Alexander-Kenneth Nagel

Promised Lands and Scattered Tribes: Spiritual Aspirations in Modern Mass Migration

Professor of Religious Studies
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Social Science Department
Göttingen, Germany

Capstone Conference Talk

Friday (8/4) 6:10-6:30PM

Refugee Camps in Germany as Sites of Religious Enhancement and Restriction

Since 2015 Germany has received more than a million refugees, mainly from the Near and Middle East, many of whom had to be housed in provisional emergency shelters, such as school gyms or old caserns. Focusing on expert interviews with camp directors and social workers, the talk investigates how these emergency shelters have dealt with religious practice and diversity, e.g. by providing prayer rooms, accounting for dietary needs, assisting with religious celebrations, and collaborating with local religious communities of various backgrounds.


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 4:00-5:10PM

Transcending Limits of Spaces and Times

The objective of this Research Laboratory is to explore the role of temporal and spatial boundaries for the enhancement of life. While refuge migration provides an example of how the crossing of spatial boundaries might save or enhance life, patience or enduring and embracing vulnerability of finite, temporal life point to the acceptance or cultivation of boundaries as modes of the enhancement of life. In addition to engaging the philosophical and sociological meanings of time and space for enhancing life, often in paradoxical ways, we also turn to the resources of the religions. In religious traditions, the ‚boundary management‘ between present and future and between (finite) time and eternity offer tools to discuss the topic of enhancing life in an differentiated way.

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

Academic Biography

Alexander-Kenneth Nagel is a Full Professor for Religious Studies at the Georg-August-University in Göttingen (Social Science Department). After graduating from the University of Bremen with an M.A. in Religious Studies (2004) and Sociology (2005), Nagel earned a PhD (Dr. rer. pol.) in Political Sociology with a thesis on the institutional dynamics of policy networks. Between 2005 and 2009, he worked as a research associate at the Institute for Empirical and Applied Sociology (EMPAS) and the Collaborative Research Centre “Transformations of the State” in Bremen. In 2009 Nagel was appointed as an Assistant Professor for the Social Scientific Study of Religion at the Ruhr-University in Bochum and received tenure in 2014. In Bochum, he supervised the junior research group “Networking Religion: Civic Potentials of Religious Communities,” which was funded by the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (2009-2014). Nagel’s current research interests include the civic potentials of religious migrant communities, religious pluralization and institutionalized forms of interreligious encounter and the governance of religious diversity in modern immigration societies. His previous research concentrated on modern apocalypticism and faith-based organizations as social service providers. Recent publications include: Religiöse Netzwerke. Die zivilgesellschaftlichen Potentiale religiöser Migrantengemeinden [Religious Networks. Civic Potentials of Religious Migrant communities], Bielefeld: Transcript 2015 and Diesseits der Parallelgesellschaft. Neuere Studien zu religiösen Migrantengemeinden in Deutschland [Beyond Parallel Society: New Approaches to Religious Migrant Communities in Germany], Bielefeld: Transcript 2012.

Project Executive Summary

The project is to examine modern mass migration as a particular form and expression of spiritual aspirations and as a means to enhance human life. Migration has been among the first strategies of mankind to enhance life: drought, flooding and other natural disasters as well as every kind of human or animal enemies have been significant ‘push-factors’ from the early days on. Along with the emergence of more holistic worldviews and spiritual reasoning, however, utopian visions of a “promised land” have gained momentum as ideational driving forces and ‘pull factors’ to leave the mediocrity of one´s home and venture for a better world. These visions of enhancement may, but need not be explicitly religious and can include the wish for freedom of religion or speech (e.g. in case of religious minorities) as well as more worldly hopes for the peace and well-being of future generations. At any rate, however, they dwell on an emphatic notion of the future ‘place to be’, thus creating a counter-world to a given status quo.

While previous research has focused on monetary challenges or assets of migration (economics), matters of integration and social cohesion (sociology) or a hybridization of identities or cultural production (cultural anthropology) the project sets out to develop a sociology of religion perspective on migration which pays due attention to the role of religious imaginaries in fostering and structuring migration processes. It will provide original empirical insights departing from the research question: “how do concepts of enhancement change after the counter-world has become the actual world?”