Mission Statement and participating institutions

Mission Statement and participating institutions

1. General Orientation


The Research Centre “Religion and Transformation in Contemporary European Society” investigates the contribution of religion to contemporary transformation processes and vice versa examines the influence of transformation processes on religion.

The platform is based at the University of Vienna under the direction of Kurt Appel. It is an interdisciplinary research community including seven faculties:        

The program focuses on the growing diversity of European societies and its impact on issues of pluralistic participation in social, political, religious and cultural spheres. In the broader context of migration, mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion will be examined which are often related to systems of values and social and religious structures. The relevance of this topic is made evident by the fact that religion can be either an integrative factor in society or contribute to discrimination and exclusion. Besides the questions concerning “inclusion and exclusion” and the “transgression of borders” that are both closely related to the issue of “religion and migration”, the Research Centre is also concerned with monotheistic religion’s universal ethical and noetic claims, condensed and expressed in conceptions of God in the context of a multicultural society. In addition, the juridical aspects of religious and religion-related transformation processes as well as the paradigmatic changes in constructions of social meaning and value systems will be a subject of analysis.

In respect to the methodology, the interdisciplinary character of the Research Centre is expressed in the application of both empirical and hermeneutical approaches. The Research Centre considers the hermeneutics of religious texts in so far as hermeneutics is of importance to the self-understanding of religions and hermeneutics functions as a catalyst for conflicts and societal processes of inclusion and exclusion. The cooperation between scientific disciplines provides the foundation for interdisciplinary complementarities and synergies.

Following 4 thematic areas are discussed in these clusters (klick for more details)

2. Goals, methods and innovation of the platform


1. Within the context of the genesis of modern European society, religion in its various confessional formations and its meaning for the self-conception of the social system is subject to fundamental transformation. The transition to modern social structures leads to a differentiation of society into a multitude of sub-systems with specific functional logistics (economy, sciences, fine arts, law, etc.). Through manifold processes of inclusion and exclusion these sub-systems control the public’s participation in societal affairs. Consequently, religion has also turned into a sub-system of society. This has fundamentally changed religion’s self-understanding in modern times–the Christian religious system is no longer the obvious integrative agent in society. In the European context religion finds itself increasingly confronted with a cultural and social environment that no longer understands itself as being explicitly religious. Its members´ claims and activities are no longer legitimized on a religious basis. This process, which is described as secularization in sociology and political sciences, did not simply lead to the disappearance of religion from modern society but instead led to the complex transformation of society and religion. The practiced religion of modern society has increasingly dissociated itself from institutional embeddings and has concentrated upon questions of individuality at the intersection of sociality and personality. These changes in the traditional forms of religion, as they are apparent in the Christian confessions in Europe, also apply to the religious self-description and social configurations of all religions that have to legitimize and identify themselves in a pluralistic society and in the process of the absorption as well as dismissal of rationality concerning enlightenment. The result is a dislocation of religion’s self-understanding that used to be characterized by the perception of being the state-approved agent of legitimacy and the cosmic power or logos defining society’s structures of meaning. Now religion is perceived as a private agent for the ultimate meaning in the individual’s life and as a cause for specific forms of social classes and cultural communities. Religious institutions are subject to an increasing erosion and decline as religion focuses upon the requirements of the individual in modern society and thus enhances a fundamental change of religious forms and the pluralisation of religion. Traditional, modernized and individualized forms of religion operate in the religious domain that affirm or discard the modern currents of a secularized world resulting in an extreme dissonance of the religious ways of life.

2. The research program aims at understanding and explaining the meaning of religion in contemporary societal transformation processes and, vice versa, at reflecting upon the social and political changes that influence religions and theological self-reflections. Questions concerning religion and migration and the resulting inclusion and exclusion mechanisms are of crucial importance here. The cohesive force of religions in modern societies is critically examined. That is to say, whether the universal self-understanding of the great monotheistic religions can be synthesized with a pluralistic vision of Europe as a model for global societal and communal life, and how such a synthesis can be juridically processed. From a theological perspective this issue is related to the question of the “essence” of religion and universality of monotheistic conceptions of God as critique of functional appropriations of God and its resulting societal inclusions and exclusions. Notably in social and political sciences the genesis of religious identities and the participation of religious minorities in societal and political processes are the focus of attention. Here again the phenomenon of migration is of great importance as it not only strengthens religion’s role in identity formation and exclusion mechanisms but also incites new forms of noetic, moral and religious identities in search of proper forms of communal life and mutual dialogue. An important aspect in the context of religious transformation processes concerns the radical changes in structures of meaning and values as a result of these processes. The hermeneutics and the reception of religious texts deals with the question of whether and how religious convictions and its textual foundations can either be constructively related to societal discourse or instead contribute only to religion’s own systems of reference. The Research Centre takes care of the aspect of interreligious and intercultural didactics.

3. Transformations of religion in modern societies, incited and accelerated by processes of modernisation and globalisation, can only be constructively and analytically researched when various scientific disciplines and perspectives representing a variety of research methods cooperate. Thus far, the relation between social change and religious transformations has hardly been studied. What exact changes that result from modernization and pluralization (notably also migration) can be distinguished in complex religious systems on the one hand and in liberal democracies on the other? How is religion passed down, communicated, identified with and habitualized? What is religion’s influence on processes of inclusion and exclusion in society and economy, and what is the impact of “religious citizenship” on the ability of specific actors to participate in political processes? These questions and their contexts cannot be answered and grasped only from one methodological perspective. Instead, the analysis of secularization, de- and re-Christianization and religious pluralism demands a combination of empirical and cultural-philosophical methods. A methodologically constructive research on the current religious situation and its conflict potential requires collaboration of religious-philosophical, cultural-hermeneutical, empirical and normative perspectives. This is realized in the Research Centre in which various scientific disciplines will cooperate in a joint study of religion.

4. The research activities of the Research Centre members are embedded in international networks and are based on established cooperation with scientific institutes and scholar departments.

The Research Centre is engaged in a range of already existing international and national research projects. The existing cooperations will be expanded and deepened and hence the advancement of junior researchers will be enhanced.  It will contribute to the aim of increasing the visibility of the research activities of the University of Vienna by disseminating its findings in international and European contexts.