg. Shortly after the occupation of France, plans emerged to rebuild the German university of Strasbourg, which had existed in earlier times. In November 1941 a so called "Reich" university was inaugurated. Instead of theology departments it contained a seminar for science of religion, bearing a strong anti-Christian attitude. Among those scholars expelled from Strasbourg we see historians of religions such as Marcel Simon who had been a participant of the Brussels congress and later became president of the International Association for the History of Religions from 1970 until 1980.
After the war nobody seemed to have had a real interest in the preceding period. Was it not outrageous to put the "mythical-ritual pattern in civilization" on the agenda of the first post-war congress without undertaking any attempt to deal with those myths that had led to the total destruction of civilization during the time before? Was it really possible in the face of millions of victims to return to business as usual and to proceed as if nothing had happened? Putting such questions to the fore, I want us to think about the prerequisites, the common features, and the intellectual integrity of our international association founded in 1950. To draw the veil of oblivion over everything must have been a signal or even an invitation for those scholars who had close affinity with National Socialism to give up their reserve and to return to the academic stage. It is disturbing to read the names of Hoefler, Kummer, and others among the participants of the Rome congress. Even a Herman Wirth was allowed to present a paper. With Matthes Ziegler and Eberhard Achterberg two leading Nazis of the former "Amt Rosenberg" attended the convention in Marburg in 1960. Here Betty Heimann could have listened to a lecture of J. W. Hauer who had denounced her 25 years before as a Jewish scholar who should no longer play any role in the German academic life.
Incriminated historians of religions like Hauer had good reasons for not dealing with the NS-period. But why the predominating direction of the German study of religion with Heiler as its leading figure left it out of the account remains an open question. The dividing line between pro- and anti-Nazi positions was probably not so sharp as was later claimed. Especially if we reflect in this context on the problem of religious legitimacy our classification becomes blurred. Just taking over the assumptions of the so called historiography of the church struggle with its dichotomy of true and false religions prevented a serious study of NS-Paganism as well as a deeper analysis of the study of religion itself. If we realize that Heiler's phenomenological approach and Hauer's voelkish-racial phenomenology had the same theological epistemology and shared a common religious substructure, expressed either in terms of a Pagan or a Christian belief system, we get to the core of some of our main problems and most important issues.
Thus to make real progress in our discussions we need a comparison of the German situation with the developments in other European countries. Understand this as an appeal for a common effort to research the impact of National Socialism and related fascist ideologies on the study of religion. We will not be able to develop thorough and persuasive prospects for the future without knowing and accepting our history of that time.
*Lecture given at the XVIII Quinquennial Congress of The International Association for the History of Religions, Durban/South Africa (5-12 August 2000). Dr. Horst Junginger, Dpt. for the Study of Religion, Corrensstr. 12, 72076 Tuebingen.E-mail: email@example.com.