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The work of the research group finds its expression in various publication formats. In addition to monographs, edited volumes and articles by individual members of the research group, we also make (preliminary) research results available for academic discourse in the form of working papers.

Furthermore, with the Companion to the Study of Secularity, the research group is pursuing a long-term, collaborative publication project that aims to make research on phenomena of the conceptual distinction and structural differentiation of "religion" accessible to a larger academic audience and thus to contribute to opening up a new field of research and facilitating interdisciplinary exchange.

Working papers as well as entries for the Companion to the Study of Secularity are reviewed by at least two peers from the research group prior to publication.

Latest Publications

Karénina Kollmar-Paulenz
The “White History”: Religion and Secular Rule in Buddhist Mongolia

nameWith the assertion of Buddhism as the dominant religion at the end of the 16th century, a new reflection on the relationship between the secular and the religious commenced among the Mongols. They adopted the Joint Twofold System of Governance formulated in Buddhist Tibet, and adapted it to the Mongolian cultural context. This system of governance is described in the work “The White History”, written in the late 16th century, with the epistemic distinctions between the religious and the secular discursively negotiated in the work. Although the impact of these distinctions on the social differentiations of Mongolian society during the Qing period (1644–1911) remains to be investigated, the “White History” nonetheless provides a valuable insight into pre-modern Mongolian notions of the distinction between the religious and the secular.
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Haraldur Hreinsson
#24: Sagas and Secularity: The (Re)Construction of Secular Literature in 20th-century Iceland

#24: Sagas and Secularity: The (Re)Construction of Secular Literature in 20th-century IcelandThe study of secularity in Iceland has so far largely been restricted to institutional differentiation, alongside legal aspects of the relationship between the state and the country’s national church. This paper approaches the formation of secularity in the country from a different angle. Adopting a research perspective shaped by both cultural history and sociology of culture, it investigates the role of the Icelandic sagas, and the medieval culture which spawned them, in the development of secularity in Iceland. Instead of looking at the processes through which Christian religion came to be separated from other spheres of society, it probes the discourses legitimising such a separation. It pays special attention to the reception and understanding of the sagas and the medieval culture which produced them, and further asks how they provided a background against which a secular culture could be imagined, both in the past and for the present.
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Edith Franke and Ramona Jelinek-Menke, eds.
Handling Religious Things

The Material and the Social in Museums

Handling Religious Things

Museums are receiving currently a lot of public attention with regard to the material objects they host, and the historical and contemporary handling of these objects. There are global public debates about the origins, paths, and futures of museum things. Since at least 2018, with the report on the restitution of African cultural heritage, which Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy presented to the French president, the legitimacy of objects from colonial contexts in museums and collections in the global north has been widely debated. Furthermore, disciplines within cultural studies, including the study of religions, have taken a material turn, and now focus on the material, and thus also on museum things. This has brought the material dimension of religion into the focus of research in various disciplines. Studying materiality can thus open a pathway for potential critique of established patterns in research, historiography, and society, widening our perspective. It was against this multifaceted background that the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Religion (ZIR) and the Museum of Religions (Religionskundliche Sammlung) of the Philipps-University Marburg, the Museum of the Frankfurt Cathedral, and the GRASSI Museum of Ethnology in Leipzig formed a research network on the topic of Dynamics of Religious Things in Museums (Dynamiken religiöser Dinge im Museum, REDIM in short). This cooperative alliance, under the leadership of the ZIR, is based on the common interest in the relevance of religious materials in museums for social transformation, and in how social processes are reflected by material things.

Franke, Edith, und Ramona Jelinek-Menke, eds. Handling Religious Things: The Material and the Social in Museums. Hildesheim: Olms, 2022.

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Hubert Seiwert
Theory of Religion and Historical Research. A Critical Realist Perspective on the Study of Religion as an Empirical Discipline

Theory of Religion and Historical Research. A Critical Realist Perspective on the Study of Religion as an Empirical Discipline

The article discusses the connection between theory formation and historical research in the study of religion. It presupposes that the study of religion is conceived of as an empirical discipline. The empirical basis of theories is provide  primarily by historical research, including research in the very recent past, that is, the present time. Research in the history of religions, therefore, is an indispensable part of the study of religion. However, in recent discussions on the methods, aims, and theoretical presuppositions of the discipline, research in the history of religions largely is ignored. To shed some light on this blind spot, the article builds on the philosophy of science of Critical Realism. While the first part deals with the role of historical research in theoretical discourses of the discipline, the second part explains fundamental ontological and epistemological positions of Critical Realism and their implications for empirical research. On this basis, some methodological problems of theory formation in the study of religion are discussed in the third part. In particular, it is argued that it is impossible to validate empirically theories of religion that aim to explain what religion is. The concluding part sketches ways of theory formation in the study of religion that does not take religion as the explanandum but as the theoretical perspective that guides research.

Responses (Published in Zeitschrift für Religionswissenschaften 29, no. 2 (2021))

Mark Q. Gardiner and Steven Engler: "Allies in the Fullness of Theory." (pp. 259–67)
Stausberg, Michael: "The Abyss of Intransitivity: On Critical Realism and Theories of Religion." (pp. 268–74)
Becker, Carmen: "Returning to the Empirical after the Discursive Turn? A Response to Hubert Seiwert." (pp. 275–80)
Schmidt-Leukel, Perry: "Religion: Historical Fact or Interpretive Theory? A Response to Hubert Seiwert." (pp. 281–84)
Taves, Ann: "Religion, Religious: Can Anti-Definitionalists Stay Tethered to the Study of Religion?" (pp. 285–89)
Seiwert, Hubert: "Reply to the Responses." (pp. 290–98)

Seiwert, Hubert. “Theory of Religion and Historical Research. A Critical Realist Perspective on the Study of Religion as an Empirical Discipline.” Zeitschrift für Religionswissenschaft 28, no. 2 (2020): 207–36.

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