The Max-Weber-Kolleg pursues a Weberian research programme, which can be briefly characterised as interdisciplinary and comparative social sciences with great historical depth and an interest in normative questions. In the founding and development phase of the Kolleg, the Weberian research programme was directed towards the following problem areas:
- Religion, science and law as powers of interpretation and control
- interactions between cultures, social orders and mentalities in radical change
- action-theoretical foundations of cultural and social sciences and their relationship to normative, especially ethical questions
Comparative cultural analysis of world relations
Under the heading of the comparative cultural analysis of world relations, the Max Weber Kolleg has defined its current three thematic foci and at the same time given the research groups and research units working at the Kolleg a common bracket. The research groups include, on the one hand, the research groups designed for a specific period of time (often identical with a funding period) and, on the other hand, the research units designed for a longer period of time. Thematically, these can be assigned to the following three focal points, although overlaps are certainly intended.
Normativity and social critique
Max Weber's doctrine of the inescapable 'cultural meanings' and 'value relations' of concepts and practices makes it clear that institutions are not only defined by procedural rules, but also by the 'goods' they strive for and by the value concepts they are based on. Without them, ways of acting and practices cannot be understood at all. For this reason, the Max-Weber-Kolleg sees the analysis of norms and values as a core task of cultural studies, because without them, the cultural meanings of concepts with which we describe social reality, as well as social life itself, cannot be grasped.
However, norms and values always also enter into a relationship of tension with social reality: they enable reflection on and critique of existing conditions that never fully coincide with them.
The Max-Weber-Kolleg therefore investigates the emergence, dissemination and transformation of norms and values on the one hand, and at the same time strives to clarify the question of the (social and cultural) conditions of successful human life and social coexistence in terms of social philosophy.
Space-time regime and the order of the social
Societies, practices and ways of life are never rigid, but are constantly changing and adapting in response to external as well as internal challenges. However, clear differences can be observed in the way they are stabilised and structurally reproduced. The relationship between order, stability and change proves to be historically and culturally highly variable. Change and transformation do not always threaten or endanger the stability of patterns of order and institutions - quite the opposite.
Max Weber draws attention to this fact at a central point in his work when he identifies the transition from traditional 'need-covering' to profit-oriented capitalist economies. A fundamental consequence of the rationalisation process seems to be that modern orders are only able to stabilise themselves dynamically, i.e. that they can only reproduce and maintain themselves through continuous increase (in the form of growth, acceleration and innovation). The relationship between order and change is closely linked to the patterns of experiencing and shaping time.
The meaning of past, present and future, the sequencing and scheduling of process chains, the formation of experiential spaces and horizons of expectation, the synchronisation (and desynchronisation) of institutional (and natural) proper times are closely related to the way social orders gain stability despite, against or through change. Likewise, in a globalised world, the experience of the interconnectedness of spaces through economic relations, the transfer of ideas and institutions, and relations of domination play a major role in the formation of "world relations". The Max-Weber-Kolleg therefore sets itself the task of empirical analysis and cultural studies interpretation of spatial and temporal structures with regard to the relationship between order, change and dynamics.
Religion as innovation
Social change poses a challenge to religion as a power of interpretation and control. Numerous contemporary diagnoses address the question of how social change changes religion. With Max Weber, however, it is also important to reverse this perspective and examine the consequences of religious practices and convictions and their significance for world relations and social change.
Religion is not something static, but is itself subject to historical change. Even more, the phenomenon contexts made comparable with the term "religion" appear as innovations in the most diverse social constellations and wide-ranging cultural contacts. The Max-Weber-Kolleg pursues the question of worldwide changes in religion in changing societies since the ancient advanced civilisations as well as resistance to change and consolidation in projects on questions of religious individualisation, lived religion and ritual resonance, religion in modern processes of upheaval and modernisation, mobilisation and its systematic (for example in Kierkegaard) and historiographical reflection.