The Legacy of the 1960s and 1970s: Religious and Scientific Entanglements

Research topic

This research project investigates the entangled history of religious and social-scientific discourses and institutions from the late 1960s through today. To do so, it focuses on two fundamental and yet under-researched developments within and across the Swiss scientific and religious fields. The first subproject, entitled The dynamics of religion and the social sciences, focuses on the institutionalization of the sociology of religion in Switzerland, drawing attention to the intellectual transfer processes between religious and scholarly actors and to the negotiation of the symbolic and institutional boundaries among them. The second subproject, entitled Emerging religiosity, emerging assessments, analyzes the creation, institutionalization, and development of “research and advice centers” on new religious movements (NRMs) in Switzerland. It discusses the interactions and knowledge exchanges among scholars of different disciplines—including psychologists, theologians and scholars of religion—governmental institutions, and the Catholic and Reformed Churches in their effort to analyze, understand, and curtail the diffusion of emerging religious groups.


The project will operationalize the research questions through a three-layered methodology. 1) Archival research will enable the project team to reconstruct the evolving actor constellations and their concerns in the different institutionalization phases with respect to the research institutes and advice centers. 2) An in-depth analysis of the scientific publications, bulletins, and gray literature will allow the project team to tie the institutional dynamics to the development of a conceptual framework by which institutional actors interpret and react to the surrounding socioreligious reality. 3) Oral history and expert interviews with different generations of actors will provide additional insight on the evolving perception of the 1960s and 1970s as a moment of paradigmatic change in the religious history of the West.


This project draws attention to the interrelation between the religious changes since the 1960s and the intellectual and institutional structures created to analyze them. It provides two dialectically related insights: it investigates the development of the social-scientific study of religion in its interactions with the Swiss religious landscape, and it analyzes how religious actors seek new sociological instruments to understand themselves and the surrounding society. On a theoretical level, the project calls into question a strict conception of the functional and institutional differentiation of modern societies, underscoring the interactions and mutual influence among social systems. It also raises new questions about the historical and institutional roots of the growing contemporary theoretical interest in the 1960s and 1970s. The project will inspire articles, an international workshop, two Ph.D. theses, and an edited book on the religious and scientific legacy of the 1960s and 1970s.


The project is based at the Institute for the Science of religion at the University of Bern and is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (2018–2021). Prof. Dr. Andrea Rota is the project supervisor.