"The Most Advanced Nation on the Path of Liberty": Universalism and National Difference in International Freethought

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Freethinkers frequently cast their views and actions in universalist terms, claiming that their cause transcended national differences. From 1880 onwards, they also maintained an international organization, the Fédération Internationale de la Libre Pensée (International Freethought Federation, IFF), to advance secularist aims across national borders. Yet despite their professions of unity, specific national visions and understandings of “secularity” featured prominently within international freethought circles. This chapter investigates such tensions. After highlighting different national contexts and terminologies surrounding freethought and the promotion of secular ideas, it examines how the IFF staged and celebrated commonalities through its congresses. In this context, the veneration – and, in some instances, appropriation – of particular individuals as “freethought martyrs” is considered in particular depth. Finally, the chapter discusses the IFF’s Prague congress of 1907, as this event allows us to trace some of the wider issues in question. Ongoing tensions surrounding Czech–German relations in Bohemia clearly affected the congress which became a forum for the expression of national anxieties as well as for affirmations of transnational bonds.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFreethinkers in Europe: National and Transnational Secularities, 1789−1920s
EditorsCarolin Kosuch
Place of PublicationBerlin
PublisherDe Gruyter
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9783110688320, 9783110688283
ISBN (Print)9783110687163
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2020

Publication series

NameReligion and Society
PublisherDe Gruyter
ISSN (Print)1437-5370


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