Conversion and National Identity

A Reading of Bresciani’s L’Ebreo di Verona
  • Ariella Lang
Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)


In the last chapter, I argued that Manzoni’s novel advocated conversion to Catholicism as a means of establishing a modern Italian nationstate that retained its Catholic identity. It may seem surprising to suggest that a liberal Catholic like Manzoni would vigorously pursue conversion. And yet this was not unusual among neo-Guelph and liberal Catholic thinkers. Vincenzo Gioberti advocated conversion with his vision of an Italian nation-state based on Christian principles. Carlo Maria Curci, a Jesuit opponent of Gioberti, criticized the Giobertian conflation of Catholicism and nationhood, stating that Giobertian ideology was one in which “in the name of the Gospel, Parliament is proclaimed, in the name of the Pope, the Italian confederation, and in the name of Christian morals, the expulsion of the Germans from Lombard-Veneto.”1 While Gioberti condemned the persecution of religious minorities, his argument for open-mindedness was itself aimed at conversion. That is, rather than be persecuted, he argued that Jews be treated with Christian charity, since such kindness would lead them to convert of their own accord. Similarly, the liberal Catholic Giovanni Vicini criticized the Church for its excessive force in dealing with the Jewish community.


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    See Giovanni Vicini, Giovanni Vicini: memorie biografiche e storiche (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1897), 211. Vicini was appointed secretary general of the Cisalpine government after serving as president of the provisional government of the Cispadane Republic in 1796. For further discussion of his work, see Lynn Gunzberg, Strangers at Home: Jews in the Italian Literary Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 42–45. Even many anticlerical liberals, while not advocating religious conversion per se, did strive toward assimilating Jews into the greater community, and in so doing of eliminating the difference between Jew and Christian. For further discussion, see Andrew M. Canepa, “Emancipation and Jewish Response in Mid- Nineteenth-Century Italy,” European History Quarterly 16. 4 (1986): 403–39.Google Scholar
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    One only has to look, for example, at Eugen Weber’s well-known work Peasants into Frenchmen: the modernization of rural France, 1870–1914 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1976), in which the author discusses the development of these different elements that coincided with the emergence of modern nationhood, to see the idea of circulation employed in another context. That is, in his discussion of statehood, Weber examines precisely the issues that I have mentioned above: young men gathering from all corners of the country to form the military; roads that connect different parts of the country, allowing for postal routes and for a greater number of people to travel; trains that allowed for more extensive traveling to other cities.Google Scholar
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© Ariella Lang 2008

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  • Ariella Lang

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