Why do I keep getting religious questions

Religion and Social Differentiation: Social-Historical Analyzes on the Emergence of European Modernism


The aim of this essay is to examine to what extent the sociological theory of differentiation has the potential to make the contribution of religion to the development of European modernity understandable. In order to be able to deal with the question of religious influence on the development of the modern world in terms of differentiation theory, it is first necessary to explain the theoretical tools used. It must be shown what the essential statements of the theory of differentiation consist of, and it is necessary to indicate which concept of modernity is presupposed. The historical analysis then takes place.

Methodologically, the text thus represents a connection between problem-oriented theoretical fundamental considerations and historical-hermeneutic interpretations.

As a result of the investigation, we can establish that at the end of the 18th century the outlines of a newly emerging social formation can be seen: a functionally differentiated society. At this point in time, the processes of differentiating between different spheres of value and society are well advanced, both on the socio-structural level and on the level of discourse. While the Roman Church in the High Middle Ages preceded the emergence of different forms of differentiation in the assertion of a socially inalienable theological rationality, the course for the emergence of European modernity emerged in centuries-old opposing processes towards the end of the 18th century.


This article aims at testing the analytical potential the sociological theory of differentiation offers in understanding the contribution of religion for the emergence of European modernity. In order to be able to deal with this question, it is as a start necessary to explicate the theoretical means to be used. It has to be explained firstly what are the components of the sociological theory of differentiation and secondly which is the definition of modernity supposed. Only after that, we can start with the historical analysis.

In this respect, the article connects methodologically problem-centered theoretical considerations with historical-hermeneutical interpretations.

As a result, we can conclude that at the end of the 18th century, we can see the contours of a newly emerging social formation: namely, a functionally differentiated society. Processes of differentiation between different spheres of value and society were advanced at both the socio-structural and the discoursal level. While the Roman church preceded social development in the High Middle Ages by asserting its own theological rationality that could not be derived from society, over centuries tendencies towards self-assertion of secular spheres developed and at the end of the 18th century set the course for the emergence of the European modernity.

To what extent the differentiation-theoretical approach has the potential to make the contribution of religion to the development of European modernity comprehensible is the main question of this essay. In order to be able to treat the question of religious influence on the development of the modern world in differentiation-theoretical terms, it is necessary first required to explain the theoretical tools used. On the one hand, it must be shown what the essential statements of the theory of differentiation consist of; on the other hand, it is necessary to state which concept of modernity is presupposed. A socio-historical investigation with as far-reaching a question as the one raised here must, if it does not want to get lost in the depths of history, determine theoretical points of view from which the analysis should be made. And it has to explain what it is that it intends to explain, because only when the explanandum is defined can it be decided which historical processes and events are of analytical relevance and which are not.

The present essay begins with a proposal for the sociological definition of the concept of modernity (1.1.), Then undertakes a problem-oriented examination of the basic assumptions of differentiation theory (1.2.) And finally examines in large historical steps in an attempt to apply sociological distinctions to historical changes the contribution of religion to the emergence of European modernity (2.). The essay assumes that the breakthrough to modernity took place for the first time in Europe. At the same time, he takes into account that there are different paths for the development of modern societies, of which the European one is only one of several. However, the subject of this contribution does not represent the relationship between these different paths into modernity. Rather, it is about the emergence of European Modernity that cannot be understood without the fundamental influence of Christianity. Central features of European modernity, such as horizontal and vertical differentiation, already emerged in the Christian Middle Ages. Their emergence occurs primarily - according to the central thesis of this essay - however not through the direct transformation of Christian forms of meaning into non-Christian ones, but above all through the conflict with the validity and supremacy claims of Christianity. In order to be able to better grasp the contribution of Christianity to the development of European modernity, the proposal is made here to sharpen the differentiation-theoretical approach in terms of actor-theory and conflict-sociology.

Theoretical considerations

Reflections on the term and concept of modernity

The definition of constitutive features of modern societies is controversially discussed in sociology, and disagreement has increased again since more and more sociologists have followed the concept of multiple modernities (Eisenstadt 2000). Some go so far as to deny the definability of modernity and to see the unity of modernity in its contingency (Knöbl 2007). In contrast, the considerations made here insist on the inevitability of a sociological definition of the concept of modernity, because the assumption of a large number of moderns must also state what they mean by modernity and what the common characteristics of the different varieties of modern societies consist of (Berger 2006, p. 203) .

In contrast to the philosophical determinations of modernity, which often only focus on one principle, such as Hegel's principle of free subjectivity in his theory of bourgeois society, sociological theories of modernity usually make use of a multitude of criteria to capture their specifics. Daniel Lerner (1968, p. 387), for example, draws on five characteristics of modernity - self-sustaining economic growth, a democratic representative system, the spread of secular-rational norms, increasing mobility and the development of empathic foreign and individualistic self-perception - and Anthony Giddens (1996, p. 75 ff.) Four - capitalism, industrialization, nation state and the state's monopoly of power.

The draft to be presented here also assumes that modern societies, due to their complexity and their far-reaching dissolution and recombination capacities, cannot be captured in one factor, but a multi-paradigmatic approach is required to define them. Four features are named.

  1. 1.

    With most of the modern theories available - from Weber, Simmel and Troeltsch, through Bourdieu and Giddens to Luhmann - the concept represented here pursues a differentiation-theoretical approach, according to which modern Western societies are driven by the principle of a far-reaching one horizontal differentiation of social spheres such as law, economics, science, politics, art, religion, etc. Differentiation does not exclude interdependencies between the individual sub-areas and their mutual influence on one another, but expressly includes them. Even if the sub-areas do not act independently of one another, they internally follow self-imposed rationalization and increase logics.

  2. 2.

    The formation of different social spheres is closely connected with a second differentiation principle: with vertical separation of social constitutional levels. In contrast to premodern societies, institutions of power and cultural norms in modern societies no longer directly affect the way individuals conduct their lives. Rather, the social macro and micro levels are mediated with one another via a variety of mechanisms that grant freedom, with markets, formalized processes and organizations playing a central role. The detachment of individuals from their direct dependency on social milieus and social classes caused by functional differentiation and the resulting processes of individualization go hand in hand with the expansion of formalized organizations, legal provisions and political opportunity structures through which “society” affects the conveyed different forms of individual lifestyle (Beck 1983).

  3. 3.

    The dynamism of modern societies is based less on the relief effects that the individual functional systems provide for one another than primarily on the establishment of Forums of competition, i.e. from markets within the individual functional systems. Competitive forums, as we know them in business, politics, science, but also in school and training, represent an incentive to increase performance and mutual surpassing and are decisive engines of social dynamization. Under competitive conditions, there is a principle of delegitimation of authorities, traditional ties and habits that hardly any social practice can evade. There can be no ultimate goals in this process of permanent criticism and change, neither in democratic decision-making nor in scientific research or in economic practice. In this respect, modernity is not a project, as Habermas (1990a) claims, but a process that is in principle open-ended.

  4. 4.

    At the same time, however, modern societies are not helplessly at the mercy of these growth principles, but rather to autonomously justified self-limitation able to. Politics is bound by the principles of the separation of powers and subordinates itself to the judiciary, for example, rulers receive their mandate from the sovereign, the people, and give it up again if the sovereign decides otherwise. Science makes its object of knowledge only that which it can grasp with the help of scientific methods and limits the expressiveness of its knowledge to the range of methodically secured knowledge, thus recognizing the limits of its sufficiency. Likewise, the economy does not pursue profit maximization at any price, but also takes into account the social conditions of workers and employees, criteria of job satisfaction, ecological aspects and safety concerns, insofar as these can be translated into prices. A tendency towards reflexive self-restraint is therefore suitable for modern growth dynamics (Offe 1989).

The social and cultural-historical analyzes of European modernity that are presented in this essay mainly fall back on the paradigm of differentiation theory. Since the features of modern societies presented are interrelated, reference is occasionally made to the other three paradigms. To explain the differentiation theory approach, its basic assumptions should first be explicated (1.2.1.) And objections to them presented (1.2.2.) And discussed (1.2.3.).

Thoughts on the differentiation theory approach

Differentiation theoretic basic assumptions

Since Herbert Spencer (1882 ff.), Sociological differentiation theory has centered on the premise that society as a whole differentiates itself in the course of its history (Nassehi 2004, p. 100), and it links this premise with the assertion that society as a whole differentiates itself in the course of its history (Nassehi 2004, p. 100) This differentiation process changes the form of differentiation so that a functionally differentiated structure emerges from a functionally diffuse structure (Tyrell 2008, p. 80 f.). In the most developed elaboration of this theory, system theory, the emergence of modern society is conceived as a restructuring of the social structure from stratification to functional differentiation, on the basis of which different social functional areas - law, science, economics, politics, art - crystallize follow their own codes and functional principles and at the same time are interdependent (Luhmann 1997). In contrast to pre-modern, stratified societies, modern society no longer runs towards a point that represents the whole, but is structured in a polycentric manner.

Interdependencies and processes of exchange between social areas are to be distinguished from forms of de-differentiation. De-differentiation refers to the incorporation of systemic alien rationality into differentiated contexts of meaning (Gerhards 1991) and thus the mixing of different rationalities of meaning. Moral criteria are used to assess economic cost / benefit considerations, claims to scientific truth are subordinated to political interests, artistic ideals of beauty are linked to religious longing for salvation. In the case of interdependence, resource transfer and exchange between social sub-systems, the differences between the linked areas remain essentially the same.

Objections to the differentiation theory approach

Despite its prominent character - or precisely because of this character - the concept of social differentiation has attracted a large number of reservations, criticisms and doubts. The fact that he is dealing with a long-term perspective has already brought him the reproach of overhistory and universalism (Joas 2014, p. 609 f.). Critical objections are also raised against the one-line, deterministic and teleological character of the differentiation-theoretic approach. The most important point of criticism, however, is directed towards the concept's lack of explanatory power: What are the causes of processes of social differentiation, who are their carriers, what inhibits differentiation, what promotes it - these are questions that the theory of differentiation does not answer (Joas 1992, p. 326 ff .; Knöbl 2013, p. 99 ff.). Although this presupposes a universal development tendency running across society, it is not in a position to specify the causal mechanisms through which this tendency is reproduced (Schimank 2005, p. 165 ff.).

It is also doubted that functional differentiation is typical for modern societies at all. Are modern societies not characterized less by the differentiation of intrinsic functional systems than by their dovetailing and interpenetration (Münch 1991)? Are the practices of different functional systems really separated or do they merge (Berger 2003, p. 210)?

A critique goes in the opposite direction, which does not refer to the differentiation-theoretical assumption of the decoupling of functions, but to the differentiation-theoretical assumption of an interdependent connection between the differentiating functional areas. Such an assumption equips the development of functional systems with the characteristic of mutual dependency and thus underestimates the variability of the combinations in which the areas of society can relate to one another. With the work of Shmuel Eisenstadt (2000) on the diversity of modernity, the idea of ​​the unity of modernity, in which the differentiation of one social area cannot take place without the simultaneous functional specification of other areas, has largely been done away with (Schwinn 2006, p. 11). .

Discussion of the objections

In order to outline the position from which this argument is based, we want to concentrate on three of the aforementioned points of criticism: on the question of the meaning of the concept of differentiation (1), on the question of determining the relationship between differentiation and de-differentiation in modern societies ( 2) as well as the causes of social differentiation (3).

  1. 1.

    Sociological concepts such as that of social differentiation or that of rationalization or secularization do not make sense in that they depict social change in the diversity of all its aspects. They focus on one or a few aspects in order to be able to make before / after distinctions. Its aim is to record social changes that extend over longer periods of time on the basis of characteristics that are kept constant. In sociology, the theory of social differentiation primarily serves to distinguish modern from premodern societies. The differentiation theory is thus a heuristic concept that relates the past and the present from a comparative point of view. In this respect, Volkhard Krech (2014, p. 565) has to be agreed when he understands process terms as “condensates of questions”.What makes modern societies different from premodern ones? Can the concept of functional differentiation help to capture this difference?

  2. 2.

    Modern societies are not only characterized by differentiation, but also by de-differentiation tendencies. However, differentiation and dedifferentiation are - according to the thesis advocated here - in an asymmetrical relationship in which the former dominates over the latter. What is the reason for this dominance? Of course, the boundaries between the functional systems are not firmly closed against each other. The economic system has to accept political interventions just like the scientific system, the economic system is as little free from moral considerations as medicine, and interferences can also be observed between religion and medicine or pastoral care and psychology. It is a matter of dispute where the boundaries run between the individual areas of society. It is true that the boundaries of the social sub-areas can only be set up permanently from within; however, their purpose is repeatedly called into question, both internally and externally. Negotiation processes about the validity of system-internal rules and guiding values ​​take place at the level of organizations, markets and communities, i.e. not only horizontally between different systems, but also between service producers within the respective systems themselves and between service producers and service recipients and, in this respect, also vertically .Footnote 1

How the fighting ends depends on a number of factors, but is ultimately determined by a simple recognition criterion. Those rules and guiding differences prevail that find resonance, that are followed up, that are referred to, that are built upon and that are perhaps even defended against criticism. The leading distinctions are made up cumulatively (Nassehi 2004, p. 108), but also aversively. In the execution of the workFootnote 2 At the external borders and at the internal codes of the differentiated field, channels and exchange relationships that are used repeatedly emerge; one could say: beaten paths of social interaction emerge, which are reinforced by repeated follow-up actions and the rejection of deviations.Footnote 3 New knowledge based on scientific methods ties in with methodologically produced old knowledge and sorts out methodologically unskilled knowledge; Jurisdictions rely on legal principles and previous jurisprudence and block against non-legal aspects; the market-induced determination of prices regulates payments and prevents the state or moral influencing of prices, etc. The differentiated codes and principles do not cease to be controversial and can always be partially overridden, but gain through the cumulative and aversive follow-up actions a relative, operationally mutually reinforcing stability. The rule conformity, which moves within a certain range of variance, is also reinforced by the fact that irregular disturbances and interferences are pushed into invisibility and follow-up actions tie in with the visible side of what is so different.

  1. 3.

    But how do forms of functional differentiation come about in the course of history? How can processes of functional specification be explained? Two possible and widely used explanations are ruled out: the socio-theoretical holism, according to which “society” differentiates itself, as if it were initially a unit, which then multiplies itself. However, the explanation of functional differentiation based on social needs and requirements must also be surrendered. Processes of functional differentiation do not set in because of functions that have to be fulfilled in society, because even if something is desirable or perhaps even necessary from certain points of view, it does not yet materialize.Footnote 4

Sociologists such as Uwe Schimank (1988), Thomas Schwinn (2001), Jens Greve, Clemens Kroneberg (Greve and Kroneberg 2011, p. 9 ff.), Hans Joas (1992, p. 336) and others propose to solve the problem of differentiation theory to give the macro-sociological argumentation of differentiation theory an action-theoretical foundation. This proposal is followed by the following considerations.

In order to advance the analysis of the causes of social differentiation processes, it seems to make sense to ask about typical and recurring patterns of differentiation despite the undeniable spontaneity of the actions. In terms of models to be tested, here are three Differentiation mechanisms differentiated: Conflict mechanisms (a), Transformation mechanisms (Federation Self-organization mechanisms (c). On the one hand (a) projects of de-differentiation, for example between religion and politics or also between religion and science or religion and law, seem to repeatedly provoke counter-tendencies towards the desynthesis of what is united. Projects of dedifferentiation make the compromise more difficult, so that when they clash, they lead to aporetic situations that can often only be resolved if what is united is disentangled on a higher social constitutional level. One might think of differentiation because of the insolubility of Conflicts speak.

It can also be observed (b) that the seeds of differentiation processes are often found inside de-differentiated units, from which new things can develop. In this case, the change is not brought about by conflicts, but by transformationthrough isolation and intensification of individual elements, through their partial appropriation and repulsion, through transformation, unification and reinterpretation.

Finally, (c) social differentiations can also be the product of dynamic developments that are not triggered by conflicts or social syntheses, but made possible by expanding opportunity structures. These offer space for differentiated new contexts of action.

In the context of the analyzes presented here, it is impossible to demonstrate the heuristic fertility of all three different causal mechanisms. Only one thesis that recurs on the conflict model is to be discussed here. The leading question of the following analyzes is how conflicts that arise from integrative projects of de-differentiation become forms of differentiation in which the cross-border de-differentiation claim is withdrawn and zones of indifference are allowed. In other words, how does a conflict-containing hierarchy with a top that represents the whole become a polycentric structure, as is typical of modern societies. The thesis of the following treatise says that in this transformation from hierarchical stratification to polycentric differentiation the development of western modernity takes place and that conflicts resulting from de-differentiation claims play a driving role. The present article examines these processes of modernization on the basis of bursts of differentiation from the High Middle Ages to the late 18th century and the role of religion in these processes.

Differentiation Boosts in the Formation of Modernity: A Cultural and Social-Historical Analysis

Assuming that functional differentiation is a central feature of modern societies, the thesis to be defended here assumes a break in the forms of social differentiation between modern and premodern and at the same time pays special attention to anticipations of functional differentiation in premodern. The central break between the premodern and the modern, it is claimed, occurred in the period between the end of the 17th and the first half of the 19th century. During this period, which largely coincides with what Reinhart Koselleck (1972: XIIIff .; 1989) referred to as the saddle time, the dominant form of differentiation in European societies was changed from stratification to functional differentiation. During this period the class changed to a civil society, the supervision of the churches over the school loosened, the establishment of non-denominational universities took place, church and state separated, art broke away from its dependence on court and church, a cross-class public was formed emerged, an internally differentiated system of scientific disciplines emerged and the economic market set itself apart from political controls. There were also bursts of functional differentiation in the centuries before, for example in the High and Late Middle Ages or in the Reformation, and afterwards, for example in the long 1960s. The extensive implementation of functional differentiation as a structural principle of entire societies, however, was the product of the last two hundred years, and it took place in this radicalism exclusively in the West.

Around 1800 the great divergence (Pomeranz 2000) between Europe and the countries of East Asia. Parliamentary democracies emerged, economic growth increased exponentially, constitutional institutions were established, liberal constitutions protecting individual freedoms were passed, and the state's monopoly on the use of force was secured. During this time, economic developments diverged between Western Europe and the USA on the one hand and China and India on the other (Maddison 2007, p. 382). However, there was a certain economic lead in Western Europe in the previous three centuries, which in 1820 had doubled compared to China and India. The great divergence had a lead. The thesis advocated here is that processes of functional differentiation began as early as the Middle Ages and, after strong counter-fluctuations, especially in the time of confessionalism, in which church and secular orders largely coincided again after the emancipatory impulses of the Reformation, finally in the 18th century Century.

But how can one explain why the emergence of modernity took place precisely in the 18th century and on the soil of the Occident? It can be assumed that Christianity played a central role alongside a large number of interacting factors. Probably no other religious institution in the world history of religions has ever made such a far-reaching claim to validity and obedience as the Roman papacy, which insists on autonomy and universal responsibility. This peculiarity is probably connected with the reason why those structures emerged for the first time on the basis of Latin Christianity (and at the moment of the collapse of the unity of this Christian figure) that we consider characteristic of modern societies.

Forerunner of functional differentiation in the European Middle Ages

According to the thesis to be developed here, it was Latin Christianity, headed by the Roman patriarchy, that provided the essential impetus for the differentiation of social spheres. With its insistence on a worldly non-deducible, purely theologically based rationality of its actions, the Roman Church urged the other areas of society to also build up their own factual logics and to position them against religious rationality.

With this thesis the leading question of the life's work of Max Weber is taken up, who also asked “which chain of circumstances” led to “that just on the soil of the Occident, and only here, cultural phenomena appeared, which - how at least we like to imagine - were in a direction of development of universal importance and validity ”(Weber 1988 [1920], p. 1). In contrast to Max Weber, however, it should not be asserted here that today's modern societies have only one origin and that this originated in Western Europe and spread universally from there. Different paths lead to modernity. All that is to be represented here is the thesis that structures of modern societies emerged for the first time in Europe, that is, the breakthrough to modernity took place for the first time in the West.

The suggestion to assign religion “the role of a pioneer” in social differentiation comes from Niklas Luhmann (1989, p. 260). Unlike Max Weber, with whom he agrees in highlighting the religious roots of the modern world, Luhmann does not attempt to derive the capitalist economic ethos and thus an essential element of modern capitalism from religiously shaped structures of consciousness. According to Luhmann, it was not the impulses of a religiously motivated work ethic that formed the starting point for the emergence of modernity, but the structural differentiation of religion as a “prominent, semantically leading subsystem of society” that promotes the development of its own rationality and thereby challenges the other areas of life to react with rejection and to construct one's own logic of rationality (Luhmann 1989, pp. 344, 291, 260).

Luhmann's suggestion (1989, p. 261) to trace processes of functional differentiation back to “special developments in the field of religion” has meanwhile also been taken up elsewhere (cf. Schneider 2011, p. 181; Schwinn 2013, p. 80 f.) . It must be embedded in the discussion of the origins of modernity in the Middle Ages, which has long been held by historians as well as sociologists and legal scholars (Nelson 1974; Strayer 1970; Southern 1995/2001; Berman 1991). Many identify the differentiation of kingdoms, principalities, cities, guilds, universities in the 12th and 13th centuries as the cradle of modern European society (Nelson 1974, p. 30), while others identify the investiture dispute with its immediate consequences up to the Worms Concordat in the 11th and 12th centuries (Böckenförde 2007 [1967], p. 49 f .; Kaufmann 1989, p. 77 f .; Weinfurter 2006, p. 207). From the point of view of differentiation theory, the positioning of the roots of European modernity in the second half of the 11th century can claim a high degree of historical plausibility.

In the 11th century, in the course of Hildebrand's reforms, the Roman church structurally excluded itself from the existing political and social contexts (1); it was designed as an autonomous organization differentiated from the world (2) and, despite its demarcation from the world, raised the claim to superiority over all areas of society (3). With the insistence on celibacy, the prohibition of the purchase of offices and the fight against the investiture of bishops by secular rulers, the church pursued its self-differentiation from the world (Tyrell 2010, p. 235) (1). With the creation of a college of cardinals as the only legitimate body for the election of the Pope and the associated exclusion of the people and lay people from the act of election, it committed itself to a self-referential recruitment mode. The establishment of a separate administrative staff and the constitution of an independent jurisdiction also served to strengthen their organizational structures and their external limits (Dreier 2002, pp. 4-6) (2). With the demand for obedience not only from all bishops and priests, but also from kings, princes and emperors, the Roman Church finally established a hegemonic claim over the whole world. Only the Pope is really universal. Only him would rule over all areas of life. Whatever he binds or loosens on earth is also bound or loosened in heaven. His principal supremacy over all worldly decision-making powers was derived from his appointment by God: As the governor of Christ, he is also the head of the world (3).

With the establishment of such a universal claim to competence, all other social actors - clerics, kings, peasants, scholars, builders, warriorsFootnote 5 - brought into the status of subordinates or dissenters. Functional differentiation was virtually provoked by this. It could only develop against this universality claim: as a defense against supremacy claims, as an expression of non-identification, as dissent or, as Hans Blumenberg puts it, as a form of humane self-assertion.Footnote 6 Of course, processes of differentiation took place in the Middle Ages within the framework of a shared Christian worldview. Even when emperors like Friedrich I Barbarossa or Friedrich II opposed the Pope's claim to supremacy, they always did so with reference to Christian models of interpretation of the world, for example by referring to the divinity of their kingship and empire or the necessity of secular rule from the doctrine of creation derived. Nonetheless, the tensions are unmistakable. Already in the Middle Ages, thinkers such as Johannes Quidort of Paris (1255 / 60–1306), Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Marsilius of Padua (d. 1342/43) and Wilhelm von Ockham (1288–1347) assumed the legitimate duality of regnum and sacerdotium.They rejected the secular claim to rule of the church and traced the secular rule back to non-ecclesiastical sources, be it natural law, the will of the people or the higher age of kingship compared to the papacy.

In its beginnings, the history of functional differentiation is first and foremost a history of dealing with the Roman Church's claim to totality and the fusion of secular and spiritual rule embodied in it. The genesis of the modern world cannot therefore be understood as an organic outgrowth out of religious predispositions. The fact that a major impetus came from the church does not mean that religious roots have transformed into secular consequences.Footnote 7 Rather, the impulse of the Roman Church worked in a direction other than that intended. Functional differentiation is initially primarily a history of conflict. It came as a rejection of the church's claim to supremacy. In all likelihood, the singularity of the western world has a lot to do with this starting point.

The church's claim to supremacy could be defended against in a conflictual manner, but we also find cases in the High Middle Ages in which the settlement of the conflict in order to assert autonomy was virtually avoided. One should think of the legal discourses of the so-called lawyers. Although these distinguished themselves from the canonists, they never referred explicitly to their arguments, not even negatively (Jansen 2019, p. 50). Canonism interpreted ecclesiastical law, which it traced back to the Bible and the writings of the church fathers, and thus saw itself as a theological discipline. The legislators, on the other hand, resorted to non-church sources, to Roman legal texts, the Codex iuris civilis, which they provided with the highest, quasi-sacral authority (Jansen 2019, p. 47 f.). They put a secular law in place of the ecclesiastical law and thus established themselves as lawyers who were not theologians. The differentiation of law that they pursued was due to the conflict with canon law and the curia’s claims to power behind it. However, their reaction to canon law was not that they attacked it, but that they deliberately ignored it, behaved indifferently towards it, derived their arguments from independent sources and thus justified them in a self-referential manner. Even if the conflict was the starting point for differentiation processes, the lawyers pushed them forward precisely by avoiding the conflict and keeping it invisible. With the discursive differentiation of secular jurisprudence, its institutionalization went hand in hand. At the medieval university, scientific communities emerged that attracted students from all over Europe, trained them to become scholars and thus established a highly respected professional legal elite (Berman 1991, p. 260 f.).

As we can see, the processes were the horizontal differentiation, i.e. functional specialization, with processes of the vertical differentiation and thus closely linked to processes of organizational formation. This applies to the differentiation of the legal system as well as to the tendency towards independence of political rule or the previous demarcation of the church from the world. By constituting itself as a differentiated, self-referential and worldly superior instance with its own jurisdiction, the church not only pursued the social differentiation of the religious, but also its institutionalization. The specification of the religious took place through the formation of an independent organization with a theologically justified program, self-referential recruitment mechanism, hierarchical structure and purposeful bureaucracy. In this way, the start of functional differentiation coincided with the differentiation of an independent constitutional level of social communication - the level of organizational formation.

In addition to the religious supremacy and jurisdiction claims of the Roman church and the political, scientific, legal and cultural self-assertion they triggered, other factors naturally also contributed to the processes of social differentiation that began in the High Middle Ages. The most important of these was the relative weakness of the central political authority, the actual possibilities of which often fell short of the abundance of power it claimed. The empire - symbolically represented by the emperor - vaulted the territories and represented the legal and ideal framework for the duchies and principalities, which they widely recognized. However, the emperor never succeeded in breaking the self-will of the territories and enforcing a central ruling structure. The contrast between territorial and central power remained unresolved. On the one hand, the dukes took the oath of allegiance to the king or emperor, to which they felt bound. On the other hand, the kings and emperors were dependent on the greats of the empire due to the royal suffrage of the princes, due to election promises (election surrender) and due to the estates, e.g. at the Reichstag, and could only pursue politics in cooperation with them. The residents were not the direct subjects of the king or emperor, but the subjects of the respective sovereign. This circumstance, too, restricted the direct exercise of power by the kings. In addition, the royal power was militarily bound by the constant clashes with the regions of Italy and Burgundy, which were striving for independence, as well as by the wars with its neighbors, especially with France, and was economically, financially, militarily and personally overwhelmed due to the territorial overstretching. The continually escalating conflicts with the power-conscious Roman Church also challenged the forces of imperial and royal power.

The central political power of the European Middle Ages was unable to act autonomously or imperially. In partial dependence on self-confident duchies, in constant defense against papal claims to dominance as well as in the strenuous effort to maintain and expand its power, it was embroiled in a multi-front struggle that prevented it from reaching the territories, the cities, the nobility, the artisans, the peasants, to take immediate action by the universities, the scholars and the clergy. Although the empire was able to offer people a legal and ideal framework for acting, thinking and perceiving, it had to give them extensive freedom that encouraged the development of their diverse interests.

In summary it can be said: The claim to superiority of the Roman episcopate demanded the different areas of society - law, politics, scholasticism, art, literature - and even the actors of spiritual life (theologians, monks, nuns, religiously committed citizens) to assert themselves out. The fact that the different areas of society became more differentiated was not only due to this hegemonic claim, but also to the fact that the control and control options of the central political authority were limited and political freedom and opportunity structures existed. For the start of functional differentiation, both are important: that there was a religious universal institution with a comprehensive claim to superiority, the tendency to develop forms of non-religious rationality, and that there was no central political authority that would have been able to suppress such attempts at autonomy and either destroy or amalgamate their resources. The indissoluble duality of spiritual and political power in social, cultural and institutional terms ultimately proved to be a productive factor, if not the productive factor, in the formation of the modern world.Footnote 8

The next push of differentiation, which must be discussed in more detail here, took place in the so-called Saddle Age, i.e. in the long 18th century. The two centuries before that were marked by strong tendencies towards de-differentiation. Although Martin Luther's Reformation initially provided impulses for a sharper separation of religion and politics, these impulses weakened with the politicization of the Reformation, which began during Luther's lifetime. The history of differentiation cannot be understood as a one-way process; rather, the opposing movements and retarding tendencies must always be included in the reconstruction of the differentiation processes.

The denominational age

The starting point for Luther's insistence on the separation of religion and politics was his distinction between the inner and the outer man, between body and soul, as he developed it in his treatise “On the Freedom of a Christian Man” (Luther 1520). In his inner being, in his conscience, the Christian belongs to the kingdom of God and cannot be compelled to believe by any external force. In the kingdom of the world, on the other hand, Luther wants to see the spiritual regiment, which serves to expand the kingdom of God through the preaching of the gospel, and the secular regiment, which has to ensure order and peace in the face of the power of sin in this world (Strohm 2008, P. 223 f.). The proclamation of the gospel takes place without the use of force, solely through the word. But worldly action makes use of the sword. It could only relate to the external human being, but not to questions of disposition and belief.

From this view it followed for Luther that false doctrines cannot be overcome by the use of force, but only through the preaching of the gospel, through the word that grasps the heart. “Heresy is a spiritual thing, it cannot be chopped with iron, burned with fire, drowned with water.” (Luther 1523, p. 268) The separation of secular and spiritual regiment is therefore necessary in order to be able to believe in everything external compulsion to keep clear. It results directly from Luther's advocacy of the autonomy of the believing individual.

The theologically justified principle of the separation of religion and politics could hardly acquire practical significance, because Luther had to rely on the protection of the princes to save the Reformation. That is why Luther asked the Saxon elector for sovereign supervision of the church (Wallmann 2012, p. 62 f.). Although he had originally only had a temporary and emergency solution in mind, the initial clear separation of spiritual and secular regiment was abolished in this way. In principle, Luther left the renunciation of the violent persecution of heretics untouched, but in situations of “problematic religious deviance” (Stegmann 2014, p. 484), in a certain imbalance with this principle, he nevertheless made use of the regulatory action of the authorities, for example in Connection with the ecclesiastical innovation introduced during his stay at the Wartburg in Wittenberg in 1521/22, in connection with the peasant uprisings of 1525 or against the enthusiasts, gang spirits and Anabaptists as well as against the Jews, whom he saw more and more as unwilling to convert.

If two different doctrines were preached in one place, the secular authorities had to "see to it that discord, division and revolt do not arise among the subjects" (1528, p. 72). Even if she is not commanded to “teach and spiritually govern”, she is allowed to provide true teaching for the sake of order and security.

Melanchthon went a step further in this regard. He saw the responsibility of secular princes for the preservation of the true faith not only in cases of disagreement, discord and deviation as an obligatory duty, but generally as theologically justified. Since worldly power can only serve the glory of God if there are no forms of religious practice directed against true faith in its area of ​​application, it has a religious duty of care for the faith of its subjects (Leonhardt 2017, p. 146 f.). Initially introduced only for pragmatic reasons to remedy a church emergency, the transfer of church tasks to the sovereign eventually became the norm.

After the unity of the medieval church was broken during the Reformation, the Peace of Augsburg stipulated that every sovereign had the right to determine the religion of his subjects. At the same time he recognized the different denominations for the empire as a whole. The Augsburg religious peace thus brought about a differentiation of the levels. At the Reich level, the question of religious truth was bracketed, as it were, and a religion-neutral Reich law was established above the competing claims of religious truth (Heckel 2007, p. 13). At the level of the territories, however, according to the principle of “Cuius regio eius religio”, religious-political unity should be preserved. The suspension of the question of truth did not mean, however, that the reunification of the denominations had been abandoned as a long-term goal. Rather, the “final comparison” of the denominations was recorded as the actual purpose of religious peace (Buschmann 1994, p. 221, Augsburger Reichs Farewell § 9). Religious unity was, however, subordinated to the political goal of securing peace insofar as the duty of peace remained necessary even if the overcoming of religious differences should fail (Buschmann 1994, p. 229, Augsburger Reichs Farewell § 25). The recognition of religious differences was consequently the condition for maintaining political peace, and without this the desired religious unity could not be achieved.

What had been disclosed at the imperial level was to be retained at the territorial level: the unity of religion and politics. Not only according to Catholic, but also according to Reformation doctrine, law, state and authorities were considered divine foundations. Even if the Lutheran doctrine of two regiments saw the political ruler as responsible only for the order of the world, he still had the duty of care for the implementation of the pure doctrine (Sehling 1914, p. 8). In order to preserve divine benevolence, the Christian authorities were responsible for securing Christian practice and compliance with the commandments (Otto 2016, p. 38), because the behavior of the individual before God was not only decisive for the individual's well-being, but also for the weal and woe of the community. That is why the authorities exercised during this time - among other things, about church discipline, which the state exercised on behalf of the church to ensure church order and doctrineFootnote 9 - a strict control over the belief of their subjects as well as over all aspects of their religious way of life (Stollberg-Rilinger 2006, p. 94).Footnote 10

Just as political rule, as a divinely legitimized regiment, had to fulfill religious tasks, the church took on sovereign functions. Due to its alliance with the early modern state, the church often acted as its representative in the denominational age in town and country. Through sermons, confession and pastoral care as well as the distribution of devotional books, prayer books and hymn books, it exerted a direct influence on the formation of norms in people's beliefs, thoughts and behavior. In this way it was omnipresent in social life, in politics, justice, upbringing and the family. Church and state, preaching office and school, faith and family permeated each other (Schlögl 2013, p. 28 ff .; Schilling 1988, 2009; Dinges 1991). Even if the unity of the medieval church was broken, in the age of denominationalism strong tendencies to de-differentiate religion and politics as well as religion, law and society came to fruition, just not in the entire empire, but in the individual territories.

The medieval notion that state authority is a divine foundation, that every deviation from the state-recognized religion calls into question the legitimacy of state authority, that there can of course only be one truth of faith and that the ruler therefore has the duty to politically enforce the true faith, was therefore not disclosed in the confessional age. The difference to the pre-Reformation epoch was that it was no longer possible to agree which church was the true church. The endeavor to restore political unity was therefore carried out as a relentless dispute over the dominance of one's own denomination. By adopting the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible by Jerome, as the authentic Bible text in the Tridentinum, ascribing a divine quality to the sacraments, rejecting the doctrine of the justification of sinners solely through faith and strengthening the central position of the Pope, it stood up towards the ReformationFootnote 11 and at the same time held fast to the claim to be the true church of Christ.With the Jesuit order, a spiritual organization emerged that stood up for their theological convictions with the same unconditionality as the reformers, tried to gain political and social influence through missionary and educational work, and vigorously differentiated itself from deviating theological positions. When Lutheranism made increased efforts to secure the word of God as the basis of its own theological teaching and to identify the wording of the Bible as divinely inspired, it in turn deepened the rifts. The conflicting religious parties agreed that only a single denomination could have universal validity and that the empire needed religious unity. Precisely because of this, however, the dispute took on a relentless character.

The struggle for the right faith, which marked this age of ecclesiastical turmoil, religious overheating and normative narrowness, led to the violent persecution of those of different faiths. The St. Bartholomew's Night of 1572 in Paris, in which thousands of Calvinists were bloodily murdered, the burning of the Spanish humanist Michel Servet in 1553 as a heretic in Calvinist Geneva and other acts of violence perpetrated by different quarters represent this religious overheating. The mass persecutions of witches, which reached their climax not in the pre-Reformation Middle Ages and in Spain of the Inquisition, but in the denominationally divided empire, are also an expression of the normative consolidation that characterizes the denominational age. And the voices of the moderation, such as those of Sebastian Castellio or those of the Socians, in their efforts to balance things out, still tell of the religious zeal of the time.

The close connection between religion and politics explains not only the political relevance of religious discourses in the confessional age, but also why many of the political disputes were carried out in the medium of religion.Footnote 12 There were already some areas of society that followed a logic largely unaffected by church and religion - one thinks, for example, of the art markets in northern Italy, of the inclusion of late ancient Roman law, the Codex Justinianus, in the jurisprudence, or of the independence of the financial sector - On the whole, however, religious arguments still asserted primacy in social discourse and, in the event of conflict - this is shown by the case of Galileo Galilei - with institutional support against conflicting viewpoints, they were able to assert themselves again and again. That changed around the middle of the 17th century.

The emergence of quasi-religious claims to competition since the 17th century and the intensification of religious pluralization

After the devastating experiences of the wars of religion, which had consumed denominational enthusiasm and discredited religious fanaticism, there was increasing pressure non-religious and sometimes even anti-church tendencies in the foreground. This became particularly clear in the strengthening of the early modern state, which claimed the monopoly of force, sought to lift class restrictions and placed itself above denominational claims. The bloodshed of the Thirty Years' War had made it clear that the common good had to take precedence over the absolute claims upheld by the denominations: Salus rei publicae suprema lex est.Footnote 13 To this extent, the Thirty Years' War contributed to the liberation of the state's welfare from religion, to the rejection of claims to religious superiority and to the supremacy of the political over the religious.

The state doctrines of the 17th century were also a direct reaction to the atrocities and turmoil of the bloody religious and civil wars in the denominational age. This is already clear from the approach of the most important state theorist of the time: Thomas Hobbes. The natural state he fictionally assumed, in which the war of everyone against everyone and man is a wolf to man, resembled the experienced anarchy of civil war. Only a sovereign state that ruthlessly suppresses all insubordination and does not tolerate any earthly authority, not even the people, can overcome this state of warlike chaos. The subjects would have to obey the orders of the state without reservation. By delegating his power to the state in the act of concluding a contract, the individual has forfeited the right to demand accountability from the state for his actions. This was the condition for pacifying the country and restoring the human order that had been destroyed by religious zeal for truth: that political authority should take precedence over religious truth. Auctoritas non veritas facit legem. With this sentence Hobbes attributed to the sovereign state an authority which in the Middle Ages only God possessed.

This state doctrine was most consistently implemented in Catholic France, Louis XIV. Louis XIV suppressed deviations from the ruling church in his country to the best of his ability. His re-Catholicization policy followed the principle of "One King, One Law, One Faith". In 1685 he repealed the Edict of Nantes, which had granted the Huguenots religious tolerance and relatively free religious practice. Hundreds of thousands emigrated to neighboring European countries. Those who did not emigrate had to expect forced conversions and bloody persecution. Although the regime of Louis XIV and his successors had absolutist features, as recent research shows, it would be inappropriate to cover it with the concept of absolutism. Although the crown tried to break the perseverance of the estates, the estates corporations and the courts of justice ("parlements"), its attempts to modernize administration, justice and taxation failed again and again due to their resistance (Stollberg-Rilinger 2006, P. 195). The rationalization efforts of the central authority often went hand in hand with the enlightenment efforts of the philosophers, lawyers, noblemen and clergy. In any case, even in centralized France, the Enlightenment activists who opposed the crown were able to occupy key positions in administration and government (Stollberg-Rilinger 2006, p. 196).

The close connection between church and state authority, as it was typical for the centuries after the denominational age, is primarily no longer to be seen as a form of diffusion between religion and politics, but above all as a form of the exploitation of religion through politics. If Louis XIV wanted to strengthen the independence of the French national church, he allied himself with the higher clergy against Rome; if he pursued the goal of fighting the Jansenists, he did, however, make use of the support of Rome. In other Catholic states, for example in the Habsburg Empire, the Jansenists, with their supremacy of the whole of the faithful over the Pope, were the natural allies of the Catholic governments in order to defend themselves against the interventions of Rome and the granting of special rights for the Catholic Church in their national territory to put. From the middle of the 17th century, political interests increasingly determined the actions of the rulers, hardly any religious ones.