Is your religion your identity

11.12.2019 14:02

How religion divides and connects people

Dipl.-Journ. Carsten Heckmann University communication / media department
University of Leipzig

The issues of religion and religious identity have gained visibility in the public debate, despite secularization. There is uncertainty in many places about how to deal with religious affiliations, especially Islam. A German-Swiss research project led by the Universities of Leipzig and Lucerne carried out a population survey to investigate whether religion is important for one's own identity and whether it separates people or connects them with one another. Their religious identity is therefore important to a majority of Germans and half of Swiss. It can have great social and socio-political significance.

"On the one hand, a strong religious identity in dogmatic religious groups creates demarcation processes and potential for conflict, on the other hand it has a bridge-building effect and strengthens social cohesion," says Prof. Dr. Gert Pickel, sociologist of religion at the University of Leipzig (see also the interview with him below). Together with the political scientist Prof. Dr. Antonius Liedhegener from the University of Lucerne, Pickel heads the project “Configurations of individual and collective religious identities and their potential for civil society”, or KONID for short.

The research report "How religion divides 'us' - and connects" presents the first results of the KONID project. The participating scientists examined 21 possible social identities, among which the religious one has a considerable importance: 57 percent of the Germans and 50 percent of the Swiss their religious affiliation is (somewhat to extremely) important. At the same time, 66 percent (Germany) and 60 percent (Switzerland) of those who show a pronounced religious identity are in favor of an interreligious dialogue. In general, the results in Germany and Switzerland are similar for most of the answers.

Religion plays an important role, especially for members of free churches and for Muslims. But they also most frequently report experiences of discrimination, which, according to the report, are overall moderate. Another result for these groups: positions according to which "in case of conflict" religion should be given priority over the constitution are more pronounced in Germany among members of free churches (30 percent) and Muslims (25 percent) than in other population groups . The researchers consider religion to be less of a problem than religious-dogmatic and authoritarian attitudes that shape attitudes towards one's own and other religions.

The scientists also state that religiosity and commitment are mutually reinforcing. "Anyone who regards their religious identity as extremely important in Germany is much more likely to be socially committed (59 percent) than someone for whom this social identity is completely unimportant (48 percent)," says the research report.

The "KONID Survey 2019" is a representative population survey in Germany and Switzerland. In it, over 3,000 people over the age of 16 were questioned about civil society, social identities, religious identity and religiosity, some of which were newly developed instruments for measuring collective identities. In addition to the two project leaders, the authors of the published report are the theologian Yvonne Jaeckel, the sociologist Dr. Alexander Yendell (both University of Leipzig) and the religious scholar Anastas Odermatt (University of Lucerne). The KONID project funded by the German Research Foundation and the Swiss National Science Foundation is the quantitative part of the interdisciplinary research network “Social Groups and Religious Identities in Civil Society (RESIC)”.

Interview with Prof. Dr. Gert pimple

You have developed a new survey instrument on the subject of social identities. What can that mean?

So far, for example, questions about religiosity have been asked: How religious are you? Or: Do you believe in God? What people tend not to ask: How important is your belief to you? And how important is it to belong to your religious group? In order to capture this, we have developed a very complex instrument, in which it is first of all a matter of self-assessment of the importance of religious identity. Secondly, it is about the perception that one's own social environment has of one's own religious identity, thirdly, whether one experiences discrimination on the basis of one's religious affiliation. A fourth point is how to relate yourself to others. Here we asked, for example, how good it would be if your child marries someone of a different religion.

Above all, they focus on religious identity. Why?

Overall, we speak of a multiple identity for every human being. In this mix, however, religious identity seems to play a more important role than is thought in today's societies, which are largely viewed as secular. Religion, for example, has gained a great deal of importance in public debates, often as a delimitation and problem feature. This is especially true in connection with migration. It is seldom viewed in a differentiated manner, and most of the time we focus today on highly individualized forms of personal religiosity. But religion has a lot to do with identity and group membership. Accordingly, it is extremely exciting to do intensive research on this.

We come to the results published today. How important is religious identity?

The figures show that it is of considerable importance in German as well as in Swiss society, I would say a significantly higher level than many think. Of course there are other social identities such as family or friends that are even more important to people. But there are also aspects of identity that are less classified, including social class or the region where you live.

You have already mentioned: religion and religious affiliation are often seen as the starting point for tension and conflict. What do your survey results say about it? And what positive effects of a strong religious identity can you name?

Our results show: On the one hand, a strong religious identity in dogmatic religious groups creates processes of demarcation and potential for conflict, but on the other hand it also has a bridge-building effect and strengthens social cohesion. Tensions arise above all when religious groups tend to delimit, sometimes even devalue, other religious groups.

Social identities are always group identities as well, so it's not just about the individual, but about the community. This can sometimes lead to generalized group assignments. So we are talking about “the Christians” and “the Muslims”, although both groups are inherently very heterogeneous. Of course you can counteract this. I therefore see the positive effects of religion primarily in social capital. There are contact offers, there are initiatives to promote mutual understanding and to question threat scenarios. Interreligious dialogue is the keyword. This is what 66 percent of those in Germany who show a pronounced religious identity want.

So a reason for optimism?

Yes, absolutely. But another result is cause for concern. The question of whether the rules and values ​​of one's own religion "in the event of a conflict", as we have formulated it, should take precedence over the constitution, is answered in the affirmative by 30 percent of members of free churches and 25 percent of Muslims, but only 10 percent of Protestants and Catholic Christians. It should be emphasized: The vast majority in all groups does not see it that way, and there must first be a "conflict". Still, the numbers are noteworthy.

How do the higher values ​​come about?

Of course, this requires further research. Perhaps so much: For people of Islamic faith, origin and a different, sometimes more conservative socialization could play a role. For example, if I come from a country where religion plays a very strong role, perhaps where it is the state religion, then I bring this experience with me to Germany. There is also what is often associated with the phrase “living in the diaspora”. If I belong to a religious group that is a minority and is not fully integrated into a society, I get the feeling that I have to rely on precisely this religious identity for my self-worth. So I retreat to what appears to be a safe area. Experiences of discrimination in particular could have a massive reinforcement effect for isolation.

You have carried out representative surveys. Are they also representative with regard to Muslims in Germany?

We don't have a resilient population for the Muslims in Germany, you have to say that clearly. This is mainly due to the structure of the community. As a result, as with other studies currently available, we are unable to compare it with structural data. But we have done a lot to be able to make fairly representative statements here. For example, we not only asked the German-speaking Muslims, but also translated the questions into Turkish, Arabic and other languages.

What are you exploring next?

We want to take a closer look at some factors, for example the effects of the personal environment and the influences of one's own personality traits. We also want to take a more differentiated look at the individual religions.

Scientific contact:

KONID team Germany
Prof. Dr. Gert pimple
University of Leipzig
Faculty of Theology
Martin Luther Ring 3
D-04109 Leipzig
Tel: +49 341 97-35463
Email: [email protected]

KONID team Switzerland
Prof. Dr. Antonius Liedhegener
University of Lucerne
Center for Religion, Economics and Politics (ZRWP)
Frohburgstrasse 3 / PF 4466
CH-6002 Lucerne
Tel: +41 41 229 59 13
Email: [email protected]

Original publication:

Liedhegener, Antonius / Pickel, Gert / Odermatt, Anastas / Yendell, Alexander / Jaeckel, Yvonne: How religion separates "us" - and connects. Findings of a representative survey on the social role of religious and social identities in Germany and Switzerland 2019 (research report). Lucerne / Leipzig 2019. DOI: 10.5281 / zenodo.3560792 (CH) / 10.36730 / rtv.2019 (DE)
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Features of this press release:
Society, religion
research results