(C2-6) The Dialectic of Processes of Differentiation: Catholicism in the Differentiating Societies of the 19th Century

The aim is to show, using 19th-century Catholicism as an example, how processes of de-differentiation go hand in hand or are “intertwined” with processes of differentiation, and that, under certain conditions, de-differentiation creates differentiation. The project’s points of reference are, on the one hand, the theory of functional social differentiation – which, being the ‘heart’ of the classical secularisation thesis, has remained largely without criticism so far – and, on the other hand, the thesis of the second confessional age, which is associated with a sectional de-differentiation (milieu formation). Central research questions are: can 19th-century Catholicism be conceived as a de-differentiation? How do Catholicism and its players contribute to the breakthrough of the functional differentiation of modern society at the same time, and what are the consequences?

Catholicism, as one of the large religious traditions, is associated with being involved with players who advance the process of differentiation, and at the same time, as a newly forming player, it influences processes of both de-differentiation and differentiation. The formation of (macro) milieus is characteristic of the second half of the 19th century, and the formation of Catholic milieus is of high social relevance. In it, the specifically Catholic way of life is implemented and reproduced, and ties with the outside world are established. The formation of and attachment to milieus can be interpreted as a de-differentiation phenomenon in a differentiating society. It would be problematic, however, to take the functional differentiation of society as a linear process. Rather, certain patterns of processes of de-differentiation and differentiation can be recognised which are influenced by Catholicism or different Catholic players (such as parties or associations), respectively. Catholicism in its miscellaneous facets thus lends itself as an object of research: as a religious community on the macro-level, as an organisation on the meso-level, and in the everyday processes of dissociation from the non-Catholic environment on the micro-level.

The analysis of processes of de-differentiation and differentiation in which Catholicism was involved in the 19th century creates a comparative dimension as regards the integration of religious communities in pluralistic societies and as regards different types of ideological conflict. The project aims at investigating one pattern of differentiation among others, the specifics of which are to be reconstructed.

The Project is part of interconnecting platform E Differentiation and De-Differentiation and of coordinated project groups Dealing with religious diversity, Social forms of religion in ‘second modernity’, and Religious influences on economic systems and activities.