When I applied to join the Faber Residency I planned to write a chapter of a biography of the theologian Karl Barth covering the tumultuous year 1933, in which he was caught up in resisting Nazi efforts to bully the churches into submission. In a famous pamphlet in 1933 – which sold 37,000 copies in the year before the Nazis banned it – Barth wrote that in the middle of a political crisis the proper thing for a theologian to do was ‘to carry on theology, and only theology … as if nothing had happened’. It wasn’t that politics didn’t matter: after all, Barth’s opposition would result in his expulsion from Germany in 1935. But in a period of political upheaval what the Church and the World need from theologians is better, clearer, more faithful theology.
This Residency has coincided with Catalonia’s independence Referendum, with a General Strike. As I watched people in Olot voting, and days later march peacefully through the town to gather to protest against violence, I was struck, by the coincidence of some of the themes I am researching and events taking place around me.
I came to Olot to step away from daily life in order to think without interruption. It turned out that life is happening here too, and with great immediacy and significance. I came to write history, only to find history being made. In ways I didn’t plan in a chapter of a book about a Christian theologian trying to be true to his convictions in Nazi Germany, a shaft of light from the Catalonian sun is going illuminate what I see.