For a long time, the world was perceived to be quite homogeneous when it comes to religions. Carthographers used to draw maps of religions as territorial maps, one predominante religion within the borders of a nation state. However, in recent times, the perception of religious landscapes has changed totally. The reasons for this can be found in the fact that religious diversity has been increasing in various regions worldwide - whether forced by believers without religious affiliation, migration, the emergence of small religious communities, the rise of new religious movements, the cultivation of various milieus within the major religions or secularisation. This development towards an increasing religious diversity can especially be found in the rising urban regions around the world.
Coordinating international research on religious pluralisation
In the mid 2000s, the investigation of religious pluralisation became very prominent in Europe and aroused vivid public debates. Research projects on religious pluralisation - on regional as well as on national levels - were conducted by different research institutions but largely without mutual reference to one another. In order to achieve an overview on the research situation and beyond as well as to enable comparisons between the findings of different regions worldwide, the Plureligion Network (plureligion/net) was founded in 2009. Funded by the NORFACE CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAMME: Re-emergence of Religion as a Social Force in Europe?, the Plureligion Network aims to coordinate, connect and compare current and future research on religious pluralisation processes on an international scale.
Connecting regional research on religious pluralisation
Following the debate on the impacts of religious diversity that evolved in American sociology of religion during the 1980s, since the mid 1990s Europe has seen various studies aiming to expand the previous state of knowledge regarding the diversification of the religious landscape. However, stock-taking work aiming to permit an initial appraisal of the situation has often been limited to the regional scale hitherto. A number of local initiatives have documented the diversity of religious organisations in certain cities or regions. For Germany, these include among others the major cities of Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover, Essen, and the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In Switzerland the religious landscape has been examined among others in the urban areas of Basel, Zurich and Lucerne, as well as on religious diversity in the country as a whole. In England the Kendal Project and the research on Leeds and the Bradford area deserve a special mention. Furthermore, Scandinavian countries have seen national projects on religious diversity while the Pluralism Project of Harvard University has documented the growing religious diversity within the United States.
For the most part, the regional research projects on religious plurality were carried out without mutual consideration. For that reason, the overall intention of CERES' Plureligion Network is to establish and expand communication between the international researchers involved in the local projects. The plureligion/net has been joined among others by the Danish Pluralism Project and the Religion in Denmark Project (Marie Vejrup Nielsen, Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger), the Religions in Finland Project (Kimmo Ketola, Tuomas Martikainen), the Community Religions Project (Kim Knott) and the Religions in Switzerland Project (Martin Baumann).
Comparing regional findings on religious pluralisation
The aim of plureligion/net is to establish a dialogue between the single research projects in order to obtain cross-project findings about the process of religious pluralisation worldwide. This includes the quantitative dimension of religious plurality. Up to now, neither contemporary religion research nor the statistics offices in most European countries have reliable social statistics providing an overview of the quantitative aspects of religious plurality, with just a few exceptions (e.g. Switzerland). Furthermore, the social consequences of religious plurality are highly relevant, the impacts on civil society as well as the effects within the religious field have to be considered and shall be discussed widely.
Communicating research on religious diversity to the public
As an outcome of the quantitative and qualitative research on religious diversity, projects of the plureligion/net as the Danish Pluralism Project, the Pluralism Project at Harvard University or CERES' projects are actively involved in different forms of knowledge transfer. Regularly, researchers of CERES present their findings to an academic audience, in public talks, and in publications. CERES projects furthermore organise public exhibitions that deal with issues of local religious diversity. In recent times, CERES has also set a new way of specialised knowledge transfer in arranging workshops and trainings for public administation and welfare organisations on the changing religious landscape in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and Germany.