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Religion in the Study of Culture

Over the passing years, various aspects of religion have played a prominent role in public debates on culture and politics. On an international level, the complex interrelatedness of religion, culture, and politics has become ever relevant in the aftermath of significant historical events such as the Iranian Revolution and 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, the academic study of religion and culture has recently gained a significant momentum. Some scholars from disciplines including but not limited to literary studies, political science, history, visual & material culture, and anthropology have even argued for a “religious turn” in the study of culture. Experiencing this increasing visibility of religion in the public domain not only urges a re-evaluation of religion and religious phenomena, but goes hand in hand with a profound transformation of religious traditions as well. In line with these developments, our working group discusses nuanced heuristics to study the complex intersections of religion and culture in historical constellations, social praxis, and representations.


The Emerging Topic Working Group aims to:

  • a) encourage interdisciplinary and international exchange to gain a vista on intersections of religion and culture; to explore aspects of religion as an instance of cultural meaning and constellation.
  • b) engage with the role of sacred sites, ritual practices, personal and collective convictions as well as the importance of powerful imagery in myths, sacred texts, material and visual culture as well as cultural memory.
  • c) engage with historical processes of medialization, de-institutionalization and the democratization of religious beliefs, symbols, and practices; to shed light on the contemporary role of religion and on the diverse and sometimes contradictory valuations of religion within cultural studies.
  • d) understand the various (symbolic) interpenetrations between the religious sphere and other societal realms, such as pop-culture, politics, and economy.


Members of the Emerging Topic Research Group- Religion & Culture are engaged in national and international collaborations. Projects are undertaken in close cooperation with the GCSC RAs and GGK AGs (most recently with RAs 6 and 7). In cooperation with the AG “Identities of Eastern Europe” the group has organized a workshop in January 2014 on religion and public sphere in post-Soviet Russia. In May 2018, the research group organized an international symposium on the concept of "Sacred Space" held at the GCSC. Most recently, we have been working on the topic of religion, violence, and nationalism.

Publication Project 'Sacred Spaces: Cultural Dynamics, Interdisciplinary Perspectives', Special Issue Saeculum: Jahrbuch für Universalgeschichte 71/2 (2021)

The special Issue develops a conceptual approach to the notion of “sacred spaces” in an interdisciplinary research context. Analyzing a broad range of material, the contributions explore the heuristic value of the term ‘sacred spaces’ and use it to develop fresh perspectives on established fields of cultural and historical research, such as the study of specific sites or structures, texts, ritual places, or the mediation of the ‘sacred’. Presenting a variety of case studies from different geographical settings and historical and contemporary contexts, the special issue explores the (de)construction of different types of sacred spaces and investigates their extended roles in society and culture. By doing so, it provides empirically dense studies that accentuate the complexities, contestations, and power issues accompanying the (attempted) sacralization of specific spaces and thus situate both social and academic sacred space-making within larger processes of social, cultural, or political transformation. The special issue presents the results of a long and intense debate on “sacred spaces” within the ETRG that included an international and interdisciplinary symposium held in Giessen in 2018.

International Symposium "Conceptualizing Sacred Space/s"

This symposium promoted the concept of “sacred space(s)” as a point of entry for bringing together recent theoretical work on space and place with the study of culture and the study/anthropology of religion. Furthermore, the symposium explored the changing, and at times conflicting, imaginations of the “sacred” and their role in the making and unmaking of specific spatial configurations and features in past and present contexts. The goal of the symposium was twofold: first, it aimed at fostering an interdisciplinary dialogue in the study of spatial(izing) formations of the “sacred” and its cultural dynamics. Second, by focusing on the multiple layers, inner frictions and dynamics of “sacred space(s)”, it attempted to challenge an analytical vocabulary that is based on conventional dichotomies such as religious/secular, traditional/modern or sacred/profane. For further information, list of participants, and booklet see the conference webpage.

During the past semesters, the Research Group (co-)organized and participated in a number of research events


Participating Scholars

Dr. Doris Bachmann-Medick
Juan Brigard, MA
Christoph Held, MA (speaker)
Dr. Jens Kugele (speaker)
Simon Rothers, MA
Prof. Dr. Katharina Stornig (former speaker)
Martin Jockel, Mag. theol.

Former Participating Scholars

Elisabeth Engler-Starck, MA
Mina Ibrahim, MA (former speaker)
Josephine Karg, MA
Eva-Maria Müller, MA
Galina Novikova, MA
Dr. Johanna Scherb
Prof. Dr. Matthias Schmidt
Mareike Zapp, MA


If you are interested in the work of our research group, if you would like to join us, have ideas for an event, a cooperation, or any questions, please contact us. We are looking forward to the exchange with you: