Professorship for Sociology of Religion

  • Profile

    Traditional master narratives such as those about secularization or modernization were largely deconstructed by insights from the more recent sociology and history of religion. Instead of widespread assumptions of convergence and linearity about processes of secularization and functional differentiation, notions of the historical contingency of modernity, the path dependency of historical developments, the "simultaneity of the non-simultaneous" as well as the de-differentiation and transgression of borders have taken their place. Recent sociological and historical studies on religion no longer proceed from the incompatibility of religion and modernity, from the pressure that modern societies exert on religious forms of meaning and practices to adapt, and from the determination of religious forms of community and meaning by modernity presented as a unity. Rather, they increasingly emphasize the compatibility between religion and modernity and the religious-productive moments of modernity and conceptualize religion itself as an important motor of social transformation processes. Instead of asserting a sharp contrast between modernity and tradition and locating religion solely on the tradition side, they work out the internal diversity of modern cultures (multiple modernities) as well as the fluid boundaries between tradition and modernity as well as between modernity and religion. In many respects, the aim of this new kind of religious research is not only to bring to bear the external social effects of religious ideas, symbols and practices, but also to consider the transformation processes taking place in the religious field, the processes of individualization and pluralization of religion, the change of forms and the self-modernization of religion.

    The work of the Chair of Sociology of Religion ties in with this development tendency, but gives it another turn, because so justified is the criticism of the theory of secularization, as long as it refers to the construction of teleological historical models, the design of a deterministic derivation logic, and thinking in generalizable container concepts, so much it threatens at the same time to lead into an uncritical relativism, which upgrades the individual case to the only unit of investigation, which makes contingents absolute, obstructs the comparison of constellations and places the elaboration of overarching structures under the general suspicion of Eurocentrism. Whether religion and modernity are compatible, whether tradition and modernity do not form a contradiction, whether the internal diversity of modernity prevails over its unity, must not be decided ideologically in advance, but must be examined historically and empirically. The critique of the classical theory of secularization is important, because religious ideas and modes of action cannot be treated only as dependent variables and explained only by structural conditions. In fact, it is necessary to appreciate the inherent dynamics of religious cultures, to look at their structural effects and to work out the processes of change taking place within religious communities. The social science structural analysis and cultural history of religion should not, however, be brought into conflict; rather, the chances of their mediation should be explored and both the productive effects of religious communities and ideas and their dependence on external circumstances, both the compatibility between religion and modernity and the tensions between them, both the historical contingency of modern processes of change and their regularity taken into consideration. The Chair of Sociology of Religion and its staff are striving for such a mediation. The investigation of religious processes of change in modernity cannot be content with merely grasping religion as a dependent variable, but must also examine the effects of religion within and outside religion. It cannot be satisfied with macrosociological explanations, but must also consider microsociological processes of change. It must include structural variables in its analyses, as well as semantic, discursive and cultural-historical holdings and explanatory approaches, and pursue hermeneutic, historical peculiarities. However, it will not be able to do without going beyond micro-sociological approaches that emphasize historical contingency, the momentum and self-understanding of religions, and also emphasizing structural and cultural influencing factors, general regularities, and societal interrelationships that lie behind the actors. Sociology is not limited to description, but has an explanatory claim without which it would not differ from the historical sciences. Therefore, in sociological and, of course, religious sociological work, it is always important to base the analyses on theoretical explanatory models, without allowing the empirical analysis to slide into a deductive business, to interpret the empirical research results obtained in the light of theoretical models and to use them to further develop theoretical drafts. In this respect, theoretical and empirical work are closely linked. In addition, it is crucial for the sociological work at the Chair of Sociology of Religion that reflexive methodological awareness and knowledge of craftsmanship are developed for dealing with empirical phenomena. Only through the use of highly developed methods of empirical social research will it be possible to arrive at intersubjectively verifiable, generally valid and falsifiable statements about the social reality to be investigated. Statements that cannot be falsified and are endowed with the claim to supersubjective validity or that elude intersubjective examination cannot be described as scientific statements. Among the methods, comparison undoubtedly has a privileged status due to its heuristic qualities.

    In terms of content, the processes of religious change in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe represent a first focal point. In addition - also and not least under comparative aspects - the countries of Western Europe are in the focus of attention. The research of religious change in the different regions of Europe is carried out taking into account the social, political, economic, legal and cultural context, whereby the above-mentioned mediation between social structure analysis and cultural historiography, macro- and micro-sociological consideration, explanatory and hermeneutic approach is aimed at. The sociology of religion conducted in Münster is contextual sociology of religion. Therefore, in addition to processes of religious change, changes in the economic sphere, in the state-church relationship, in religious policy, in cultural semantics and discourses as well as in public and political culture are always taken into account. Especially a method-consciously practiced sociology of religion will be able to avoid both the trap of scientism as well as mere paraphrase and may dare to reach insights beyond the individual case.



In Progress