NCSR 2008 - Urban Diversity and Religious Traditions
13-15 August 2008, Åbo Akademi University

Politics and Infrapolitics of Religion as a resource for the formation of moral action

Birgit Huber, Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

Formerly socialist Eastern Germany, in contrary to other postsocialist countries, appears to be experiencing a “post-Durkheimian phase”. “Post-Durkheimian” forms of religion in their purest expression detach the spiritual from the political in society. Thus the metaphor of a “moral vacuum” has often been used to characterize East Germany in the aftermath of socialism. The metaphor of a “moral vacuum” is of little help in any domain, but especially unhelpful for religion. In my proposed contribution to the plenum “Religion and politics” as far as to the plenum “Perspectives to religious education in schools” at the “19th Nordic Conference in Sociology of Religion” I will analyze how religion can be a resource for the formation of moral action. As a case study I have chosen a city and its region which were seen as symbol and even as an omen for the development of social clashes, especially with a racist background: It is the city of Hoyerswerda in Eastern Germany (Saxony) which has brought in the public eye after racist assaults in 1991, where I conducted an one-year ethnography living in the city.

I propose the hypothesis that the assaults have given the go-ahead for a “re-Christianization” of the city on the basis of Christian oriented groups existing during socialist times which is going on until recently. That definitly does not run parallel with a re-installation of the denominations (“Verkirchlichung”) as it is in some other postsocialist countries. Christian oriented groups in a Protestant but to the same extent in a Catholic context from my point of view built up a “culture of alternatives” during socialist times in Hoyerswerda and in its proximity. They have been concrete arenas of motivation and recognition for alternative ideas to socialist ideology of ‘what should be’ and conceptions of social order that develop within moral communication. People of different generations, socialised and educated in the context of such groups, are the most important actors for a striving for civility nowadays and are as such actors of a deprivatization of religion. Even the major of Hoyerswerda is a confessing Catholic and explicit member of one of the most influencing Catholic associations in the region. It is proudly thematized that the new premier of Saxony is a confessing Catholic, too, who moreover has taken part of a strong Catholic tradition, the Equestrian procession on Easter Sunday during the Holy Week close to Hoyerswerda. At the end of the day the region of Hoyerswerda can serve as a case study of how the domain of politics and that of civil society are intertwined.

As concrete arenas for negotiating motivation and recognition of moral action I have selected three spaces in Hoyerswerda. They are moreover crucial to the intertwining of politics and infrapolitics in the field of religion. These three spaces are firstly the work of Christian oriented politicians in the local public; secondly the explicitly Christian oriented grammar school “Johanneum”, whose board of trustees consists of parents of both denominations, and thirdly the Catholic children's home, an institution substituting the so-called socialist “state combine”. The children learn how to pray and how to organise the ecclesiastical year there. It is already the second generation of persons who were not religious who send their children to this Catholic children´s home. Both, the Christian oriented grammar school as far as the Catholic children´s home have been founded as a reaction to the racist assaults in 1991. In the second case it was by the help of nuns from a Catholic convent who came to Hoyerswerda from the Western part of Germany.

At least the case study in and around Hoyerswerda can build a basis for discussion about continuities between socialist and postsocialist times as far as about conceptualizations of morality.