Religious and Non-Religious Modes of Coping with Contingency in an Individualised Society

Application: Professor Ferdinand Sutterlüty

Project team: Nanthiny Rajamannan M. A., Professor Ferdinand Sutterlüty

Funding institution: German Research Foundation (DFG: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft)

Funding period: 1 August 2020 to 31 July 2023

The humanities and social sciences tend to regard dealing with contingency as a primarily religious phenomenon. As a result of such a narrow view, non-religious forms of coping with contingency have not received the systematic examination they deserve. Moreover, the largely theoretical and intellectual-historical analyses of experiencing and dealing with contingency not only lack empirical foundation, but even the kind of conceptual precision necessary to adequately delineate the phenomenon. The present project addresses these desiderata in considering both religious and non-religious practices of coping with contingency. To this end, the project examines specifically modern experiences of contingency that are caused by current societal developments and which agents experience in the mode of a biographical conception of their lives. The aim is to develop an empirically founded theory to explain the formation, application and effects of religious and non-religious modes of coping with contingency.

Within the framework of a qualitative research design, this task is addressed in two dimensions: (1) By analysing specifically modern forms of contingency experiences in biographically decisive situations and (2) by accordingly comparing both successful and unsuccessful, both religious and non-religious, forms of coping with contingency. How and to what extent they are effective is examined in terms of their potential to restore or further disrupt a sense of coherence to individuals in the conduct of their lives. As to methods, the project relies on the Strauss and Charmaz Grounded Theory approach in combination with the typological procedures developed by Kelle and Kluge.

These instruments of empirical social research ensure that a typology can be drawn up of specifically modern experiences of contingency and of religious and non-religious approaches to it. It also provides for a theoretical appraisal of these findings. Within the religious realm, it compares coping practices influenced by Christian, Muslim and Hindu traditions. The study’s results will serve, on the one hand, to expand our understanding of the functionality of religiousness and non-religiousness in processes of coping with contingency; on the other hand, they will contribute to bringing up to date sociology’s understanding of coping strategies under conditions of late modernity.