The middle clergy in East-Central and South-Eastern Europe, 19th – early 20th centuries

Ovidiu Iudean's picture
Call for Publications
June 30, 2018
Subject Fields: 
Demographic History / Studies, Eastern Europe History / Studies, European History / Studies, Social History / Studies, German History / Studies

The clergy played a central part in many East-Central and South-Eastern European societies from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, in more fields than simply that of spiritual shepherding. Their broad spatial dissemination, their contacts with, in theory, all layers of society, their ties to various political environments made them apt intermediaries between the state and communities or individuals. Especially in areas where institutional scaffoldings were scarcely constructed, the parish clergy – the most numerous – often acted as de facto administrators of individuals’ concerns, lobbying for their flocks’ betterment, and overseeing matters outside the purely pastoral.

Within this framework, the history of the middle clergy warrants a re-examination from several perspectives. Foremost of these is that of the clergy as a collective historical actor entangled with institutional development. How did this group interact with various modes of institutional establishment, change, and resilience? From the perspective of legal history, what roles did the parish clergy play in the patterning of global legal regimes, particularly considering missionary activity? How did the development of canon law and the functioning of ecclesiastical courts tie into these issues?

The middle clergy also closely ties into the establishment of both elites and middle classes, in various political and ethnical/confessional milieus, to different degrees. Particularly in composite states, where ethnical and confessional minorities were often politically-disenfranchised, the clergy represented a recruitment pool for political representatives for lengthy periods. However, in time, other professional groups superseded it, as the state’s and minorities’ priorities in governance shifted. Was the clergy especially resilient in certain milieus, and if so, what were the causes of this resilience? Did having a position in the clergy shift from the pinnacle of one’s potential career pathway to an intermediary level, over time and space? Was the clergy generally a self-recruiting group, displaying the tendency of families to establish veritable dynasties of clergymen over time, or was a career as parish priest a singular occurrence for members of the lower or middle classes?

From the point of view of family history, and closely related to middle class formation, clergymen’s families often became models for appropriate family conduct and ties. They were also one of the earliest groups to have an official salary and pension scheme, along with bureaucrats. What, if anything, did the state learn from the Church in terms of care for elderly retired individuals and their families?

The history of the clergy should also be spatialized, as the geographical distribution of its members over time and space relays an image of the functioning of ecclesiastical and administrative institutions that is often obscured by traditional narratives. Were certain areas more prone to vacancy in parishes, and if so, what prompted potential occupants’ reluctance? Were clergymen an especially mobile group, shifting from one parish to another often, or was relocation rather the result of disciplinary matters? How might the patterns of their geographical movements be described and quantified over time, and what impact did this have on the way their main pastoral tasks were fulfilled?

Finally, the clergy should be reconsidered as one of the main producer of historical records, well into the twentieth century. It is necessary to go beyond the widespread trope of the clergyman as educationally unprepared and generally disinterested in the keeping of serial records and to identify and observe the practices of ecclesiastical record keeping in conjunction with those of the state or local administrations. This is of paramount importance to both the field of archival history, and that of demography, seeing as parish registers of vital events still make up one of the main sources employed by historical demographers.

We therefore invite proposals for papers dealing with one or more of these issues, focusing primarily on the middle clergy – parish priests – as a group. We aim to create a coherent body of work reconsidering this collective historical actor, that will then be integrated into a collective volume, to be published at a prestigious, English-language press.

Titles, abstracts along with brief 2-page CVs and author descriptions should be sent by 30th June 2018 to Dr. Marius Eppel ( and Dr. Ovidiu Iudean ( Notifications of acceptance will be sent by 31st July 2018.
Completed papers, written in English, between 6000 and 8000 words including footnotes, should be sent by 31st of March, 2019.

Contact Info: 

Dr. Ovidiu Iudean, Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca

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