Research Cloud 5 Memory and Forgetting

The dynamics of religious change are always based on processes of memory and forgetting, whereby remembering primarily grants identity and continuity, forgetting, on the other hand, creates space for something new and releases capacities.

The sociologist Maurice Halbwachs coined the term collective memory, which is still used in cultural studies research today. While the concept as such is controversial and problematized, there is consensus on his main argument that memory is a genuine social phenomenon. Accordingly, every form of memory is socially conditioned and, as a reconstruction of the past, is always determined by social conditions (we-groups such as families, friends, social classes, religious and political communities, regions or professional groups). If the social frameworks or memory milieus change, memories also change because they need a stable social environment.

Following Maurice Halbwachs and the art historianWarburg, the Egyptologist Jan Assmann and the anglicist Aleida Assmann systematically distinguish two modes of memory: communicative and cultural memory. The main characteristic of cultural memory lies in its “formed” (such as testimonies, portraits, rituals, etc.) and its “organized nature” (e.g. its commitment to commemorative events) and can only be realized institutionally and artificially. Communicative memory, on the other hand, is based on biographical experience and an informal form of transmission (oral transmission over three generations). This assumes that memories are based on personal experience and are linked to personal communication. Contrary to this assumption, individuals do not only remember events that happened to them, but also those that were communicated through media (such as writings, novels, films, etc.) and which enter the autobiographical memory like self-experiences. A strict separation between communicative and cultural memory is therefore at best analytically meaningful, as confirmed by family research, which shows that both forms flow into each other in reality (Welzer, Rosental). A neglected aspect in memory research is also the unconscious, which is expressed in bodily practices, which Bourdieu tries to grasp with the concept of habitus.

In the research cloud “Memory and Forgetting” the two distinctions of memory and forgetting (Niklas Luhmann, Elena Esposito), which are constitutive and complementary for (social and cultural) memory, will be brought into focus based on the cluster’s internal research projects and questions. The aim is to reflect empirically and theoretically on how processes of remembering and forgetting contribute to the dynamics of religious change.

Coordination of Research Cloud 5: