Ernst Wolfgang Böckenförde's Contributions to Theorizing the Relation Between Law and Religion
Date: 29 September – 1 October 2016
Convenors: Mirjam Künkler (Göttingen, GER), Tine Stein (Kiel, GER)
From September 29 until October 1 Mirjam Künkler (Uppsala, Sweden) and Tine Stein (Kiel, Germany) convened a publication-driven international conference on the contributions of one of Germany's foremost legal and constitutional scholars on the relation between Law, Religion and Democracy: Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, who taught at Bielefeld University from 1969 to 1974. The conference aimed at analyzing and discussing Böckenförde's œuvre with an international group of scholars in order to further the international reception of his work in the wake of the forthcoming publication of many of his articles in English (Law, Religion and Democracy. Selected Writings by Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde. With introductions and annotations by Mirjam Künkler and Tine Stein, Oxford University Press, 2017). Constitutional scholars, political theorists, historians, and sociologists from the UK, France, Turkey, the US, and Germany examined his concepts and argumentations, and explored the relevance of his ideas to contemporary developments in religion and law beyond the German context.
The conference focused particularly on Böckenförde's key contributions to theorizing the relationship between religion, law and democracy against the backdrop of his normative reasoning: Böckenförde writes as a social democrat, as a political liberal, and as a committed Catholic. As a Catholic, he is concerned with questions of social cohesion, political community, and the ethical foundations of a state: what holds the "demos" together, and should the state promote certain worldviews over others (which he ultimately negates)? As a social democrat, he deeply cares about not only political but also economic and social injustices. For Böckenförde, it is a duty of the democratic state to address these injustices, and no political stability can be achieved without social and economic security. Finally, as a political liberal, he has argued fervently in favor of tolerating even those who oppose the system and prosecuting individuals only on the basis of violations of the law, but not on the basis of a lack of Gesinnungstreue (declared commitment to the liberal democratic order). These are the corner stones of this thinking against which the debates of the conference took place.
The debates probed Böckenförde's understanding of the role of religion in public life, his notion of "relative homogeneity", his critical engagement with the Catholic church, and the implications of his famous dictum according to which the liberal secularized state draws its life from presuppositions that it cannot itself guarantee.
As a result of the high quality of the papers distributed, the conveners are preparing three major publications: The first is a special issue in Constellations – An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory, which will bring together perspectives on the Böckenförde dictum, and his struggles with the Catholic Church. The second will be a special section in the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, which will shed particular light on the thinkers who have shaped Böckenförde's view on the proper place of religion in public life. Both journal publications shall appear in 2017. The third is an edited volume that introduces the major themes of Böckenförde's work. It shall consist of 12-14 chapters, each of which shall provide the definitive guide of Böckenförde's œuvre on a major theme, including the Böckenförde dictum, his view on human dignity, his rejection of grounding laws in values, and others.