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FU-BEST 32: Christianity and Modernity in Contemporary Germany

InstructorRosa Coco Schinagl
Credit Points6 ECTS / 3 U.S. credits


The Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches in Germany (and in much of Europe, for that matter) are experiencing a rapid decline in membership. Can one make the claim that in the last two centuries, society has become less and less "religiously musical" (Max Weber)? Or can one offer other hypotheses to explain this (post-)modern phenomenon? In this course, we will examine the question of how Christianity has shaped German society and whether and where we (still) find these influences today.

The prognosis about membership figures for the established churches in Germany is one of decline – soon one might no longer be able to speak of a predominantly Christian society, but of a Christian minority, if one takes the prevailing statistics as a guideline. This will be an experience of radical change for the churches as well as society as a whole. What role will the churches play in Germany when they no longer represent a majority of the population? Will their influence on society diminish dramatically? Does this inevitably mean the decline of Christianity as such and the strengthening of non-religious secularism? Does religion no longer play a role at all? Alternatively, if religion remains important, what opportunities are hidden in this change for society – and the churches?

In this course, the specific historical background of Germany – albeit with some European contextualization – will be considered, where an almost unique situation of interplay between state and church has been made possible in Europe, because the Christian denominations are financed by a church tax and enjoy special rights (e.g. in the area of labor law). The churches also have a socially diverse impact, in various social areas as well as in the art and cultural scene. In order to understand these complexities, the course will explore the historical specificities of Christianity in Germany. We will explore different areas in which the churches continue to play a role, such as education and the media. We will also get to know innovative projects that rethink the church as a space, as digital church services and similar developments have been around for a long time. At several points, we will host special guests. Towards the end of the course, after discussing different aspects of societies, we will explore the argument that several societal elements are still deeply bound to Christian faith and understanding, despite having been profoundly influenced by "(post)modernity". Given that this course entails an ecumenical perspective, it will be taught by a Protestant instructor in dialogue with a Catholic theologian (two sessions at least).