Dr. Maren Freudenberg
Community and Individual in Late Modern Religion: Mainline Protestantism Between Tradition and Innovation. The Case of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Dissertation in Sociology
First supervisor: Prof. Harald Wenzel
Second supervisor: Prof. Winfried Fluck
Third supervisor: Prof. Frank Kelleter
My dissertation, entitled Community and Individual in Late Modern Religion: Mainline Protestantism Between Tradition and Innovation. The Case of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, refutes the widespread notion that Mainline denominations in the United States are in irreversible decline. Working with Grounded Theory, I conducted in-depth qualitative research within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the second-largest Mainline group, and discovered broad-scale transformation taking place: religious practices are becoming increasingly experiential and individual-centered, and organizational structures are growing more networked and participatory. This is an astounding finding in a religious group that is known to be rational, bureaucratic, and hierarchical, because it suggests that late modern religious subjectivism, so widespread in pietistic Evangelical circles, is spreading throughout the Mainline. Instead of simply copying from Evangelicalism, however, the ELCA is retaining its progressive theology and liturgical worship tradition in order to carve out a unique identity for itself in the broad diversity of the American religious landscape. These research results reveal that it is premature to claim that the American Mainline is dying; instead, it is able to adapt to late modern religious trends and formations by simultaneously encouraging religious subjectivism and maintaining authority as a religious tradition.