The Center of Excellence "Enlightenment – Religion – Knowledge" examines transformations of the religious and the rational in the modern period. The work on these three general topics shall contribute to the answer of a question of growing urgency: to what extent can enlightenment, religion and knowledge complement each other in rational forms rather than coming into conflict in their irrational forms? The members of the faculty advisory board come from the fields and disciplines of church history, systematic theology, philosophy, history, media and communication studies, German and Romance literature. Associated and cooperative projects as well as projects of graduate fellows integrate an even broader spectrum of academic disciplines into the network.
It is the central thesis of the Center of Excellence that the conflicts, tensions and misunderstandings which mark contemporary relationships among enlightenment, religion and knowledge can be overcome to the extent to which rational elements can be shown as inherent to properly understood conceptions of enlightenment and religion. The work of the Center of Excellence is therefore based upon two premises: First, that the standards of rationality by which the guardians and patrons of Enlightenment still orientate themselves today have undergone profound historical transformations. Second, that the religious has also undergone comparable transformations through new dimensions of rationality since the beginning of the eighteenth century.
The eighteenth century saw the historical inception and apex of deliberate efforts at public Enlightenment, and simultaneously marked the culmination of public discussions on Enlightenment and religion. It also provides, in the form of d'Alembert and Diderot's 'Encyclopedia on the Sciences, the Arts, and Crafts', a fundamental concept of Enlightenment through science – and thereby the thesis that enlightened knowledge is no different than knowledge won through scientific means.
The conventions, symbols and metaphors in normative and narrative behavioural discourses of the eighteenth century, however, allow an understanding of how mental, social and psychological conflicts are related to the transformations of physical behavioral patterns. For nearly half a century since its founding in the year 1694 the university in Halle was one of the most fertile scientific offspring of the century which witnessed the birth of the Enlightenment. Yet during this same period, Halle was also where the most important theological and religious renewals within continental Protestantism were concentrated in the form of Pietism.
Through the work of the Center of Excellence "Enlightenment – Religion – Knowledge" the present university in Halle not only encounters its own history, it also recalls its participation in an Enlightenment of a public sense of justice (Christian Wolff, Christian Thomasius), in a rational cultivation of practical religion (August Hermann Francke), in the development of an aesthetic consciousness (Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, Georg Friedrich Meier), and in discussions concerning the compatibility of Enlightenment and religion (Wolff, Francke, Joachim Lange).