Religionens betydning – globalt og lokalt / Significance of religion – from global to local
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Overall aim and background
The research group explores the significance of religion in society. The research programme aims at developing a comprehensive and updated understanding of the societal impact of religion and explaining the main determinants of the (re)emergence of religion. This is based on an understanding of religion as a matter of fact, whether as an institutional or non-institutional phenomenon.
The meaning and the validity of the secularization thesis itself are contested. There is a need of both clarifying the concept of secularization and framing the issue of secularization in terms of context. Secularization can be understood as implying a differentiation of the secular spheres from religious norms and institutions, and thereby as a decline in the salience of religion at a societal level; as referring to a decline of religious beliefs and practices at the level of the individual; as a relocation of religion to the private sphere; and, finally, as a decline of established religions followed by the rise of new or revitalized ones. Accordingly, secularization seems either the result of the modernization of Western societies and therefore unique to that historical process, or a feature characterizing religion at all times in all societies, and therefore having little bearing on modernization as such. When looking both at the European countries and at the global society as a whole, the concept of secularization, and likewise that of de-secularization seem unable to provide adequate responses to the current situation characterized by the resurgence of religion, and by various attempts of specific religious movements and churches worldwide to make religion into a public influential power. The rise of new individualized and deregulated forms of believing in, especially, Europe, of religious fundamentalist movements and religious nationalism global wide, and the increasing importance of religion as provider of political, legal and moral norms indicate the stronghold of religion. Recognizing that religion is neither disappearing nor resurfacing in previously recognizable forms, but simply occurs as a matter of fact may point to the emergence of post-secular societies.
In the Western societies at large, and, in particular, in the European context there is an urgent need to rethink the relationship between religion and politics, religion and citizenship, and religion and law, because, contrary to the presumptions of the secularization thesis, politics, citizenship and law seem to be influenced by both secular and religious notions and normative structures. Moreover, the differentiation of societal spheres brought about by processes of modernization is becoming challenged by forces working for a dedifferentiation and for giving religion and its values an increased importance in public life.
Understanding religion as a contextually anchored phenomenon, the research group aims at examining the various, still shifting and always negotiated significances, functions and roles of religion within different societal spheres, and at a local, national, regional and global level. Historically religion has been, and at present religion still is a symbolic resource in the process of society formation, nation-state building and political legitimation. Religion is a public force that both maintains status-quo and has a transforming effect depending on context, institutional conditions, discourses, the relative strength of competing constituencies, and political climate. At the level of the individual and at the level of social groups, religion serves as a resource of identity and community building, as a normative reference guiding practices and values, and as a locus of transcendence. As a ritual provider religion plays a crucial role in the formation and solidification of belief communities, and it functions both as an integrative and differentiating force.
In researching religion the research group will develop a conceptual, self-reflective approach. Such an approach is needed not just to explore the degree to which religious ideas are embedded in the seemingly secular notions of social sciences, but also to critically scrutinize the extent to which often stereotypical and ‘othering' images of specific religions and religious movements (e.g. Islam, Buddhism, and fundamentalist Christian movements) are rooted in mainstream social science vocabulary.
The research group is multi-disciplinary, including perspectives and analytical strategies coming from sociology, anthropology, political science, legal theory, gender theory, urban studies, and political and moral philosophy.
In contributing to a comprehensive understanding of the significance(s) of religion in society, the research group focuses on the following four sub themes:
Religion and law relation
The research considers the modern distinctions between religious and secular categories on top of the post-secular recognition of possible intertwinements within these categories, which form the basis of models that regulate law and religion systems in the Nordic countries, in Europe and worldwide. Recognizing that state-building in post-secular times also have normative underpinnings opens up the possibility of exploring the role of religion in the public and in the legal sphere. There is a need of rethinking the relations between state and religion to understand the practical and principal changes within the content of different dimensions of the legal system, and to understand how the concept of ‘rule of law' will be defined in a new globalized and multi-religious context.
The intersection of religion, ethnicity, gender and sexuality
The research investigates the intersection of religion, ethnicity, gender and sexuality at the level of practices, institutions and discourses in, among other things, Denmark and various regions in Africa and the Middle East. Religious and secular institutions, groups and individuals are engaged in hegemonic and minority identity politics struggling for legal and cultural recognition and for political influence and power. Processes of intersecting religious, gender, ethnic and sexual identifications, associated with different belief communities and social movements, play a crucial role in the negotiation and contestation of the principles of democracy, and in boundary maintenance and symbolic distinctions. Religion both serves as an agent of social control, and as a locus for transforming and reconstructing the social ordering of gender and sexual relations. Religious beliefs and practices shape gender and sexual practices, identities and norms and vice versa. Religious majority and minority groups and belief communities increasingly come into conflict with demands for human rights, gender and sexual equality policies, and the general principles of freedom and equality of modern secular democracies. That said, religious movements also engage actively in defining and formulating concepts such as human rights, the good nation, the family, the citizen, and thereby provide alternative visions of society.
The political role of religion in a global society
The research explores political Islam in the Middle East and in the West; social mobilizations of religious movements in China and in the West; the Churches' participation in EU governance, and religious stakes on the EU agenda in terms of controversies over normative policy issues; the increasing public role of global religious movements, both Christian and Islamic ones, in Africa and among African migrant communities in terms of their ability to influence politics and political culture; and the use and abuse of religion-based ideologies in multicultural and multi-faith societies considering how religion is manifested in politics as a replacement for nationalism; and finally how religion is involved in processes of inclusion and exclusion in terms of nation, folk and citizenry.
The significance of religion as a social integrative force in urban settings
The research considers the great city as a laboratory for multiculturalism and multireligiousity, and as a locus for social cohesion. It explores both the significance of religion on people living in great cities who have to come to terms with new experiences, and the impact of urban settings on religion especially in terms of rituals understood as loci for reflection, sights and visions; and the significance of religion in integration policies that are designed and carried out by authorities at the local governmental level, and which are targeting various religious minority groups.