Why is the West becoming less religious
Long ways of German unity
Prof. Dr. Gert Pickel is Professor of Religious and Church Sociology at the Institute for Practical Theology at the Theological Faculty of the University of Leipzig. His focus is on the sociology of religion, democracy and political culture research.
Initial conditions of church affiliation and religiosity in West and East GermanyThe starting point for churches and religion in reunified Germany in 1989 was very different. In the old federal states there was still a "culture of denominational affiliation" (Pickel / Sammet 2011, p. 46), although since the early 1970s there has been an increasing number of people leaving the church and decreasing church practice. By contrast, socialism had created a "forced secularity" (Wohlrab-Sahr et al. 2009) and a "culture of non-denominational" (Pickel 1998, p. 207) through forced secularization in East Germany. The aggressive politics of the SED government, directed against religion and churches, proved to be more successful in the former Protestant heartland than anywhere else in the states of socialism, apart from Estonia.
The influence of the division of Germany on religiosity and church ties is evident in the dynamics of development between 1949 and 1989. After the Second World War, both areas had relatively similar initial conditions with regard to ties to the Christian churches. In the aftermath of the Second World War, church membership had risen to levels of up to 96% of the population, which had not been achieved for a long time. 81% of the total population of the GDR belonged to the Evangelical Church, while the proportion of Catholics was just under 14% (Pollack 2000, p. 19). In the Federal Republic of Germany, too, there was an overall considerable spread of Christian church ties: in 1949 around 50% belonged to the Protestant and 46% to the Catholic Church (Pollack 2000, p. 19). The unequal distribution between denominations in East Germany is due to its history as the starting point of the Reformation and a deeply anchored Protestant culture of belonging.
Reasons for the severe collapse of the churches in the GDRThe GDR leadership's aggressive anti-church policies are undoubtedly the main reason for the church's removal from the church and the break with tradition of Christianity in East Germany. It went through different phases in its repressive power, whereby the citizens of the GDR were always aware that belonging to a church brought professional and social disadvantages with it. This policy can be described as a state-organized struggle against the churches as a socially significant institution. In its aggressive early phase in particular, it brought considerable success for the GDR leadership. The 1950s were marked by high numbers of people leaving the Christian churches, especially the Protestant church, as well as falling baptism and confirmation numbers. Most Christians decided in favor of the latter when balancing the exercise of their faith and maintaining social access to education and work. But later phases of relaxation in the relationship between church and state, e.g. in the 1970s and 1980s, did not lead to a regeneration of membership (Pollack 1994). Rather, those who had resigned stayed outside the churches and accordingly raised their children at a distance from the church and without religious socialization.
The development after 1989 and its explanation
The future - secularization and religious pluralization with east-west differencesThe division of Germany between 1949 and 1989 has left significant differences in the religious landscape of the Federal Republic to this day. These will not go away anytime soon and may have political consequences. In addition to the different religious cultures, a second difference has established itself between West and East Germany: In West Germany, for example, we find increasing religious pluralization with a visible increase in the proportion of Muslim citizens, while in East Germany only the refugee movements since 2015 have a certain visibility this group brought with it. This different structure of religiosity has an impact. As the East Germans feel "completely normal" as non-denominational, they are sometimes more skeptical about religion and especially about Muslims. Studies by the Bertelsmann Stiftung show that East Germans feel more threatened than West Germans, although just under 1% Muslims live in East Germany (Pickel 2019, p. 80). In particular, low personal contacts, as well as the formation of opinions solely on the basis of the media, result in an Islamophobia in East Germany, which is to be classified as an important element in the choice of the AfD. Here, as in the perception as modern due to the increased spread of non-denominational and secularity, group-specific identity processes come into play, which at least in part have their origin in the division of Germany.
Literature:Decker, O./Brähler, E. (Ed.), Escape into the authoritarian. Right-wing extremist dynamics in the middle of society, Giessen 2018.
Großbölting, Th., The lost sky. Faith in Germany since 1945, Göttingen 2013.
Pollack, D., Church in the Organizational Society: On the Change in the Social Situation of the Protestant Churches in the GDR, Stuttgart 1994.
Pollack, D., The change in the religious-church situation in East Germany after 1989. An overview, in: Polack, D./Pickel, G. (Ed.), Religious and Church Change in East Germany 1989-1999, Opladen 2000, p 18-47.
Pollack, D./Müller, O., Religion Monitor. Understand what connects. Religiousness and cohesion in Germany, Gütersloh 2013.
Pickel, G., Non-denominational in West and East Germany - similar or different, in Polack, D./Pickel, G. (Ed.), Religiöser und kirchlicher Wandel in Ostdeutschland 1989-1999, Opladen 2000, pp. 206-235.
Pickel, G., Sociology of Religion. An introduction to central subject areas, Wiesbaden 2011.
Pickel, G., Is Talking About Religion Religious? Notes on the existence of a secular spiral of silence, in: Rose, M./Wermke, M. (Ed.), Religiöse Rede in postsäkularen Gesellschafen, Leipzig 2016.
Pickel, G., Development of Religiosity in Germany and its Political Implications, in: From Politics and Contemporary History 28-29 / 9. July 2018, pp. 22-27.
Pickel, G., Philosophical Diversity and Democracy. How religious plurality affects political culture, Gütersloh 2019.
Pickel, G./Hidalgo, O., Religion and Politics in United Germany, Wiesbaden 2013.
Pickel, G./Sammet, K. (Ed.), Religion and Religiosity in United Germany. Twenty years after the upheaval, Wiesbaden 2011.
Meulemann, H., After Secularization. Religiousness in Germany 1980-2012, Wiesbaden 2015.
Wohlrab-Sahr, M./Karstein, U./Schmidt-Lux, Th., Forced Secularity. Religious Change and Generational Dynamics in Eastern Germany, Frankfurt / Main 2009.
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