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Current and future research projects within CERES are and will be integrated into a Research Programme that is based on the following ideas and principles:


Religion and its Observation

“Religion” is not only a scientific invention. Even though the scientific perspective plays a part in constituting religion, religion holds an internal dynamic of its own while it simultaneously relates to other social facts.

Relational Religion

“Relational Religion“ forms the theoretical framework for a perception according to which the characteristics of single components within the religious field are defined not only by the point of view of the observer, but also in relation to other religious constituents as well as to other past and present social and cultural facts. The concept of “Relational Religion” does not imply an a priori given notion of religion that is then applied to empirical findings; rather, religion emerges and is defined by relations.
The perspective of “Relational Religion” does not seek to relativize its subject. Instead, stressing relationality should allow for a scientifically verifiable access to observable phenomena.

Complex Emergence

From the perspective of “Relational Religion”, the religious field is understood as a complex system whose components generate themselves in multilayered emergence processes. From a historical perspective, however, one can also speak of the “emergence of religion” in the sense of an ongoing conceptual abstraction of “religion”.

Resonances and Figurations

The term “resonances” describes the interrelations in the form of impetuses between single components that lead to stimulation, intensification and transformation (including the emergence of new and the destruction of already existing components), thus, to interrelations within the religious field and of the religious field altogether. The term “figurations” stresses the structural aspect and stands for varying semantic and social patterns whose components under this perspective define themselves in their position to one another.

Religious Field

“Religious Field” outlines the extensional frame (that can–at least historically–only be defined in advance and remains flexible, according to subject matter), the interplay of religious resonances and figurations in their entirety. “In and beyond” addresses the interdependencies both within the religious field and of the field as such including its environment, thereby addressing its variable contours.

The Concept of Religion

What is called “Religion” materializes in and takes effect on all four basic dimensions of dialectical processes between the mental and the social:

  • In knowledge that gives orientation,
  • in experiences that generate evidence,
  • in actions that will serve planning, controlling and achieving objectives,
  • in working on material foundations that will co-determine mental and social developments.

In specific religious situations, all four dimensions come into operation simultaneously. For instance, actions can only be taken on the basis of existing knowledge, and knowledge is generated by experience. Analytically, however, it makes sense to investigate the relation between religion and each of those dimensions to grasp the developments not only in every dimension, but also in their interactions.
Religion provides knowledge, experiences, actions and the relation to the material (which is, in its turn, coded in social communication and represented mentally) with a specific transcendent meaning, thus constitutes a special form of adaptation of contingency.
Assuming that the religious field time and again reconfigures itself internally by intra- and interreligious negotiations as well as externally in resonance with other social spheres, we can then examine religious processes according to their endogenous and exogenous conditions, forms, and results.
We aim to develop a theory appropriate for the history of religion based on the theorems pointed out above and by means of research on the material history of religion.

Implementing the Research Programme

The research programme is divided into the following sections:

  • A: Emergence of the Religious Field
  • B: Religion & Knowledge
  • C: Religion & Experiences
  • D: Religion & Material Foundations
  • E: Religion & Action

Section A covers the field in its entirety, whereas sections B–E focus on one of the dimensions mentioned above and on the interrelations between religion and the respective social spheres.
Social differentiation leads to the emergence of other fields like science, art, economy, health, politics, law, and education. Each of these fields correlates primarily with one of the dimensions.

In light of intercultural comparison (and unlike older modernization theories suggest), we can not speak of a consistent and unilinear process of differentiation. We should rather assume the contemporary of the non-contemporary, cycles of differentiation and dedifferentiation at different times and under different socio-cultural conditions.
But even where there is no clearly defined social differentiation, there exist other than religious forms that deal with different dimensions: those that liberate themselves from religion (secularization) or those that exist independently from religion but correlate with it.
Consequently, the religious field as such is subjected to definition attempts by other social spheres like politics, law, economy, science, medicine, art, and education that are trying to impose their own intrinsic logic on the religious field. Thus, the dynamics in the history of religion and the boundaries of the religious field are not only shaped by religious contacts, but are also part of social structural movements.