Theory platforms

The Cluster of Excellence investigates the dynamics of the relationship between religion and politics in three fields of research, with five theory platforms running across them: theories of mediality, differentiation, inequality, conflict and emotionality. The basic concept of each is conceived differently in different disciplines. The five theory platforms, which the members of the three fields of research can select for themselves in a flexible way, serve to facilitate interdisciplinary understanding of the concepts and theoretical approaches.

Theory platform A Mediality

Religion always has to do with transcendence. The question of mediality, which theory platform A addresses, is therefore indispensable for the analysis of the dynamics of religion, since the perception of every reality is always conveyed medially. Concern here is with communication not only between people, but also between people and transcendent actors. Transcendence can only gain relevance for communities and individuals if it “shows” itself, becomes material, enters into experiences, connects with images, texts, sounds, numbers, rituals – and thereby becomes communicable. Of central importance are who has access to such religious media and thus to the transcendent, and who decides; and how religion is talked about.

Theory platform B Differentiation

Changes in the relationship between religion and politics can be examined in an interdisciplinary manner by drawing on various theories on the differentiation of autonomous functional systems in society. Not least, the concept of secularization can be understood in terms of differentiation theory. The members of the Cluster of Excellence discuss intensively the extent to which theories of differentiation can serve as an interdisciplinary basis connecting the social sciences, law and history, and which of these theories are most helpful. While it is perhaps unrealistic to expect a cross-disciplinary consensus on these theories, it is nonetheless necessary to continue dealing with them and to develop them further – since they have played and still play such an important role for concepts of secularization.

Theory platform C Inequality

The dimensions of a society’s inequality include age, gender, income, status, education, ethnicity – and not least religion. Theory platform C looks at how religious systems of norms and meanings relate to each of the other dimensions of social inequality, and to what extent they reinforce or even counteract them. The relationship between the different dimensions of inequality is examined under the heading of “intersectionality”. This concept is helpful not only for explaining the stabilization of inequalities, but also for analyzing their dynamics of change. The concept is therefore of particular interest for the central question addressed by the Cluster of Excellence concerning the effect of religion on political and social change.

Theory platform D Conflict

Conflict can be understood as a form of societalization, which means that conflicts develop a socially integrative function by renegotiating social norms, values and structures. In contrast, concepts from game theory emphasize the tendency in conflicts towards escalation and disintegration. In both cases, conflicts are seen as an important engine of social change. Theory platform D examines the extent to which religion acts as a genuine factor of conflict, and influences the structure of conflicts in a specific way. Such reflections from conflict theory are of central interest for the question pursued here concerning the dynamic effect of religion in politics and society.

Theory platform E Emotionality

Theory platform E understands emotionality as a constitutive element of social perceptions and relationships. On the one hand, it investigates the extent to which it is possible to speak of specifically religious emotions, whether phases of intensified religious affectivity or phases of its decline can be observed, and which emotions were and are permissible and effective in discourse in the respective historical contexts. On the other, it investigates what effects religiously based emotions have on the individual and collective level, to what extent they fuel social conflicts or contribute to overcoming them, and which rhetorical and aesthetic processes and media in the visual arts, architecture, literature, religious texts and debate culture do they use to achieve their effects.