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Research Training Group: "The Christian Churches and the Challenge of 'Europe'"

The research training group examined reactions in the process of European unification, as well as the repercussions and activities that the process gave rise to in the area of the churches. The project also focused on the efforts of the churches to insert religious concepts of values into the political processes.
By directing its attention at the churches, the research training group "The Christian Churches and the Challenge of 'Europe'" (IEG and Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz) expanded the political perspective in order to analyse the tensions between the secular idea of "European unification" and the efforts of the churches to assert themselves in this process and to insert their values into the process. The efforts of the churches to bring religious understandings of values into the political processes occurred before the backdrop of the crisis experiences of the Second World War, the Holocaust and the totalitarian regimes, as well as the rapidly proceeding disintegration of the European colonial empires. The research programme with its connected dissertations was divided into three focuses:
  1. The churches and the discourse on Europe – how the churches positioned themselves in the inter-war period and since the Second World War
  2. The public sphere and spaces of action: paths – media – actors
  3. Church and societal responsibility in Europe and in the world: values and ethical concepts
The research focuses were designed to integrate the specific interests and methodological approaches of the disciplines involved in the graduate project. The first approach focused on the institutional level of the European churches, as well as church organizations and organizations closely aligned with the churches. Firstly, statements emanating from church circles in the period from 1890 to the Second World War were investigated and the instrumentalization of the churches and church representatives by the European movement was thematized. After the end of the Second World War, a pacifist energy which aimed at establishing European interconnections emerged within the churches also in reaction to the experiences of National Socialism. This energy had the potential to interfere with political efforts towards integration, but need not necessarily do so. The second focus placed next to the focus on the churches as institutions a perspective on organizations and decision-makers close to the church, whose influence extended out into the public and had a decisive effect on the formation of public opinion. This made it possible to investigate how official church positions and positions emanating from circles close to the churches found support, or were criticised, rejected or modified. Thirdly, this was supplemented by a focus on the global influence and effect that the perspectives of the churches on Europe gave rise to. It is not surprising that these perspectives concentrated on discussions of values and ethnical concepts for an integrating Europe given that the churches’ responsibility towards Europe – also in terms of how the churches see themselves – lay and lies not primarily in the political sphere, but much more in the sphere of social ethics. 

The research-training group, initiated by the Mainz University and the IEG and supported by the DFG, reached its conclusion after a nine-year duration. At a conference held on this occasion on 14.-16. February 2018, highly qualified speakers and a public audience discussed the “Position of the church on the current foundations of Europe”.

The interdisciplinary and international research-training group promoted 24 PhD students, as well as 4 postdocs. In addition to the thesis papers, three publications titled “Die europäische Integration und die Kirchen” (part of the series “Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für europäische Geschichte” by the Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht publishing house) record the results of the research.