(C22) Transcendental Bestowment of Meaning and Religious Collectivisation in Postmodern Europe

“God in Germany”
“God in Germany”
© Stern 40/1962

In the second half of the twentieth century, religious history shows a peculiar trend: on the one hand, looking at Germany and at large parts of Europe, the main Christian churches have experienced losses in their inner coherence. On the other hand, however, there is a vital interest in matters of religion, particularly with regard to public debates. Scientists, journalists and not least also politicians have rediscovered religion as a topic and willingly point to a renewed disposition of bestowing things with religious meaning. This allegedly asymmetrical relationship is often romanticised through the formula of re-enchantment, which appears to be somewhat editorialising, thus clouding the view of changed religious life.

In our research project, therefore, far beyond any close ties to metatheories, religious change will be subjected to a historically contextualised, socioscientifically founded and, as regards cultural history, qualitatively oriented analysis. Chronologically, the project spans the period from immediately after the Second Wold War to the 1980s and it will also include explicitly contemporary references. The developments in Western Germany are the focus of interest. However, comparative perspectives on Great Britain, Scandinavia, France or the US will also be relevant, as will be a glance at the developments in the GDR.

Methodically, the project attempts to break away from the domestic church perspective prevailing to date. The primary starting points, therefore, are religious beliefs, religious practice and the public discussions of questions of faith. In order to be able to explain religious change and its causes as fully as possible, the project pursues a total of three levels:

  1. Self-definitions of providers of religion: First and foremost, the theological outlines of the churches and also, since the 1970s, the concepts of the new religious movements are found on this level.
  2. Living for the faith: On this recipients’ level, various forms of collectivisation and environmental structures will be analysed as to their handling of religious and church concepts.
  3. Social perception by others: Finally, on this level of observation and interpretation, the public debates on religion and church will primarily be investigated.

First screenings of the field of research suggest that religion has maintained its public significance until the present day. Looking deeper, however, at the individual beliefs, the transformation and renewal of forms of religious collectivisation seem to be rather limited to a small segment, while it becomes apparent that the need for religious communication and practice diminishes or disappears for most.