„Citizenship and Religious Pluralism: A Contradiction in Terms?“ The Awarding of an Honorary Professorship for Bryan S. Turner (CUNY) and the Founding of the Potsdam Centre for Citizenship


SchildBryan S. Turner is a British sociologist researching in the area of human rights, citizenship, and religion. Having worked at universities in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the USA, processes of globalization and migration play a major role in his work. Currently, he is Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York (CUNY). After receiving the Max-Planck-Forschungspreis in 2015, the University of Potsdam now awarded him an honorary professorship and inaugurated the Potsdam Centre for Citizenship, Social Pluralism and Religious Diversity on June 14th, 2016.

After long-term cooperations between Bryan Turner (CUNY) and Jürgen Mackert (Potsdam), the newly founded research center represents rather a symbol of continuity than just a starting point. Two years ago for example, the two sociologists and their faculty members held an international conference on „The Changing Nature of Citizenship„. It had become clear that the traditional concept of citizenship presented by Thomas H. Marshall (1950)[1] would no longer be applicable to the globalized world with its processes of boundary-making and exclusion.
The research on human rights and citizenship will now continue by conducting conferences, workshops, lectures and by working on joint publications in the new Centre. The formal commencement of work was highlighted by officially awarding Turner an honorary professorship of the University of Potsdam. After addresses by Vice Dean of Faculty Norbert Gronau and President of the University Oliver Günther, Turner held his inaugural lecture which will be summarized below. On June 17th, Turner and Mackert performed an international workshop titled „Religion, Law, and Rights“ and currently there is a public lecture series on citizenship from June 23rd to July 18th. Moreover, an international conference on populism is planned for the summer of 2017. The research and teaching activities of the Centre are not only involving entrenched scholars, but also explictily target junior scientists and students.

„Citizenship and Religious Pluralism: A Contradiction in Terms?“

Turner started his 45-minute lecture by outlining an – indeed pessimistic, but possible – vision: in a year from now, Donald Trump would be president of the US, Great Britain would have left the EU, and diplomatic conflicts with Western states and Russia would deteriorate. In other words: we would be living in highly catastrophic times. Surely – one might want to remark – things do not necessarily have to develop in such a way. Yet most researchers in the social sciences agree that there is a fragmentation of society already taking place. Turner thus delineated one of his main research questions: what are successful societies? He explained that only societies with a successful framework for the concept of citizenship could flourish.

Turner during his lecture (06/14/2016)

Turner during his lecture (06/14/2016)

Turner connected the emergence of his research topics to his personal backgrounds. His grandfather and father both coming from the working class, Turner’s own education and academic career would not have been possible without the development of the welfare state. Now, thinking about citizenship, its concept would generally be understood in a narrow way: it is defined within our passports. However, Turner linked the concept of citizenship to the roots of social solidarity – the major area of sociological research. Citizenship would not only be a meaningful pillar of individual identity formation, but also of the redistribution of resources. With particular attention to today’s debates, Turner then delineated the tensions between citizenship as an institution of equality on the one hand and inequalities between races, genders, or classes on the other. A second source of tension is displayed in the integrating effect and the legal equation brought through citizenship – and the exclusionary character of membership.

With regard to the future outlook from the beginning, Turner explained that ne nature of citizenship is shifting. T.H. Marshall’s work being a basis for understanding citizenship, the concept of Marshallian welfare had been more and more undermined ever since. Not only would there be a decline in employment security, but also a downfall of public investments in education and utilities and a dramatic change in demography. Moreover, the nature of family would undergo a significant change as well. Turner thus concludes, the three pillars of Marshallian (traditional) citizenship – meaning full employment, security of public services including the military, and traditional family formation – all of these had disappeared. There are difficulties in employment security, especially for young citizens, in many welfare states, public services become increasingly mechanized, and new types of family formation are emerging (delayed marriage, same-sex marriage, low fertility rates, globalization of families through migration etc.).

To cope with these developments and especially with the demographic changes, welfare states would need to decide about at least one of the following solutions: securing the working class through immigration and/or promoting technological innovations to keep the economy going. Both ways entail the emergence of social tensions – concerning migration Turner named the example of contention about minority rights.

Following this outline of current research activities, he then summarized four major analytical areas for the new Potsdam Centre for Citizenship. Firstly, the promotion of research on successful cities – Turner explained that the meta question about successful societies would for now be too broad a proposition. Moreover, it would be interesting that a society as a whole might be less successful, whereas single cities in the same area flourish. Turner exemplified London, New York, or San Francisco as such places. At this point, the listener might want to ask how exactly the notion of success is defined so that these examples become better to understand.

Oliver Günther (president of the University of Potsdam) awards the honorary professorship to Bryan Turner

Oliver Günther (president of the University of Potsdam) awards the honorary professorship to Bryan Turner after the opening lecture

Secondly, Turner would like to shed light on religious as well as legal pluralism. The latter being a recent research concept of Turner, he would like to look at societies that accept parts of religious laws within their actual secular legal systems. For example, there are parts of Sharia acknowledged in Great Britain or, as a more recent example, Turner reminded of the discussion about the obligatory handshaking in a school in Switzerland. Other debates about same-sex marriage or circumcision characterize the question how far legal pluralism could be pressed without undermining social solidarity.

Thirdly, the Centre will look at the rise of populism and right-wing movements – recent examples like Donald Trump, Marie Le Pen, Beata Szydlo, or Pegida influencing current political debates in many welfare states. Lastly, Turner would like to look at familial pluralism as explained above. With a twinkle in the eye he said the prospective title of his next book might be „Late Love“ or „Late Fatherhood“.
To close up with a counterpart to the above pessimistic view of our near future, Turner emphasized if he would really resignate, he would be at the beach in Australia and enjoy life. Rather, academics would need to encourage young people to create a world that is better than the one of their parents. A notion Turner explicitly marked possible.

[1] Thomas H. Marshall, Citizenship and social class and other essays, Cambridge 1950.


Sarah Kaschuba

Sarah Kaschuba studierte Soziologie und Geschichte (B.A.). Zurzeit studiert sie Soziologie (M.A.) an der Universität Potsdam und der University of Mississippi. Sie beschäftigte sich thematisch insbesondere mit soziologischer Theorie, kollektiver Gewalt und Rechtsextremismus.

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