Dr Maria Thomas

Research interests

Anticlericalism in 1930s Spain

In 2012 I completed my doctoral thesis in the History Department of Royal Holloway University of London. My thesis explored the motives and collective identities which underlay anticlerical violence and iconoclasm in 1930s Spain. I developed my thesis into a monograph entitled ‘The Faith and the Fury: Popular Anticlerical Violence and Iconoclasm in Spain, 1931-1936’. It was published by Sussex Academic Press in 2012. I have also published a number of journal articles about anticlericalism, secularisation, political mobilisation and revolutionary violence in 1930s Spain. I conducted my research using documentation from Spanish state, military and ecclesiastical archives, as well as British Foreign Office records held in the British National Archives.

In exploring the wave of anticlerical violence and iconoclasm which was unleashed in the Republican zone of Spain at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, my research addressed a controversial topic which burns at  the heart of the ‘memory wars’ which continue to be fought in the Spanish public sphere over Spain’s recent, violent past. The book explores the logic behind anticlerical violence. In doing so, it challenges a body of ecclesiastical and Francoist historiography which has portrayed the destruction of religious property and the attacks against priests orchestrated at the start of the Spanish Civil War as primitive, irrational and insane.  An important innovation of my published research was to link the anticlerical explosion of 1936 to those forms of anticlericalism which were already emerging before the July 1936 military coup. I established a crucial link between the grassroots ‘secularising urge’ of 1936 and the unfulfilled expectations raised among popular sectors by the secularising programme of the Second Republic. I argued that the anticlerical paroxysm of the Civil War was used by its protagonists to construct the secular society which the Republic had been unable to deliver.

Women and Independence in Latin America

Between 2012 and 2013 I worked as a postdoctoral research fellow on a research and dissemination of project about female involvement in the nineteenth-century Latin American Wars of Independence. The project, ‘Women and Independence in Latin America’ (www.genderlatam.org.uk) was based in the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and directed by Professor Catherine Davies. The project built on a base of primary research into women’s and men’s social and political activity between 1780 and 1860. Its aim was to stimulate debate, reflection and exchange of information on the theme of Latin American Women and Independence, both historically and in a contemporary light. As the project coordination, I worked on a number of initiatives to involve Latin American women in the UK and in Latin American countries in the recovery of their shared history, cultural heritage and identity, increasing their awareness and understanding of the contemporary relevance of women’s protagonism during Independence. For further information on these activities, see the Community Engagement section of my profile.

Anticlerical Violence in a Comparative Context: Spain, Mexico and Colombia

My next project will be to conduct a comparative analysis of anticlerical violence and popular religiosity in twentieth-century Spain, Colombia and Mexico. Building on the methodological and theoretical framework which I developed during my doctoral research, I will compare the forms and meanings of outbursts of anticlerical violence and iconoclasm , addressing anticlerical ‘flashpoints’ such as  the Cristero War in Mexico (1926-1929), the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, and the Colombian ‘Bogotazo’ of 1948. I will to test the hypothesis that these outbursts were influenced by, and inseparably intertwined with, state-led secularisation strategies. 

Research collaborations

My research has brought me into collaboration with a number of research institutes and organisations. I am a fellow of the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. I am also a member of the International Consortium for the Study of Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Reconciliation at the University of at the Nottingham and an official collaborator of the Seminario Historia, Cultura y Memoria Siglo XX at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.