(A1) Legal and Theological Doctrines (“Dogmatics”) as Symbolic Staging of Normativity

In the first phase, the project dealt with dogmatisation processes: processes in which authoritative knowledge of basic concepts, interpretive patterns and notions of order are stabilised for normative discourse. This applies in equal measure both to law and to Christian and particularly Catholic theology. Despite all the differences of these discourses, a comparative perspective reveals important structural similarities. Such a perspective also focuses attention on those aspects of dogmatic processes which had rather been neglected in previous legal historical and historical research and which can only now be grasped with the terminological toolbox of cultural sciences. These include the medial presence of dogmatising interpretive patterns and notions of order in discourse in particular. That is to say, dogmatisation can only be required and legitimate where there is a need for normative unambiguousness on the one hand and no “informal pressure of the better argument” on the other. In theology and law, this is the case at every turn; according to long standing experience, sensible arguments have repeatedly remained inconclusive here. It is therefore not surprising that dogmatisation processes cannot be fully understood if phenomena of symbolic staging and medial presentation are not also taken into consideration. Basic concepts, interpretive patterns and notions of order need to become visible for everybody if they are to gain such a general presence in normative discourse that everyone sees them as available. Only then, however, can they become practically effective normative knowledge.

In the project, some dogmatisation processes in law in particular but also in Catholic theology were analysed in an exemplary fashion; a complete analysis of dogmatisation processes in law and in the theological discourse of Christianity would neither be possible nor interesting. The exemplary has clearly shown here that dogmatisation processes usually take place on entirely different levels. What is obviously important are the respective methodical standards of the narrative argumentation, which – particularly in law – often aim at restricting or hierarchically organising the relevant arguments, and the authorisation of institutions – such as councils and synods, universities and courts – and of texts as a starting point and reference point of normative argumentation. While dogmatisation in Christianity often resulted from institutional conflicts and often was institutionally enforced, law has mostly been looking for less formal ways on the levels of method and the authorisation of texts. It has mostly been able to accept dispute with respect to single issues as long as the framework of the argumentation was certain and final decisions were guaranteed by courts. This alone already explains why jurists and theologians each understand dogmatics differently. Therefore, the structural parallels of the dogmatisation processes analysed here appear all the more remarkable. For more details, please refer to the three most important publications that emerged from the project.

Publications (Selection):

  • Georg Essen/Nils Jansen, Dogmatisierungsprozesse in Recht und Religion, Tübingen 2011.
  • Jansen, The Making of Legal Authority: Non-Legislative Codifications in Historical and Comparative Perspective, Oxford 2010.
  • Ders., Methoden, Institutionen, Texte. Zur diskursiven Funktion und medialen Präsenz dogmatisierender Ordnungsvorstellungen und Deutungsmuster im normativen Diskurs, in: Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte (germanistische Abteilung) 128 (2011), pp. 1-71.