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Publication . Article . 2019

From faith to race? ‘Mixed marriage’ and the politics of difference in Imperial Germany

Julia Moses;
Open Access
Published: 03 Jul 2019 Journal: The History of the Family (issn: 1081-602X, Copyright policy )
Country: United Kingdom

Intermarriage was a key site for testing politics of difference within the multicultural German Empire. Across the German states in the mid-nineteenth century, marriage between members of different religions frequently proved impossible. Until various civil marriage laws were introduced between the 1840s and 1870s, marriage remained within the remit of the church. As a consequence, marrying across confessional lines was rarely permitted. The implications were clear: marriage was seen as the embodiment of one’s culture – defined primarily in confessional (alongside socio-economic) terms, and it was also viewed as a key transmitter of culture by producing new generations of faithful observers of particular denominations. As a country divided between three confessions, religion in mid- to late nineteenth-century Germany proved an important aspect of difference within the new German nation state. By the end of the nineteenth century, following the introduction of civil marriage, mass waves of migration, the growth of urbanization and the expansion of the German overseas empire, the connotation of ‘mixed marriage’ in Germany appeared to have shifted. It remained a code for crossing confessional lines, but its resonance had changed. By the late nineteenth century, ‘mixed marriage’ had come to characterize another kind of cultural mixing as well: that between races, both at home within Germany and abroad within its colonies and diasporic outposts. And, between 1905 and 1912, ‘mixed marriage’ between Germans and ‘natives’ had been banned in German Southwest Africa, East Africa and Samoa. Why and how was intermarriage a flashpoint in debates on German identity politics at the turn of the twentieth century? As this article shows, intermarriage in the German Empire mattered to families, broader communities, and legislators because it was a pivotal means through which social groups formed, interacted and maintained boundaries at a time when visions of Germany were expanding.

Subjects by Vocabulary

Microsoft Academic Graph classification: Race: mixed Gender studies Politics Faith media_common.quotation_subject media_common Empire Political science Key (music) German language.human_language language Multiculturalism Diversity (politics)


Social Sciences (miscellaneous), Sociology and Political Science, History

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Funded by
'Marriage and Cultural Diversity in the German Empire'
  • Funder: European Commission (EC)
  • Project Code: 707072
  • Funding stream: H2020 | MSCA-IF-EF-ST
Validated by funder
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Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage
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