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Rechtswissenschaftliche Fakultät Lehrstuhl Langer

UFSP Digital Religions

Legal Protection of Religion(s) in Cyberspace

University Research Priority Program “Digital Religion(s)" 


Summary of the planned research program of the URPP: Overall objectives and aims

Well-founded insights into the dynamic relation of religion and digital media and their potential for dealing with conflicts and promoting dialogue within religious plurality and diversity are vital for peaceful coexistence in contemporary society, both in Switzerland and in the global context. This URRP investigates the practices, challenges, risks and opportunities of "Digital Religion(s)" in today's globally networked society. The overall objective is to analyze and understand (1) the cultural, political and societal potentials of religion within the digital society, (2) religious identity and community formations, (3) authority claims on the digital marketplace and their possible risks, and (4) positive contributions of digital religious practice for individuals, communities and society. For the first time in the Swiss and European context, the dynamics of digital religious communication, interaction and transformation with regard to their legal and ethical contexts will be explored with innovative empirical and theoretical approaches and in strong interdisciplinary as well as international collaboration.


Legal Protection of Religion(s) in Cyberspace

One of the main aims of our URPP project is the operationalisation of abstract concepts, providing different societal actors with the tools to assess religious practices in the digital realm. In a secularised society, such assessment is based on legal prescriptions adopted by the legislature and interpreted by the courts. The analysis of the legal framework will therefore pro­vide an important element in establishing the potentials and risks of “digital religion(s)”.

The authoritative regulation of the religious digital marketplace poses a twofold challenge to the law. First, religion has always been a particularly sensitive subject matter for legal oversight. Originally, the law was a mere means to enforce religious dogma, revealed commands and prohibitions; on occasion, it still proves difficult to clearly distinguish between majoritarian religious traditions and the prevailing values in a democratic society. Second, the traditional territorial application of legal norms has proven difficult to transfer to cyberspace. The scope (and the limits) of notions such as privacy, freedom of expression and religious freedom is much more difficult to establish when cause and effect of potential violations are geographically dislocated. The role and responsibility of the State is also less clear than the past distinctions of status negativus (i.e. the protection against State interference, or negative obligations) and status positivus (i.e. positive State obligations to ensure the enjoyment of rights) would suggest.


Primarily, the pertinent research and conclusions will form the subject of a PhD thesis, which will be completed within phase I of the URPP (2021-2025). Our project can rely on a research infrastructure that is, to a large extent, already established. The PhD position will be located at the UZH Centre for Human Rights Studies (UZHR). The UZHR is an interdisciplinary scientific network with the goal of promoting and coordinating research, teaching and knowledge transfer in the area of human rights. With our project focusing on the relationship between freedom of expression and freedom of religion, as well as on the interaction between legal and religious norms, there will be ample opportunity for us to establish a platform for exchange between URPP members and UZHR members who tackle related human rights questions in their own research. In addition, the UZHR will provide a gateway for cooperation with the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Human Rights in Berne as well as the Association of Human Rights Institutions (AHRI) This will enable our PhD student to establish a research network and benefit from exchanges with other junior researchers as well as established scholars.