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The Ambivalent Relationship between Politics and Religion: Interpretations and Explanatory Approaches

Joint meeting of the Sections “Sociology of Religion” and Political Sociology” of the German Sociological Association (DGS) and the Working Group “Politics and Religion” of the German Political Science Association (GPSA), in cooperation with the Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences “Multiple Secularities – Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities”

25 – 26 April 2019, University of Bamberg


Gert Pickel (KFG “Multiple Secularities”, Leipzig University), 

Thomas Kern (University of Bamberg), 

Insa Pruisken (University of Bamberg)


The relationship between religion and politics is considered ambivalent in modern (secular) societies: On the one hand, religion is often viewed by politics as a potential source of social conflict and thus as a threat to democracy. For political sociology, issues of emergence and management of religious conflicts come to the fore: What influence do religious motives have on political commitment? Under what conditions do religious conflicts lead to violence? How can religious conflicts be dealt with politically? Can religious communities themselves contribute to the solution of conflicts resulting from the pluralism of society? Religion is by no means perceived as a potential “source of conflict”. It has often made a significant contribution to the legitimation of political orders in history. Bellah (1967) coined the term civil religion. However, it often happens that the widespread – and normatively often “demanded” – separation of the two realms becomes blurred: the sacralisation of central political ideas and institutions such as “nation”, “nature”, “democracy” or “civil society” or “citizen” is a fundamental  condition for the emergence of stable institutional orders. The question therefore arises as to what contribution an extended concept of religion and religiosity can make to the understanding of the political in secular societies.


On the other hand, the idea of a principled separation of religion and politics is usually related to the claim that state authorities should not interfere with the interests of religious communities (or those of their members) and remain neutral in religio-ideological conflicts. However, in many countries people are persecuted or politically repressed for their beliefs. But even where religious freedom is respected, the legal foundations of separation between the two sides are variable and historically shaped. Consequently, different forms of “governance” of religious diversity have emerged in many countries, posing new challenges in the changing conditions of globalization. Religious representatives are also always anxious to assert their political influence on issues that are important for the lifestyle of their believers (abortion, headscarf, organ donation, etc.). In this context, religious sociology is currently engaged in an intensive debate on how the relationship between religion and politics affects the religiousness and religious vitality of a society. Do certain constellations in the relationship of both sides promote the vitality of religion? Is this possibly an explanation for different paths of secularisation?

Reciprocal processes of attraction and repulsion thus characterize the relationship between religion and politics. Religious sociology, political sociology and political science have each developed their own research traditions and conventions in dealing with the relationship between the two sides. These should be discussed at the conference. We kindly ask you to send us informative abstracts on these and other topics:

  • Democracy and Religion: Are there fundamental conflicts and contradictions between religion and democracy? What role can religious ideas and institutions play in the democratisation process?
  • Political Parties and Religion: What role does religion play in political parties? How has the relationship developed in recent years? How does religion affect the mobilisation processes of political parties?
  • The Role of Religion in Political Conflicts: What role does the religious dimension play in political conflicts? For example, in the global emergence of autocracies or in conflict over organ donation or migration?
  • Social and Religious Movements: To what extent do social, populist or religious movements interact and mingle? What role do politico-religious conflicts play in the emergence of religious or social movements?
  • Governance of Religious Diversity and Identity: How is Religion “regulated” politically? How does this change religious identities?
  • Religiosity and Political Attitudes: How are political attitudes and certain forms of personal religiosity related? For example, how does religiosity influence anti-Semitism, islamophobia or xenophobia?
  • Religion-State Relations and Religious Vitality: How can the relationship between state and religion be operationalised? What effects do specific constellations have on religious vitality in this relationship?  


The conference will be held in German.