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MC7.1 "Religion and Politics" and "Church and State"

"Religion and Politics" and "Church and State": a Dichotomous Language of Legitimation

Coordination: Thomas Maissen, Michael Bergunder


This project examines how two dichotomous pairs of concepts – "religion and politics" and "church and state" – are used to delineate and legitimize the political sphere and political power in European countries as a pre-condition for establishing both colonial rule and new kinds of domestic (reform) politics, especially in Asian countries.

As specific pairs, these concepts evolved relatively late, not before the Italian Renaissance, to structure the age old debate how the temporal and spiritual powers are related. The occurrences of precisely these pairs of words in different – political – languages will serve heuristically as indicators to understand how this dichotomous interpretation of society has spread over the world and who – what authors, which social groups – have used it for what legitimizing end.

The contested distinction and the even more contested borderlines of specific competences are always moving and depend on the concrete situation. Hence there is not just one "European" or one "Asian" way to understand a particular term or such dichotomies. There interpretation changes not only over time, but also in different national and linguistic contexts. In the long run, the "political" power profits most if it is distinguished clearly from "religion", because it also becomes legitimized to define both spheres, thus limiting all encompassing claims for "religious" order. However, religious agents, such as missionaries, could also use the conceptual pairs to acquire an autonomous sphere of activity by exclusion of the state.

The separation of "church and state" and the establishment of distinct political and religious spheres is a core element within the teleological narrative of Western modernization and superiority. Until today, these concepts are still used as seemingly neutral analytical concepts for comparative research in historical and social studies. Religious studies in particular use the category "religion" as a universal category, and "politics" as its complementary and allegedly equally universal concept, although both are abstractions from the uniquely European experience of Christian churches domesticated by stately power, and, only then, sublimated in a deist understanding of – natural and rational – religion as a moral foundation of legitimate political rule.

While it would be illusionary to substitute these analytical concepts in scholarly (and colloquial) language, it is necessary to understand both their genealogy in European contexts and the historical references that were used to make them fit other cultural experiences. To continue ignoring this would preserve, within intellectual analysis itself, an asymmetrical conceptual sub-text that legitimizes superiority of the European modernity and unconsciously, but unavoidably, reduces other cultural developments to deficit stories.

Thomas Maissen has in previous work shown the importance of female allegories especially for the representation of pre-modern republics. Following the seminal works of Maurice Agulhon on Marianne, personifications of several European states in the 19th and 20th century have been studied quite well in the last two decades (Gall, Kreis et al.). All these authors, however, dealt with pre-modern personifications only in passing, because they started out from the idea that such personifications necessarily refer to the modern nation. Maissen, on the other hand, found the iconographic tradition especially of female chastity as an allegory of sovereignty (a concept itself developed only in the late 16th century) and the recurrence of motifs from Marian and Minervan iconography to represent early-modern republican rulership. His results have not yet been linked to the ongoing research on early-modern patriotism (e.g. Alexander Schmidt), where the classical notion of Pater Patriae plays an important role in many countries (for the Dutch case: Mörke) nor less have they been discussed in their importance in Asia (a first flow-chart of Marian images was established in the pilot for HRA2 but needs to be further expanded and substantiated with materials from Asia). Indeed, the concept of Pater Patriae itself has been systematically studied only for antiquity (Drexler), but without respect for its aftermath, its iconographic tradition and its repercussions in other parts of the world. It is to these questions that the pilot project would turn, in close cooperation with Monica Juneja, Barbara Mittler and Rudolf Wagner.


Indian Nation and Western Esotericism in the Late 19th Century 


Socialist Religions and Secularization in Nineteenth-Century France