Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Religious Minorities

Guiding Topic of the Academic Year 2015/2016

For the 2015/16 academic year, the Institute for Advanced Study Konstanz is inviting fellows who are interested in doing research on religious minorities—especially in pre-modern cultures—and have shown distinction in this field.

The existence of religious minorities in Germany was considered an explosive problem well before onset of the public debate over whether Islam has a place within German society or not. Such debates create an impression that the present effort to come to terms with religious complexity involves a novel challenge for contemporary politics and culture. But in fact, religious complexity is by no means a phenomenon tied to modernity and its migratory processes. In the past, multi-religiosity was widespread. By contrast, mono-religiosity appears to have been an unusual phenomenon, only maintaining itself over the long term in the context of modern forms of rule. Consequently, in the framework of the Institute’s 2015/16 thematic focal point, we consider a high level of participation by researchers in pre-modernism desirable, in order to embed ongoing discussions in a broader context.

The invited fellows will contribute through their research to the empirical and theoretical study of religious minorities. We are interested in participation by scholars working in a wide range of disciplines including ethnology, legal studies, history, political science, sociology, theology, and literary studies. Fellows will be expected to examine the central research question from various, cross-spatial and cross-temporal perspectives, casting comparative light on the definitions of identity, inter-religious interaction, and public presence evident among various religious minorities. On an empirical level, we are interested in including a broad range of religions and religious movements in our research spectrum.

Possible research questions:
  1. How and why are religious majorities and minorities formed, and what is the relationship between this process and theological doctrine?
  2. Which social and cultural constellations serve to obstruct the formation of stable religious minorities?
  3. How and why does coexistence become religiously loaded, and how and why does the process die down?
  4. What favors violence, and what acts as a check on violence? How is violence legitimated, and how is it carried out?
  5. What are the strategies for order, the norms, and the rights opted for by minorities and majorities?
  6. Which theoretical and empirical models and concepts appear best suited for comparative diachronic and synchronic work in this research field?

1. The Emergence of Religious Minorities and Majorities

Migration, conquest, and missionary activities—the latter in any event tied to migratory processes—alter religious landscapes. At the same time, processes of internal religious differentiation have always been at work within locally established populations. This is the case, for instance, with both the religions on the Indian subcontinent and European Christianity. The religious movements in Latin Christendom beginning in the eleventh century, together with the Roman Church’s strategies of exclusion, catalyzed a gradual religious and social separation between Christians and heretics. The latter groups began to form secret conventicles and distinguish themselves in their ways of life from recognized Christianity. Later on, in Early Modern Europe, differentiation between Protestantism and the Catholic Church was especially pronounced. Various streams developed within both Judaism and medieval Islam as well; and the emergence of Christianity can itself be explained in terms of such processes. At present, in many of the newly incorporated (previously GDR) German states, Christians form a minority of the population; this process is a result of wide-reaching political strategies.

Religious affiliation and identity has to be repeatedly negotiated, defined, and chosen. A rational-choice model for determining one’s own position does not seem to exist. The external borders of religions are repeatedly re-determined and penetrated. This process has direct consequences for, on the one hand, social and cultural developments and, on the other hand, the development of religious doctrines and convictions themselves. Sociologists of religion conceive such social and cultural forms of differentiation in terms of, among other things, church-sect typology; this typology continues to be elaborated methodologically and theoretically and empirically applied. Sociology of difference represents another theoretical approach.
In the study of strategies for demarcation and identification, research on interior perspectives of religious minorities and majorities seems especially fruitful. Why and in what ways are differences thought desirable? What are the competing interpretive options and who profits from them institutionally and personally? And how do discourses of identity change within religious communities in situations of diaspora?

2. Interconnection and Interdependence

The historical interdependence and interconnection of religious majorities and minorities can be grasped in a basic way through these and other theoretical approaches, although additional development and refining is desirable. For Islamic-Jewish Near Eastern culture, S.D. Goitein coined the term “creative symbiosis”; the concept at work here holds promise for researching other areas as well.

In any event, in contemporary debates religious minorities are sometimes classified as foreigners, immigrants inversely declared to be religious minorities. These ascriptions have been influenced by the narrative of secularization, according to which the foreigner stems from a past period and has to catch up with modernism. At the same time, the basic interdependence of minorities and majorities has publicly often been strongly underrepresented. Within historical research as well, the interdependence of various religions and religious currents has hardly been embedded in general accounts and models. Jews, Moslems, and heretics have been as inadequately integrated into the great narrative of European history as have been Jews and Christians into the history of Islamic Western Asia. Specialized research on one religion or current has been more common. This frequently follows the self-representation of one or another religion, understanding itself as historically autonomous. Posing the question of how religious minorities have altered dominant religions is still relatively unusual.

In this respect, monotheistic religious cultures appear different than, for example, those of Western antiquity or certain Asian religious cultures, in which multi-religiosity and the fact of mutual tolerance or indeed multi-religious harmony count as social ideals. Such differences are in themselves remarkable and call for systematic examination. Beyond this, it will be important to ask in what ways and with which historiographical models the interconnection and interdependence of religions can be described.

3. Power, Violence, Law, Organization

Frequently, quantitative relationships between religious groups are incongruent with prevailing power relationships. Followers of dominant religions continue to quite often be numerically inferior. For this reason, religious minorities should not be equated with marginalized or otherwise discriminated groups. Rather, distinctions have to be drawn in terms of dominant and subordinate religions.

Often, members of non-dominant religions have had to take on subordinate positions; they have had poorer access to economic and cultural resources. Even when—as in our Western present—discrimination on religious grounds has been normatively prohibited, members of various religious groupings can find themselves in a situation marked by non-egalitarian interaction. Not rarely, and across a broad societal spectrum, religious minorities have seen themselves subjected to persecution, violence, or exclusion. Models explaining religious violence need theoretical and methodological refinement.

In addition, we need to pay great attention to the norms or rules regulating multi-religious situations. Historically, a broad range of options has here been available on an empirical level; these have been chosen in a manner reflecting context. For instance, facing the religious pluralism, or “marketplace,” of antiquity is the (unattained) medieval ideal of unity and modernity’s (not completely realized) paradigm of tolerance. The particular category that is dominant equally affects the norm-setting authorities sanctioned by public law and the prevailing state or religious philosophy or theology. Law and administration offer some of the strategies for societies to regulate multi-religious situations, usually in line with the dominant religion’s ideas. For this reason law and other categories of order are a central point of consideration in research on multi-religious cultures.

Premodern monotheistic cultures in, for example, Latin Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic world pursued specific legal strategies with a theological foundation for regulating and controlling the multi-religious situation. Religious tolerance was comprised in a system of rights, limitations, duties, and privileges that are presently being researched with considerable intensity. A typical characteristic of these cultures was a plurality of rights and authorities with room for a certain measure of legal and religious autonomy on the part of subordinate religions. Rights and regulations were developed and used by both dominant and subordinate religions for demarcation, and for either safeguarding or constructing religious identity-formation. Even in medieval monotheistic cultures, forum shopping represented an important strategy for subordinate religions to expand their possibilities of action, despite the unequal framework conditions.

4. Visibility, Dramatization

The coexistence of members of different religions is accompanied by cultural processes needing closer scrutiny. In part tied to underlying legal and organizational factors, but also independently from them, minorities and majorities compete for political and social presence in the space they share. At issue here are, for example, the visibility of mosques, minarets, and synagogues and the optical organization of space in general. A desire for visibility and its hindrance can be observed in a wide range of areas.

Strategies of visibility and its suppression are evidently connected with another process. In certain periods, both majorities and minorities can sharply actualize and dramatize questions of religious affiliation. In such phases, demarcation and even violence can become an essential element in religious identity. At the same time, in such situations religious affiliation emerges as a central factor in personal identity-formation. Ever more cultural zones in daily life are now defined as religiously important. At other times, the same religions may coexist without this dramatization. Other distinctions such as social origins or ethnicity may dominate instead; in such contexts religion is no longer identity forming.

Over recent decades the religious identity of people living in Germany has been massively dramatized. Immigrants are often classified in terms of religion rather than ethnic, social, or national origins; this is above all the case when the religion is Islam. This has various effects on self-perception and the construction of personal identity. Over the same period, throughout Europe clothing has emerged as an extremely important, loaded field in respect to Moslem/non-Moslem coexistence. Meanwhile religiously neutral clothing has become nearly impossible; how one dresses has emerged as a sign of affiliation with or rejection of European majority culture with its specific ideals of religious order.

In actuality, clothing has been a field upon which religious demarcation is dramatized for centuries. Dress codes and other regulations have here been devised to force distinction. At the same time, religious groups have repeatedly recognized and used clothing as a sign of identity and distinction. Both food and residence (e.g. spatial separation) can serve as such fields of religious dramatization. Not least of all, in many periods language and writing have also been religiously loaded, such processes then ebbing in other periods. There has been little research on how and why the decline occurs, or on whether it is manifest to the same degree in non-monotheistic religions. Likewise, the question of what and how many areas of life are not religiously loaded in multi-religious coexistence can only be clarified through comparative diachronic and synchronic study. Such areas represent a sort of third space within which members of various religions have traditionally met. At times such a space might be constituted by economic activity, art, or science.

Dorothea Weltecke (on the basis of discussion with Matthias Armgarth, Steffen Dieffenbach, Özkan Ezli, Ulrich Gotter, Thomas G. Kirsch)

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