Religion and church continue to have a marked significance in European countries at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century. A glance at the events surrounding the disintegration of the Yugoslavian multinational state, the conflicts that repeatedly flare up in Northern Ireland, and the integration problems of Muslim immigrants in countries like France, Great Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, makes it clear that beside language, history and nationality, religion also represents an active force that can assume both a unifying and a divisive character. Especially since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, religion has become a topic of public debate, and media attention on the topic of religion has increased. As of that point, the issue of religious conflicts has not disappeared from the agenda, and religion often seems to have taken the place of discussions that were formerly political and national in character.
The increase in the significance of religious factors for the explanation and interpretation of social, political, and international conflicts and changes also applies to Europe, which has changed greatly as a result of the collapse of state socialism and the re-entry of Eastern and East Central European countries into European history. In particular, the increased status in Eastern Europe of national churches, religious movements, and ethnic conflicts within the religious sphere is obvious.
If one wants to grasp and understand the changes and challenges connected with the process of European expansion, religion can in no way be disregarded as a factor. The purpose of the research project is to research more precisely the present social relevance of religion and church in Eastern and Western Europe. The question of the significance of religion in society and its change has always been one of the central points of discussion in the sociology of religion. Until now this question was treated primarily in terms of the model of secularization
theory. But the interpretive frameworks accompanying secularization theory have in the meantime been increasingly questioned and replaced by a series of other hypotheses.
The purpose of this project is to study the significance and the change in significance of religion primarily on the level of the individual. Even though the other social levels – the meso and macro levels – will not be left out of consideration, the analysis of the individual level will nevertheless be primary.
The central questions here are: Does the phenomenon of far-reaching de-churchification with the still undiminished ‘private’ religiosity actually represent a general trend in Europe? Can clear trends of individualization in relation to religiosity (bricolage, patchwork religion) actually be determined? Are Eastern European countries following a possibly Western European trend with respect to their development or does the situation after the end of communism
represent something completely different?