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Sociology of Religion article
Sociology of Religion article

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Freedom and Control in the Unified Germany: Governmental Approaches to AlternativeReligions Since 1989Author(s): Hubert SeiwertSource:
Sociology of Religion,
Vol. 64, No. 3, Special Issue (Autumn, 2003), pp. 367-375Published by:
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Accessed: 15/04/2013 04:09
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Sociology of Religion.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 15 Apr 2013 04:09:45 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Sociology f Religion 003, 4:3 367-375
Freedom nd Control n he Unified Germany: overnmental pproaches o Alternative eligions ince 1989
Hubert eiwert*
University f ig
This rticle escribes eran governmental eactions o nti-cult ears uring he ecade fter the niication f he wo erman tates n 1990. The overnent nd arliament eacted o public panic hen n 1996 Commission f nquiry nto o-called ects as nstigated. hile he orking of his ommission onibuted o the ooling own f public motions, t did not undamentally change he egative iew f new eligious ovements NRMs) n German ociety. ederal nd tate administrations till ttempt o restrict he ropagation f lteatie religions. he imits et y he Constitution nd decsions f he ederal onstitutional ourt rotect eligious inorities gainst excessive iscrimination. owever, fficials nd politicians sually hare he ommon erception f NRMs s potentially angerous nd herefore ndesirable roups. t s rgued hat iscrimination f religious inorities s due not o defiiencies f the onstitutional rder, ut o cultural alues disrespecting eligious ommitment.
Until 1989, East Germany, hat s, the German emocratic epublic (GDR), was part f he ocialist orld ystem nd under oviet ontrol. nlike other ast European ountries, owever, he end of communist ule n East Germany id not bring bout long nd tentative earch or new modes f church-state elations r new olicy n response o a rapidly hanging eligious landscape. he process f unification f the two German tates id not eave much oom or xperiments. t led to an almost omplete ransfer f the West German egal ystem o East Germany. fter very hort eriod n 1990 here were ew ptions or ew nstitutional rrangements or eligions hat iffered from hat ad been lready stablished n West Germany. While he egal osition f religions n East Germany ould e changed nd adapted o the Western egal system y a mere troke f the pen - the Unification reaty the actual role of religions emained ignificantly different. alf century f ommunist eligious olicy ad eft legacy hat was not asily bliterated. ost onspicuous ere he ifferences n church member- ship ates. While n West Germany hurch membership n 1990 was bout 5
Direct orrespondence o Hubert eiwert, elgionswissenschafdihes nstiut, lostergasse , 04109 eipzig, Germany. -mail: eiwetrz.uni-eipz.g.de.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 15 Apr 2013 04:09:45 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
percent, n East Germany t was nly 0 percent Pollack 000:19). ince both parts f Germany ad tarted ith roughly qual membership f more han 0 percent n 1949, his hows he mpact f he Communist eligious olicy. ver fifty ears, he hurches n East Germany ad ost wo hirds f heir members, and those eclaring hemselves o be Christians ad become minority n the country f Luther Schmidt nd Wohlrab-Sahr 003). It should e observed hat uch marked rop n church membership s exceptional hen ompared o most ther ast European tates nder om- munist ule. imilar ates re found nly n Russia, stonia nd the Czech Republic, hile n countries ike Hungary, omania, r Bulgaria eligious ffilia- tion was till bove 0 percent fter ifty ears f Communism Pollack 998:18, table 7). This shows he ntensity nd, of course, he uccess f the religious repression nd nti-religious ropaganda f he GDR government. Since the political nification n 1990, Germany s a religiously ivided country. n the West, he verwhelming ajority f he opulation re members of either he Catholic r the Protestant hurches, nd the Churches re rich and nfluential nstitutions. n the East, however, he arge majority oes not confess ny eligion, nd he nfluence f he Christian hurches s ow. t does not ook s though his ituation ill hange n the near uture, s in both arts of Germany he hurches re ontinuing o ose members. Not only s church membership ow n East Germany, ut y 1991 ess han 20 percent f he population aid hey elieved n God, ompared o almost 0 percent n West Germany. t can, herefore, e said hat ast Germany s to a high egree eChristianized. t s against his ackground hat, hortly fter he breakdown f ommunist ule, ome o-called xperts tarted o ring larm ells by predicting he nvasion f new eligious ovements, ects nd cults nto ast Germany e.g. Gandow 990; or sociological nalysis ee Usarski 999). The line of thought as imple nd at first ight onvincing. t was assumed hat communist deology, aving ost ts plausibility, ad thereby eft n ideological vacuum; nd, t was rgued, ince apid ocial hange would roduce nsecurity, many ast Germans ould urn o alternative deologies. iven he weak osi- tion f raditional hristianity, his would e an ideal eedbed or ew eligious movements preading nto East Germany. ndeed, fter he nd of communist rule many minority eligions nd new religious ovements ere ager o send missionaries o the former ocialist ountries, ncluding ast Germany. t the same ime he West European nti-cult ovement xtended ts ctivities o these astern ountries n n attempt o counter he xpansion f ects nd ults. While eligions ewly rrived rom he West ad t east ome nitial uccess in ome ost-communist ountries, n East Germany hey ompletely ailed. he East German opulation roved o be remarkably esistant o new eligions, nd converts umbered t best n the ens. his, however, as gnored y nti-cult lobbyists ho ontinued heir arnings gainst he nvasion f he East by ects and cults. his may ave been one of the reasons hy nti-cult obbying as
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