(B6) Utopia, Political Religion and Violence in the nineteenth and Twentieth Century

In the nineteenth and twentieth century utopian thinking and pseudo-religious expectations of salvation have often been connected with the political violence of radical political mass movements. This is true above all of Bolshevism and National Socialism, but also of neo-Marxist movements in the second half of the twentieth century. The design of a “counter-image of a purified world” along with the “use of a vocabulary of salvation” (Fest) and the idea of a new man have been considered the central contents of the utopian consciousness. The tension between a utopian vision of the future and a depraved present filled with crises leads, according to this interpretation, to an increased readiness for violence.

Using the example of the 1968 movement, which is seen as an international phenomenon and a significant manifestation of a social movement, the central elements of a utopian consciousness was initially elaborated in a multi-levelled, comparative and analytical process. This utopian consciousness has been examined with respect to its religious tendencies as well as its function as critique of the present and draft of a vision for the future. Next, the intellectual spokesmen and supporters (including theologians and priests) of the developing social movement have been established and the forms of interpretation, action, and mobilisation deriving from the utopian visions of a non-alienated and non-authoritarian society – up to the rise of militant activism – have been investigated. The investigated fields were the movements of the New Left in France, Germany, and Italy with a view to the various political cultures including the different meanings attached to the churches and confessions. Comparative studies have examined different forms of "civil religion" and "political religion" in France (19th century, Third Republic) and in Turkey (governance of Mustafa Kemal Atatürkand Kemalism).

The goal of the research was to develop a selective concept of “political religion” by means of a cross-cultural comparison and to determine the significance of the various quasi-religious forms of representation and “the adoption of a secular faith” (Küenzlen) for the development of radical patterns of interpretation and action.

Further, it was necessary to observe the motives and causes of political violence – in its instrumental and communicative form – as well as the ways it functions to form community; and examine its connections to the (self-) sacralisation of political leaders and actors and to the aesthetic dimensions and ritualisation of the representation of violence. It was also be important to consider the ways in which the latter have contributed to strengthening the dimensions of faith and the expectations of salvation but also to integration within the social movement.


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