Religion and Secularism

When we speak of the present age as “secular”, we evoke a multiplicity of meanings. We sometimes refer to the fact that God or religion is no longer present in public life, or else we refer to the decline of belief and religious practice in our time. Modern secularity must be understood as a field of increasingly multiform contestation, in which every position is rendered uneasy and questionable because it can be challenged from many angles.

And yet, this situation has begun to change and will continue to do so under the impact of globalization. Obviously a description of the process of secularization in the West cannot simply be applied to other cultures and civilizations. Some societies outside the West are facing the same problems and tensions, and sometimes respond with similar answers. However, in other societies we have to look closely how differently these problems and choices are understood. What does secularization or secularism really mean in other cultures? The same terms are taken up in very different traditions, and we lack even the right concepts and a framework with which to discuss them cross-culturally.

The goal of this research focus is to explore the ways in which globalization impacts the relationship between religion and secularism, thus intertwining the perspectives of different cultures, religions and theoretical backgrounds. The research is structured around five main topics: first, an examination of contemporary forms of belief and, second, of forms of disbelief; third, a study of different secular regimes; fourth, religion’s potential to mobilize people to violence, and, finally, the role of religion in creating social cohesion across gaps of income, ethnicity and nationality. To explore these subjects further, a series of conferences entitled Modes of Secularism and Religious Responses started in 2009.Religion, Menschen zu Gewalttaten zu mobilisieren, und fünftens der Fähigkeit der Religion, über Unterschiede von Einkommen, Ethnizität und Nationalität hinweg sozialen Zusammenhalt zu schaffen. Um diese Themen zu diskutieren, wurde im Jahre 2009 die Konferenzreihe Modes of Secularism and Religious Responses ins Leben gerufen.


Head of Program

Former Fellows & Guest