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Remote Effects of Secularization in East Germany

Panel Chair: Jenny Vorpahl | Friday, August 28, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

The panel deals with ritual behaviors and official worldviews in East German society and will investigate, whether these can be seen as repercussions of a forced secularization by the communist regime in East Germany. It is to be verified whether the rehabilitation of the East nowadays can be seen as a reaction toward the idealization of the Western lifestyle a quarter-century ago. Considering the current nostalgia for East Germany, expressed in products and norms, it seems obvious that East Germany preserves a heritage of GDR-worldviews. The persistence of “Jugendweihe” (youth-consecration)-events supports this assumption. Likewise this heritage could explain the adaption of church wedding traditions within German civil wedding ceremonies. Similarly, some positions in political parties nowadays seem to be offshoots of the “scientific atheism” in the GDR. The panel will investigate, whether the forced secularity propagated by the East-German state was replaced by a voluntary secularity.

Hans-Michael Haußig

Secularity in East Germany – Changes and Continuities

The official policy of the communist regime in East-Germany was to diminish the influence of all kinds of religion. In order to strengthen the social integration of the East German society, the state propagated a strong simplified Marxist-Leninist ideology as well as it tried to establish new kinds of rituals, which in some way can be seen as surrogates of traditional religious practices. This led to a far-reaching alienation of the majority of the East Germans toward traditional religion. After the collapse of the communist regime, most of the East-German remained in distance toward the traditional religious institutions. Although there was no prescribed ideological orientation after 1989, they nevertheless continued some of the surrogate practices formerly promoted by the socialist state. The paper will analyze the changes and continuities between the secularity in East Germany before and after the collapse of the communist regime in 1989.

Jenny Vorpahl

Civil marriage in Germany between secularization, ritualization and individualization

Just 25% of German marriages are performed by the churches. The number of all marriages is low, but stable since 15 years. Although there are hardly any obligatory elements for the legal act, one can observe increasingly splendid weddings in a church-like appearance. It seems that the deregulation triggers the search for own understandings of marriage and appropriate acts for this change of status. The presentation analyzes and contextualizes processes of ritual-design by investigating wedding-guidebooks from East and West Germany and handbooks for registrars. The material will be examined concerning the role of institutions in the imparting of ritual knowledge and conventions, forms of individualization and secularization by adaptations or replacements of religious traditions. It needs to be proved, if in contrast to West Germany ritualized civil weddings are standard in Eastern Germany as a heritage of the GDR.

Johann Evangelist Hafner

Jugendweihe – a ritual losing its content

The „Jugendweihe“, a public ritual of adolesence, is one of the most visible heritages of the GDR. After fierce critique by the churches it is commonly accepted today. The lecture will show the way of the Jugendweihe from a sowjet-loyalty oath in the early 60ies to an initiation of socialist personalities. From the side of the participants the state-oriented celebration was subsequently regarded as a family feast and – after 1989 – into an individualistic biographical event. This seems to be one reason for its survival. In the years after the reunification the Jugendweihe was redesigned by retrieving its early humanistic tradition. The numbers are decreasing, but one has to ask, why a ritual prevails although it has lost not only its ideological profile, but lacks specific content. Perhaps because it became a selfreferential ritual: Youth, parents and organizers celebrate the fact that they can organize a celebration.

Dirk Schuster

Remnants of the research on atheism in the GDR?

In 1956, the first academic workgroup for the research on the significance of atheism for the development of a socialist society system in East Germany was created at the University of Halle. By the end of the 1960s further research associations were established, so that in 1964 a new university chair for academic atheism could be established at the University of Jena. In terms of content, the researchers were dealing with the socialist debate on Christian moral ethics as well as the formation of religion and its social importance. The presentation will take a further look, if these ideas found a new home in the programs of leftwing-parties nowadays, especially in the papers and regional discussions of parties on their regional level (Landesverbände).


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