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Research Programme – negotiating difference in Europe

The Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG) researches the historical foundations of Europe in the modern era. Its research projects are developed in an interdisciplinary way by the sections "Abendländische Religionsgeschichte" and "Universalgeschichte". They span the historical periods from the beginning of the early modern period to contemporary history. Europe is investigated from a trans-border perspective as a communication space, the internal and external borders of which have been repeatedly redefined by diverse transcultural processes.

The central theme of the current research programme at the IEG is "negotiating difference" – the ways in which difference is established, confronted and enabled in its religious, cultural, political and social dimensions. Europe is viewed as a laboratory for the development of forms of the regulation and limitation, but also of the creation and maintenance, of otherness and inequality. The conflictual dynamic of the space known as "Europe" resulted from diverse interactions and interconnections that have led to exchange, acculturation and integration as well as to differentiation and confrontation on the continent and beyond its borders.

The following research perspectives are of particular importance for research on the development of Europe:

  • the investigation of the self-concept of religiously-orientated, political and social actors and their fundamental approaches, with which they sought to bridge differences in a universalistic fashion, to emphasize differences in a particularistic fashion, or to overcome differences in a cosmopolitan fashion;
  • the analysis of historical patterns of behaviour in dealing with difference using dominant concepts such as the striving for unity, forbearance or tolerance;
  • the investigation of the fundamental conditions for the creation and maintenance of difference between groups, nations and institutions, as well as of Europe as a whole.

These perspectives, which have emerged from Europe’s historical experience, form the basis of the research programme of the IEG. It is divided into three research areas and one cross-sectional area. The research areas complement each other chronologically and thematically. They concretize the common research perspectives by concentrating on sample segments and by applying the perspectives as dictated by the subject matter and the period. The central themes of the research areas are, firstly, conflicts and the search for consensus in the context of religious differentiations and the development of modern statehood (Research Area 1). Secondly, humanitarian ideas and practices are analysed which are not primarily based on the prescribed identity of people, but primarily on the experience of increasing difference (Research Area 2). Thirdly, the focus is placed on cultural sovereignty as a mode of behaviour and thought by means of which social, political and religious groups and institutions – but also individual societies and Europe as a whole – sought to maintain their differentness over the long term (Research Area 3).

The research areas thus systematically investigate the paradoxical establishment of difference, the ambivalent efforts to confront difference, and the conflicted enabling of difference in Europe in the modern era. The significance of the religious, political and social dimensions of difference, as well as the interaction between these aspects in Europe, are investigated in the longue durée. The historiographical, theological-historical and religious-historical analysis of how otherness and inequalities were handled in Europe is structured by common questions, which cross the research areas and which are pursued from the early modern period to contemporary history:

  1. How did the semantic content, construction and effect of key concepts which were employed to bridge difference change over time? Such central concepts included Christianitas, humanity, cosmopolitanism and ecumenism.
  2. How did functional differentiation in the modern period affect how differences emerged and were confronted? Proceeding from an understanding of this process as partial, contingent, non-linear and subject to various trends, the focus is placed on functional differentiation as exemplified by the transformation of the interconnections between politics and religion and between society and religion.
  3. What significance did borders and the crossing of borders – in all their meanings – have for the treatment of difference? Both the development of internal-European delineations and delineations between "»Europe" and other parts of the world are investigated. A particular focus is placed on the networks of exchange and conflictual entanglements.

These shared questions are developed further and brought together through cooperation between the research areas in the cross-sectional projects. All of the academics working at the IEG contribute to a central publication on the treatment of difference in the "laboratory of Europe". The publication will reflect in the form of concrete examples the shared questions of the research programme of the IEG, make fundamental information on the treatment of difference in Europe available in Open Access, and communicate the research perspective of the IEG to a broader public. In parallel, the central research perspectives are put up for discussion in the form of colloquia and workshops, which are organized by the research areas and which deal with the treatment of difference in a cross-period or period-specific perspective.

Additionally, the publication project "EGO | European History Online" is located in the cross-sectional research area. EGO is developing an open access history of Europe that focuses on transcultural and intercultural relationships. EGO analyses Europe as a constantly changing communication space, in which diverse processes of interaction, circulation, intersection and interconnection, exchange and transfer, but also of confrontation, resistance and differentiation occur. Modern European history is investigated across the boundaries between states, disciplines and methods.