The Religious Landscape in Germany: Secularizing West – Secularized East
To explore the situation of churches and religion in unified Germany, it is necessary to distinguish between two regions which differ considerably in many ways. Since unification, there have been many discussions about the extent to which the accession of the former GDR has changed the nature of the ‘old’ FRG. There are many voices in the social sciences, as well as among the general public, which claim that not much has changed in the Western part of Germany. This is certainly true on an institutional level, since East German society more or less adapted to the structures of the West German system. However, if we exclude the institutional level, we cannot speak in terms of adaptation, and nor can we claim that the landscape has been left completely unchanged. This holds true in particular for the sphere of religion and the churches. What distinguishes the two regions with regard to the religious sphere is the fact that, over a period of 40 years (or even longer), religion in East Germany was seriously threatened by the political regime. During the communist period, almost all public religious activities were suppressed, which resulted in the disappearance of all forms of public religion. In effect, religion was forced into the private sphere. In contrast to West Germany, where a large majority of the population was and still is affiliated to a church, East Germany can be characterized as one of the most secularized regions of the world. Thus, the case of Germany offers a unique opportunity to re-examine some of the hypotheses which have been put forward by sociologists of religion during the last few decades.