ARC Seminar: Paulina Napierała

Thursday, December 8, 2022

4:00 pm — 5:30 pm

Hybrid (see description for details)

Open to the Public

The Church(es) in Protest Movements and Beyond: The Civil Rights Movement in the US and ‘Solidarity’ in Poland: A Comparative Study

Admission Price



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Dr Paulina Napierała

The Black Church played a significant role in African American history. For a long time, it was a reservoir of Black culture as well as a source of political leadership. The Civil Rights movement was both a socio-political movement of protest and a religious movement, sustained by the religious power of Black churches (Harvey 2016). For Poles due to the turbulent history, religion (in this case the Roman Catholicism) was also important, and almost always involved in politics. During the partition of Poland (1770s – 1918) the Church acted as a chief guardian and repository of Polish values and the protector against the oppressors. In the absence of Polish state structures, it also assumed a number of roles traditionally performed by the state. During the time of communism, the Church was involved in the struggle for democratic changes. It was long seen as the only independent institution. And although, the history of Poles and African Americans cannot be equated in any way, there are some parallels concerning the role that the Church(es) assumed in the history of these two groups, especially during the important protest movements. 

The Black Church, which due to racial restrictions was long one of the few independent Black institutions, became an organizational base for civil rights protests against segregation and discrimination of African Americans. And although Black churches were not unanimous concerning the form of protests and the scope of their social engagement, a number of them supported Martin Luther King’s strategy and his Christian arguments. In Poland on the other hand, if it had not been for the support of the Catholic Church, the ‘Solidarity’ movement would have been much weaker. Not only did the Church provide resources and meeting places, but also Christianity-based arguments against the communist system. On the other hand, the Catholic hierarchy (Episcopate) was divided and unsure to what extent they should back the protesters. Therefore, I would like to compare the forms of the Church(es)’ involvement in those two protest movements as well as theological and political divisions concerning the scope of engagement (and/or cooperation with the government). I will also analyze the conditions in which it was possible for churches to get involved in such activities and to what extent their involvement was desired or accepted by the society. I will reflect on the consequences of such engagement, the positions that Church(es) assumed in the post-protest reality, and on the social expectations towards them. Due to different models of church and state relations as well as religious composition of Poland and the US, the stories of Church(es) engagement after the protests movements were not identical. In both societies, however, theological divisions significantly deepened. In Polish post-communist reality it was possible for the church to assume not only a privileged but in certain aspects the most privileged position. Its desire to keep monopoly on education, social mobilization and political engagement in the new democracy eventually led to serious and continuous problems and controversies (both within Polish society and within the internally divided Church and hierarchy).  ​

Dr Paulina Napierała holds a Ph.D. in political science (Jagiellonian University, 2011) as well as two M.A. degrees: in International Relations (JU, 2005) and in Ethnic and Migration Studies (JU, 2006). Her research explores a variety of issues concerning the role of religion in American politics. She authored In God We Trust. Religia w sferze publicznej USA(“In God We Trust: Religion in the American Public Sphere”) and Religia i polityka w USA. Faith-based initiatives w okresie prezydentury G. W. Busha (“Religion and Politics in the United States: Faith-Based Initiatives During the Administration of George W. Bush”). She also edited two volumes on American society and published in Polish and international journals. Currently, she is focusing on the social and political role of the Black Church. Apart from working on a book concerning theological divisions and the evolution of the Black Church’s socio-political engagement, she is also editing a volume for the Peter Lang Publishing House entitled: Religion and American Politics. Domestic and International Contexts (in cooperation with American and European authors). She was a grantee of the Kosciuszko Foundation (2015) and the Fulbright Commission (2007-2008) which let her conduct research and consultations at the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Boston College, Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Kennedy School. She also received scholarships and grants from: the National Science Center Poland, the Institute for Human Sciences, ‘IWM' in Vienna, and the Free University of Berlin. She is a managing editor of “Ad Americam. Journal of American Studies.”

This is a hybrid event. Participants may choose to attend in person at the Graduate Center, room 5318, or online via Zoom. Please register here to receive Zoom connection details.