The Research Group is engaged with the claim of a renaissance of the religious, which has become a stable topos in both the academic and public realm and which appears to upend the prevalent thesis of secularisation.
It debated how the proclamation of truth in religious speech, which has often been trivialised in modern philosophy and theology, can be understood and in how far it is an integral element of belief. In this context, the RG tried to clarify the relation of religion's truth claim to the truth claim of reason in an appropriate manner. Further, the RG asked how the role of religion in the public realm can be re-defined in light of multicultural diversity and the increased focus of ethical debates on a universal claim of human rights.
The Research Group was concluded when its spokesperson Christoph Halbig left the Junge Akademie in summer 2007.
From the detailed project description:
The thesis of secularisation has two aspects:
- Descriptively, it purported that religion in post-traditional societies is subject to pluralisation and individualisation ('patchwork religion') and will eventually disappear.
- Normatively, it was connected to the conviction that the religious, with its roots in pre-scientific worldviews and its connection to anti-autonomy conceptions of ethics, could not make a contribution to an agreement on normative foundations of modern societies beyond its significance as a cultural memory topos.
Both theses have lost their plausibility almost completely. The descriptive thesis is opposed by religious orientation's power to shape society and politics in countries like the USA or Latin America, as well as by the complex interrelationship between processes of modernisation and religious movements of renewal in Islam. The normative thesis is contradicted by the argument that, even liberal secular states rely on prerequisites they cannot guarantee themselves. This corresponds to the attempt of countering the lack of motivational and identity-shaping power of ethics based on reason or discourse with a recourse to religious values, which would, however, transform these.
In the context of these debates, the Research Group drew on two specific problem-areas:
The truth claim of the religious
The truth claim appears to be central for the self-conception of religious people. The devout Christian does not believe to represent a particular conception of the world and the self, but claims to make true statements on nature, society and humankind. This claim is blocked out for various reasons that should be investigated in the debate on religion: Both in philosophy and in modern theology, interpretations of religious speech have been developed, and according to which, its function is not to make claims concerning reality, but to express feelings ("sense and taste for the infinite") or ethical orientations. And in the realm of ethics, religious claims to the validity of behavioural norms (even if motivational resources are ascribed to the religious) are perceived as intolerant towards divergent convictions and, consequently, as latent fundamentalism.
In the context of the RG, however, it was assumed that the question of religion's truth claim is not a trivial one. Philosophically, it should be examined whether the truth claim is an integral element of belief (at least in its theist form), or whether it is the result of an exterior (for instance philosophical) transformation, and how it relates to the truth claim of reason. With a view towards other academic disciplines (for instance history, law, sociology), the seemingly settled question of the relationship between belief and knowledge required a renewed debate. Such an interdisciplinary debate could provide a more solid foundation for the current problems of interreligious dialogue.
The position of religion in the public space
The separation of religion and politics is regarded as a decisive accomplishment of western history. In its European manifestation, however, it is tied to historical experiences (Investiture Controversy, Confessional Wars) and developments in the history of thought (Enlightenment, theological Rationalisatin), which failed to materialise in other religious traditions.
Even within Christianity there are tendencies, even on the basis of a fundamental acceptance of the separation of church and state, on the conveying of indispensable norms, to formulate, at least ex negativo, guidelines for political action. Moreover, the confessional homogeneity of political spaces has largely dissolved in western multicultural societies. The co-existence of different religions puts outdated institutions of national states to the test, as does the simultaneous formation of a universal ethos based on the concept of human rights, which is positioned, paradoxically, precisely by particular religious communities for the defence of their rights (for instance concerning the question of purity requirements).
In the context of the RG's work, the emerging constellations were illuminated descriptively from different perspectives (e.g. history, sociology, political sciences) in order to question the normative implications for a re-definition of religion in the public space (philosophy, law).