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The Crucified Nation

A Motif in Modern Nationalism

Alan Davies is professor emeritus at Victoria College, University of Toronto. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Jewish Book Committee’s award for scholarship on a Canadian Jewish subject (Anti-Semitism in Canada); and the author of scholarly and professional work in books on Theology, Religion and History.


This book examines the nexus between religion and politics, considered in one of its most controversial aspects. The starting point is the 2001 attack on the United States, which a Canadian commentator ingeniously described as the ‘passion of America’. This designation suggested an interesting inquiry into other so-called national passions: the notion of the Christ-nation crucified by evil powers because of its higher virtue.

This motif is explored by analyzing five modern nationalisms that have employed Christian symbolism in this manner: Poland, France, Germany, Ireland and Palestine. The author investigates the way in which fundamental Christian concepts are distorted and corrupted in the process, and points to the inherent dangers of this form of political self-glorification. Poets, philosophers, novelists and preachers have all played a major part in promoting the idea of the Christ-nation at certain times, mostly in the nineteenth century but also today. Famous examples are Adam Mickiewicz in Poland, Victor Hugo in France, the patriotic Lutherans during the First World War in Germany, Patrick Pearse in Ireland and certain Palestinian nationalist poets today.

The clash of cultures, religions, nationalisms and civilizations in the world today is ever more strident. The passion narratives of the five nations are interwoven with historical circumstance in order to cast light on the endurance and power of the narratives, to arrive at a final critique and ‘tract for the times’.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-273-0
Hardback Price: £29.50 / $45.00
Release Date: May 2008
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-446-8
Paperback Price: £19.95 / $29.95
Release Date: October 2010
Page Extent / Format: 144 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Preface and Acknowledgements


I The Crucified Nation: Poland
II The Crucified Nation: France
III The Crucified Nation: Germany
IV The Crucified Nation: Ireland
V The Crucified Nation: Palestine



Davies examines five case studies of modern nationalisms that have incorporated Christ-like motifs, portraying the nation as crucified by evil powers because of its innocence and virtue. The case studies discuss the nationalist rhetoric of the crucified nation as it arose in Poland following its partition, Germany during its invasion by Napoleonic France, France during Prussian invasion, Ireland under British occupation, and Palestine under Israeli occupation. While not denying the reality of victimization that gave rise to the nationalist narratives of crucifixion, Davies warns against the inevitable distortions that arise from investing nationalism with a religious essence.
Reference & Research Book News

Davies has written a very good little book on religion and nationalism. The author uses the suffering of Jesus Christ as a motif to examine the development of nationalism in Poland, France, Germany, Ireland, and Palestine. The type of nationalism described could be called Ecce homo nationalism because it is the suffering of an ‘innocent’ nation that is used to evoke nationalist feeling. The author’s mastery of poetry, journalism, and other common genres of nationalist imagery is very rich. He not only gives a historical overview of each country but looks to current dangers as well. The examination of nationalist use of religious imagery is well documented. The chapter on the poetry of both Christian and Muslim Palestinian nationalists invoking the Passion of Christ is very powerful. The author replies powerfully to those who argue that there is not a Palestinian nation. Great reading for upper-division students (and above) in political science, religion, history, sociology, and military affairs. Recommended.

In this thought-provoking book, Alan Davies, professor emeritus at Victoria College, University of Toronto, studies how poets, preachers, historians, and political commentators in Poland, France, Germany, Ireland and Palestine have used the image of the crucified Christ to interpret the fate of their defeated or occupied nations. Davies is concerned with the modern phenomenon of nationalism, a sense of collective identity that always has a religious dimension and that can become invested with sacred significance when the image of the crucified Christ is used to interpret a nation’s sufferings. In his analysis, Davies gives fascinating and beautifully written summaries of how religion and nationalism have interacted with each other and with historical events over decades, even centuries. Of particular interest is his account of the two Intifadas in Palestine.
... Davies is sympathetic to the sufferings of the nations and peoples he studies. ‘Poland,’ he writes, ‘really was crucified’ from the late 1700s through a series of partitions and conquests until the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1989. Those who described France, Germany, and Ireland during their decades of suffering and defeat as nations ‘on the cross’ should not be judged too severely. He notes, regarding Palestine, that ‘the catastrophe of al-Nakba and the sorrows of the refugee camps lend credence to this representation, as does the Israeli occupation and the techniques of control employed by the occupying forces’. However, while the image of the crucified Christ expresses the injustice and depth of a nation’s suffering in a way that can mobilize people and passions, it invests the nation with an innocence and redemptive significance that is illusory and dangerous. No nation can bear the burden of being the Christ. Interpreting the suffering of a nation through this motif creates moral blindness to the sins committed in its name, which jeopardizes its future in the long run.
... As Davies recounts how the sufferings of nations have been interpreted in terms of Christ’s passion, and how this has sometimes perpetuated a cycle of violence, one begins to think that the mixing of religion and national politics can bring only disaster. However, Davies then comes to the Stuttgart Confession of Guilt by the German Protestant Church Council in 1945. Here, rather than continue a tradition of interpreting Germany as an elect nation and its fate in terms of Christ’s passion, these Christians found in Christ the motive and resources to instead make a confession of national guilt: ‘With great pain do we say: through us [Germans] endless suffering has been brought to many peoples and countries’. According to Davies, these ‘simple words swept away the treasured quasi-religious, quasi-political belief in German special status, nourished and cultivated in German Protestantism since Fichte and Schleiermacher’. Religion in the form of Christian faith helped interpret national suffering constructively. Though the Stuttgart Confession was controversial and not embraced by all Germans, Davies rightly judges it to have been a ‘moment of glory’ in Germany’s modern history.
... In the end, Davies’ book leaves the reader with a troubling dilemma. The sufferings of peoples such as the Palestinians require an interpretation that will rally support to end the violence and injustice they experience. However, as Davies notes, the motif of the crucified nation posits a moral dualism between the victimized nation and its oppressors. Davies extends his conclusion to nationalism itself. Nationalism is always an ambiguous phenomenon that can foster moral dualisms that lead to conflict. When a nation becomes identified with Christ, this dualism becomes inevitable. A collective blindness to the nation’s own failings results, and a desire for vengeance tends to be instilled. Yet the motif of the crucified nation is chosen for a reason. Poets and political commentators who invoke it are trying to be heard amidst competing demands for justice in a world that frequently ignores the agony of others. The sufferings of nations such as Ireland and peoples such as the Palestinians are easily forgotten, their cries for justice drowned out by the appeals and concerns of more powerful nations. If the motif of the crucified nation is invariably toxic, what kinds of motifs can be used to offer more realistic interpretations of an oppressed nation’s fate that will rally support against the injustices it suffers?
The Ecumenist

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