Exiled Among Nations: German and Mennonite Mythologies in a Transnational Age (under contract with Cambridge University Press), is a comparative study of two groups of German-speaking Mennonites, one composed of refugees and the other composed of voluntary migrants. The groups inhabited Russia until the 1870s but fled separately to Canada and Germany. During the interwar years of the twentieth century, they resettled next to each other in Paraguay’s Gran Chaco. Both colonies drew on their identifications as industrious farmers and civilized Germans to secure safe territories. They also shared a common German culture, language, and religion. Nevertheless, the groups negotiated radically different relationships with the Paraguayan government, the Weimar and Nazi governments in Germany, and aid organizations in Germany and North America. The voluntary migrants rejected citizenship and outside associations while the refugees embraced these affiliations as essential to their survival.
I argue that Mennonites, like other migrants and refugees, drew on national and religious myths that legitimated their movements and articulated their histories as “tragic” or “comedic” plot progressions. Governments and NGOs likewise identified the groups as “insiders” or “outsiders” in their evolving mythologies of national and religious cohesion. Thus, each colony’s different interpretations of religious texts and German history led to vastly different understandings of “Germanness” and divergent relationships with Germany, host governments, and NGOs. Exiled Among Nations demonstrates how European-style nationalism was disseminated globally and accepted or rejected by overseas populations locally.
This work has significant implications for how we conceive of and write German, European, and transnational history. First, it shows that religion was a principal vector for establishing transnational German networks and creating heterodox ideas of “Germanness.” Second, it demonstrates that overseas Germans created a range of national mythologies and collective chronologies that relied more on local knowledge than on events in Central Europe. Third, it shows how European settlers deployed and denied their nationalities to appeal to the prejudices of host governments and secure evolving, local objectives. Fourth, it demonstrates that national prejudices circulating in Europe and the Americas before WWI guided the formation of the international refugee regime during the interwar period. Altogether, my work shows how European migrants used nationalist means to secure what were often nationally indifferent ends.
The Sword Outside, the Plague Within: Influenza, War, and Religion, 1918-1920, concerns how European religious leaders and laypeople interpreted the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic. Within a year, the disease killed between 50-100 million people, immediately after a global war that took the lives of twenty million people. We know that apocalyptic ideas swept across the Western world during the war, that physicians could not agree on the pandemic’s causative agent, and that Christian leaders supplied religious interpretations to earlier “plagues.” However, “Spanish flu” scholarship to date has largely focused on the pandemic’s epidemiology and its social, medical, and political consequences within specific national settings. We therefore know relatively little about the pandemic’s cultural impact and almost nothing of its religious consequences. My book addresses this lacuna by focusing on the flu’s religious dimensions in four specific local settings and situating my findings within a comparative, transnational framework.