The Role of Religion in the Transition to Modernity

© Mohr Siebeck Verlag

The role of religion and the church in modern societies is the focus of the book, “Religion and Social Differentiation”, by Prof. Detlef Pollack, sociologist of religion at the Cluster of Excellence, “Religion and Politics”. “This role has fundamentally changed. In the Middle Ages, Christianity was the foundation of the entire social order. In modern societies, in contrast, religion and church have become only one element among many”, Prof. Pollack explains. “They have to compete against the attraction of secular alternatives.” The book, ‘Religion and Social Differentiation. Studies on Religious Change in Europe and the USA III’ has been published by Mohr Siebeck Press in Tübingen.

In the book, Pollack describes how the social role of religion has changed throughout history. The transition to modernity thus took place at the end of the 18th century. “From that point, church and religion have been caught up in a process of social differentiation, which they can scarcely control to any lasting degree”, Pollack explains. In his sociological analysis of this history, he traces religiously determined precursors of functional differentiation in the Middle Ages, but goes on to examine the religious transformation at the end of the 18th century and the religious crises of the 1960s.

Europe and America

The book concentrates on questions on religion and society in Europe, but also looks at the contemporary situation in the US and Latin America. “Even in the US, which is often cited as a counter-example against the validity of differentiation theory, we can see clear tendencies towards secularisation. Religious pluralisation does not prevent these tendencies, but on the contrary, strengthens them.” According to Prof. Pollack, religion and modernity are in powerful tension with one another. “Nevertheless, even in highly differentiated, pluralised societies, religious communities fulfil socially integrative functions.”

Literature: Pollack, Detlef: Religion und gesellschaftliche Differenzierung. Studien zum religiösen Wandel in Europa und den USA III, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2016.