Turning Prayers into Protests

Religious-based Activism and its Challenge to State Power in Socialist Slovakia and East Germany
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Publication date: 
302 pages

Turning Prayers into Protests is a comparative study of religious-based oppositional activity in Slovakia and East Germany prior to 1989. 
Religion was a central arena for culture, thought, and social organization in the societies that became communist after the Second World War. It was thus a primary concern for communist regimes. The author examines the various and divergent grass-roots activism of the secret Catholic Church in Slovakia and the Lutheran Church in East Germany that confronted state socialist rule and contributed to its eventual dismantling. He compares the two cases in terms of the political power, influence and affect that these Churches had in regard to state repression or cooptation, vividly demonstrating that religion could provide a space for independence beyond state control as well as a foundation for resistance.


1. Catholics, Protestants and the State

2. Finding a Space to Think and Act Freely

3. Independent Publishing and Communication Networks

4. Constructing New Public Spaces

5. From Prayers to Protests

6. Archipelagos of Grass-Roots Activism

7. The Revolutions of 1989


"In this long-awaited monograph, David Doellinger examines 'free spaces' that the Evangelical Church in East Germany and the underground, 'secret' Catholic Church in Slovakia cultivated between 1945 and 1989, with primary emphasis on the 1980s. He argues, unsurprisingly, that activists gradually extended these spaces into a nascent public sphere, where they challenged the power of the party-state. In East Germany, since the Evangelical Church enjoyed limited independence through a degree of cooperation with the regime (particularly after 1971), it was able to shelter working groups focused on peace, environmentalism, and other public issues, while in Slovakia the secret church aimed, until 1988, simply to preserve space for free religious practice. As a result, in the revolutions of 1989, the East German church was absolutely central, whereas activists from the Slovak secret church (with two prominent exceptions) played relatively marginal roles. In a short... more
"Doellingers Arbeit hebt sich von anderen Studien zu dieser Problematik durch seinen konsequent komparativen Ansatz und durch die Fokussierung auf die Initiativen der „gewöhnlichen Leute“ (im Original grassroot movement) ab, die wichtige Träger von Veränderungen waren... Denn in vielen wissenschaftlichen Arbeiten dominiert nach wie vor das Narrativ einer passiven Kirche, die gegenüber dem Regime und der herrschenden Partei nur die Rolle des Märtyrers spielte. Das Buch ist daher nicht nur Experten auf dem Gebiet der Kirchenentwicklung zu empfehlen, sondern auch Historikern, die sich mit der Zeit der letzten Phase der sozialistischen Regime in Ostmitteleuropa beschäftigen. Für sie und eine breitere Leserschaft ist das Glossar sicher nützlich, in dem die im Text verwendeten Institutionen erklärt werden."
"The work’s strength is in comparing two cases that are not oft en paired. In contrasting them, the author makes us see aspects that are not oft en delineated either in single-case studies or broader comparisons. Thus, new channels of dissidence appear: pilgrims to a reader of East German literature, or the working groups to a reader of Slovak literature. The comparison drawn between the discourses of church activists also enhances some features, such as the persecution and dissidence experienced in socialist Slovakia while East German churches seemed more inclined to compromise with the state. This is particularly interesting since East German churches have, in the wake of their unification with West German churches, insisted on their distance from the state."