Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Religion and Politics

Prof. Dr. Kees van Kersbergen


Religion and the Welfare State is a project conducted with Philip Manow, Konstanz University. The goal is to re-assess the role of religion in modern welfare state development. This is essential for understanding the historical causes of the marked institutional differences between Europe's welfare regimes and for better understanding the present political, social, cultural and economic functioning of Europe's societies. So far, the literature was only willing to ascribe to political Catholicism some influence on modern welfare state development, while Protestantism was declared to be largely marginal. The claim was that Catholic social teaching had an impact on European welfare state development via Christian Democratic parties. These parties developed an interest in social policy because they also mobilized Catholic workers and strove for class reconciliation and thus produced an integrative effect. This interpretation tends to ignore the influence of Protestantism in its two main variants: Lutheran state churches (Germany, Scandinavia) and reformed Protestant churches (Switzerland, Netherlands, the UK, the "settler colonies"). Also, previous accounts have tended to give more attention to the ideational and doctrinal aspects, while neglecting the organizational role of the church. A better understanding of the role of the church and its social teachings is crucial for better understanding path dependent features of the political sociology and economy of advanced industrial countries.

An edited volume (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press) will be completed during the fellowship period.

Van Kersbergen’s work on this project and on Christian democracy so far has generated a host of new interesting questions on religion and politics more generally; he intends to develop this research agenda further, by focusing on the survival of religiously inspired political actors (labelled "unsecular" politics), the phenomenon of desecularization, and the reappearance virtually everywhere of religion as a major source of political action and conflict. Religion as an inspiration for politics has both an integrative and disintegrative disposition. The main questions are why, under what conditions and how the one rather than the other disposition will prevail.

The second topic Kees van Kersbergen wants to deal with is „The Disenchantment of Politics“: Why is it that - despite widely varying institutional arrangements, political histories, cleavage structures, cultural traditions, socioeconomic conditions, etc. - all democracies are confronted with the decline of political allegiance, that is a deteriorating relationship between the ruling state elite (government) and the ruled (people, citizens, voters)?

Van Kersbergen’s thesis is that this is because of the disenchantment of politics. The concept of disenchantment is, of course, taken from Max Weber’s "Entzauberung der Welt". Disenchantment of the world, according to Weber is "die Ausschaltung der Magie als Heilsmittel". Paraphrasing this, the disenchantment of politics is the elimination of politics as an instrument of this-worldly salvation. Once, politics provided a mission: a visionary anticipation of a better world through human intervention. Grand political projects assumed the role of the "Saviour", so to speak, and promised to liberate people from existential insecurity and material want - incidentally thus assuming a powerful secularizing force. For some, such projects represented a messiah in whom they could vest their hope for security and well-being. For others, the projects were so utterly abhorrent that they were eager to contest them, ultimately with violence. The political causes and the movements they inspired contained for some the promise of triumph and the salvation of the world and for others no less than perdition. The notion of the disenchantment of politics tries to capture the loss of this transformative vista in politics and the passion and fury it could arouse, among rulers and the ruled alike. This disenchantment lies at the heart of the contemporary decline of political allegiance.