“Religion and Politics: The Magazine”

The Cluster of Excellence presents its interdisciplinary research in a new format

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The Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” introduces the wealth of its research in a new format: “Religion and Politics. The Magazine” presents in richly illustrated reports, interviews, portraits, and essays the research and the researchers connected over the past few years to the interdisciplinary network of the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster (WWU). The contributions show the changing relationship between religion and politics, as well as law, economics, the media and art, from antiquity to the present day. “Drawing on a variety of examples, we offer glimpses into the adventure of scholarly discovery to which the scholars of the Cluster of Excellence devote themselves day in, day out”, write the speakers of the network, the sociologist of religion Detlef Pollack and the historian Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, in their editorial.

The spectrum of contributions ranges from the religious-political ambitions of “Black Pharaohs” in ancient Egypt to the political strategies of religions today; from images of the transcendent in Judaism and Christianity to the tolerance of ambiguity in Islam; from the role of music in Hinduism to the relationship of Buddhism to violence. “Religion and Politics: The Magazine” is available for free download on the website in German and English. The printed version is available from the Centre for Research Communication (religionundpolitik@uni-muenster.de).

The new magazine offers definitions of key terms such as religion, fundamentalism, ritual, and religious policy, as well as contributions on key books from the Cluster of Excellence. Scholarship requires creativity, and the personalities of individual researchers are therefore also portrayed. In addition, there are well-founded, scholarly opinions taken on subjects like circumcision and migration. The new transfer format displays in many ways how the Cluster of Excellence has shaped the social debate on religion and politics since its founding in 2007; largely ignored at that time, this debate has since gained in momentum. “It is our conviction that scholarship honed on history and open to interdisciplinary perspectives has the power to create an analytical distance to present-day conflicts and provide considered, socially relevant knowledge.”

The speakers of the Cluster emphasize that the long-term studies from antiquity to the present and the cross-cultural comparisons from Asia to Europe that the Cluster of Excellence has been engaged in for the last ten years can only be achieved in interdisciplinary cooperation. The magazine also describes how the 200 researchers from 14 nations and 20 disciplines in the humanities and social sciences can cooperate successfully, which hurdles sometimes have to be overcome, and “how larger discoveries have grown from detailed and occasionally unassuming beginnings”. Experienced researchers have their say; but so too do members of the Cluster of Excellence’s Graduate School and Postdoctoral Programme. Many report why they have for years been going beyond their basic research to transfer their expertise to the domains of politics, the media and society.

“Many people did not expect religions to have such a major role today”

“Religion is involved in the political and social conflicts of the past and present in many ways”, says the editorial. “This is evident for pre-modern societies. There, religion provided ideological justification for political authority and was the cause of military conflicts, but also helped to bring about peace agreements.” What many people did not expect is its continued political virulence today: “Whether one thinks of the worldwide engagement of Christian groups to mitigate climate change, the xenophobic nationalism of the Russian Orthodox Church, the American evangelical belief in the United States’ mission of global freedom, or also the acts of terror committed daily throughout the world in the name of Allah – religion is a political factor of the first order.”

The researchers wish in their future research programme to look particularly closely at what exactly the political influence of religious communities and actors is based upon. The central complex of questions for them is, “In what ways does religion influence social and political change, which external conditions promote, and which constrain, its ability to mobilise people?” By focusing in its future work on the dynamic power of religions, the network will turn its attention to the active role of religion in historical and present-day political conflicts. The magazine presents examples of the research that the network will build upon in the future. (vvm/sca)