Interview: Research group 'Law, Religion og the Sociology of State'

This month, we take a closer look at the research group 'Law, Religion, and the Sociology of State'). We have had a chat with coordinator Henrik Reintoft Christensen about the group and the opportunities it opens up.

By Nanna Mia Jørgensen

CESAU: What are your functions at study of religion and your connection with CESAU?

Henrik: I mainly teach at study of religion, where I am one of the three or four people involved with sociology. Also, I have become associated with the centre administration at CESAU, where I will be part of working on coordination of educational activities and the activities of the research groups.

CESAU: What do you gain from being part of the research group?

Henrik: As already mentioned, I mainly teach sociology and sociology of religion here at the university. In that context, my affiliation with the research group gives me three things, quite concretely. Firstly, it provides me with an exciting and different break from teaching. Another, and more important, thing is that in the discussions in the research group, I am given an array of different and new perspectives concerning this area of interest. This provides a very good collection of examples, arguments, and ideas that I can bring with me into teaching. Thirdly, the group also participates in providing a network which, over time, will be useful in various connections.

Conflicts, secularisation, and fundamentalism

CESAU: Are  any particular theories or topics primarily worked with in the group?

Henrik: The group consists of participants from various fields within several main areas: law, anthropology, political science, study of religion, and theology. There are no particular theories that we have worked with; more so particular themes. We have three main themes: conflict and mediation, secularisation and fundamentalism. Those were the three topics we started out with, but of course, they are under constant development and must be continuously revised and modified, should there be any special areas that the participants of the group wish to bring into play.

CESAU: What can one generally gain from participating in this research group?

Henrik: First and foremost, the research group offers a forum in which to bring one's more or less finished work up for discussion. The group is available for common discussion concerning the relationship between law, religion, and politics under a sociological perspective.
An example might be the historical development of the relationship between these three instances in connection with the law-regulated society in which we live. Or as in our latest event with the group, where we discussed the way in which the Buddhist monks of Burma have participated in and even initiated demonstrations against the military junta. This brought into play questions as to which role Buddhist ethics may have or have had there. Or as to whether Buddhism may be a contributing factor in creating democracy.

Input and new perspectives

CESAU: How many times have you, the group, met?

Henrik: So far, we have met four times, where we have discussed what is going to happen with the group as well as which areas we wish to work with. Furthermore, there have been meetings where we have discussed and looked at article drafts or book chapters from various members of the group. As we speak, we are deliberating whether the group should work on an application concerning the financial resources that are in play concerning the merger process at Aarhus University.

The last meeting was in March, and at the meetings we normally plan the following meeting. Right now, the date for the next meeting is not set, but it will take place when we have heard from more people who wish be part of the aforementioned application.

CESAU: To your impression, what have members gained from those meetings where they have been able to present their work to the group?

Henrik: Now, we meet broadly across disciplines in the group. It is my impression that people gain something from this. Some may be connected with environments where perhaps these ideas are not well represented, or not of interest to their colleagues. For instance, at anthropology and political science, many researchers are concerned with all sorts of areas other than law, religion, and sociology of the state. The same is true of my own field, and in that way CESAU is a good place for building bridges between the various traditions. We have some common topics here and a more or less common methodical and theoretical approach.

CESAU: Can you give an example of a theme which you have taken up within the group?

Henrik: Taking our latest meeting as our point of departure, we, in the branch of sociology concerned with religion, may have a tendency to take interest primarily in a western perspective. It can be very inspiring to gain insight into how the same perspectives,  that is, state, religion, and society,may be approached in other parts of the world, whether Burma, China, or the Middle East is concerned. In that connection it is exciting to draw parallels to the local, European conditions with which others of us are concerned, and this definitely leads to interesting discussions.

Sociology and CESAU

CESAU: What is the significance of sociology for the group? Could it exist under other formal conditions?

Henrik: I can't imagine it existing somewhere else. To a large extent, this is the part that we have in common. Quite often, what comes into play is the contribution of the classics of sociology to our understanding of problems connected to law, religion, and state. For me it is quite the obvious option that this type of interdisciplinary group be connected with CESAU.

CESAU makes available an underlying system that enables contact across boundaries between departments and sections, concerning various common topics. The centre makes it possible to coordinate various presentations, conferences, and applications. That is how CESAU is useful for me and for others. Correspondingly, CESAU can make use of the individual groups in that I can provide feedback concerning the activities of the group, and CESAU, in turn, can further distribute this . If any of the affiliated research environments should house guest researchers that might be of interest to others, I can reach the people concerned through CESAU. For example, when a conference was held at the theology department a couple of years ago concerning religion and politics in public space, where one of the main speakers was Jürgen Habermas,  it would have been an obvious move to announce this though CESAU, had it existed back then.

"First and foremost, the research group offers a forum in which to bring one's more or less finished work up for discussion. The group is available for common discussion concerning the relationship between law, religion, and politics under a sociological perspective," Henrik Reintoft Christensen, coordinator in the research group 'Law, Religion and Sociology of State'.