The chair is currently working on the following projects:

Subproject 1 of the research group “Horizontal Europeanization. Europe as an emerging social entity between the national and the global sphere” led by Prof. Dr. Martin Heidenreich, Carl-von-Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg.

The opening of national, hierarchically structured academic fields goes hand in hand with an Europeanization of academic capitalism: The inequality in terms of researchers, disciplines and universities is increasingly subjected to heightened competition. The institutionalization on a European level accounts for few, though globally visible winners. The theoretical surplus of the research project so far is mainly rooted in a transnational conception of the academic field within the field of power, enabling a both horizontal and comparative perspective on specific national features. This perspective allows for a deeper understanding of the process of the symbolic construction of the European research area (ERA). By analyzing the interplay between national opening and European closure, several findings were gained: On the micro- and meso levels, in particular, a variety of transnational strategies concerning career, third-party funding and respective cooperation have developed, indicating an academic modus operandi that becomes increasingly Europeanized. However, the genesis of an ERA also involves potential conflicts: Based on our current results, further analysis needs to focus especially on transnational academic migration, effects of “brain-drain” and the emergence of a European academic elite.

Homepage of the research group  DFG-Forschergruppe.

Project led by Prof. Dr. Richard Münch, Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg, in cooperation with the Zeppelin University.

Research Associates:
Vincent Gengnagel
Stephanie Beyer
Len Ole Schäfer

Prof. Dr. Thomas Kern
Prof. Dr. Uwe Schimank (Universität Bremen)

Dr. Insa Pruisken

August 2012 - Dezember 2017
Projektfinanzierung: gefördert durch die DFG


Megachurches have become a widespread phenomenon around the globe. Congregations are considered megachurches if their weekly services are attended by more than 2,000 adults. Although very large congregations have existed throughout the history of Christianity, their number has been rising sharply since the 1970s. Currently, there are more than 1,600 megachurches in the United States alone. While economic explanations for the extraordinary growth of congregations abound, more research is needed to explore the role of social networks for the recruitment of new attenders. Sociologists are also called to identify key features responsible for the success of megachurches as a new organizational form. Most importantly, tracing the rise of the megachurch movement may reveal profound transformations of spiritual culture in America.


The project seeks to provide insights about growth trajectories typical for megachurches by describing the specific niche they occupy in terms of the characteristics of their members, their embeddedness in organizational networks, and their positioning in the overall spiritual landscape.

Key Questions

  • How do megachurches mobilize new members?
  • What are key characteristics of megachurches as a new type of congregation?
  • How are megachurches culturally embedded in a network of meanings, ideas, and values?


The study follows a multilevel case study approach with four congregations located in Texas serving as research sites. In January and February 2013 about 70 interviews with staff members of the four churches were conducted in order to gather information about the organizations’ structure and goals. Between September 2013 and February 2014 an online survey for the members of the congregations was distributed. Questions dealt with their individual recruitment, their participation in church activities, and their affiliations with other organizations. In addition, a semantic network analysis of organizational documents and religious publications important for congregation members will be conducted.


Kern, Thomas & Insa Pruisken (2017): Evangelikalismus als Bewegung. In: Elwert, Frederik, Martin Radermacher & Jens Schlamelcher (Hrsg.): Handbuch Evangelikalismus, Bielefeld: transcript (in Vorbereitung).

Kern, Thomas & Insa Pruisken (2017): Religiöse Bewegungen. Das Beispiel des Evangelikalismus in den USA. In: Pollack, Detlef, Volker Krech, Olaf Müller & Markus Hero (Hrsg.): Handbuch Religionssoziologie, Springer: VS (in Vorbereitung).

Kern, Thomas & Insa Pruisken (2017): Kontingenzbewältigung durch "Organisation": Das Wachstum der Megakirchen in den USA. In: Sammet, Heidemarie & Kornelia Winkel: Religion soziologisch denken, Springer VS (im Erscheinen).

Kern, Thomas & Insa Pruisken (2016): Wohin geht der religiöse Wandel? Essay, Soziologische Revue 39(3): 337–349.

Pruisken, Insa & Janina Coronel (2014): Megakirchen: Managerialisierung im religiösen Feld? In: Heiser, Patrick & Christian Ludwig: Sozialformen der Religion im Wandel, Springer VS, S. 53-79.

Kern, Thomas & Uwe Schimank (2013): Megakirchen als religiöse Organisationen: Ein dritter Gemeindetyp jenseits von Sekte und Kirche? Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie Bd. 65, Supplement 1 (Sonderheft 53: Religion und Gesellschaft): 285-309.

Post-Socialist Civil Societies in Transformation: Comparing Eastern Germany and Russia (Prof. Dr. Thomas Kern, Prof. Christian Fröhlich, Dr. Sang-hui Nam)

The re-unification of Germany and the break-up of the Soviet Union have triggered profound political, economic and social processes. This so-called "post-socialist condition" still affects civil society in Germany and Russia: Germany struggles with many cultural and social divisions between East and West even after 25 years after the unification. Russia displays a sharp divide between authoritarian political structures and societal forces urging for more liberalization.

The shared post-socialist condition constitutes the basis for a comparison of German and Russian civil society. In the post-socialist part of Germany, political and economic structures were adopted almost entirely from the Western part of the country. Russia also transferred institutional elements from Western democracies. However, Soviet patterns have survived in a far stronger manner than in Germany. This observation raises the question, how both civil societies were and are still shaped by these transformations. Consequently, the project aims at analyzing the patterns and institutional logics that characterize civil society in Germany and Russia. The comparison of Russia and East Germany offers also an opportunity to analyze the impact of the socialist legacy.

The project consists of a series of workshops of German and Russian social scientists. Their goal is to establish a network of researchers on post-socialist civil societies in order to build collaborations and create innovative ideas for further research projects.

Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research

The Transformation of Social Cleavage Structures in Germany: Social Media Analytics of Collective Protests and Social Movements (Prof. Dr. Thomas Kern, Prof. Dr. Kai Fischbach, Prof. Dr. Marc Helbling, Prof. Dr. Elmar Rieger)

With the diffusion of digital communication technologies and the rise of new social media, the social cleavage structures in Germany have considerably changed over the past two decades. Our project aims at analyzing this process by combining insights from sociology, computational social sciences and political sciences. Conflicts are a driving force of social change, a crucial element of modern societies and a (potential) origin for social cleavages. We distinguish two basic types of conflicts: contained (institutionally regulated) conflicts and transgressive (unregulated) conflicts. Contained conflicts, such as party competition or collective bargaining systems in politics, balance diverging interests, institutionalize competition, and therefore ensure the integration of society. In contrast, transgressive conflicts, such as hate speech and collective protests, always bear a risk of escalation and may unsettle social order by turning into violence. Key research questions are: (1) How have the dynamics of social conflicts in Germany changed over the past two decades? (2) How have new forms of social media communication affected the social cleavage structure? (3) What are (under these circumstances) the conditions for the transformation of transgressive conflicts into contained conflicts?

This project will use a multi-method-design mainly based on tools and approaches from empirical sociology and computational social sciences. The idea is to analyze process generated data, such as tweets, discussions, event announcements and web links, in order to study the organizations, platforms, claims, meaning struc­tures, and social networks that shape the conflict dynamics and cleavage structures in the era of digitalization.

Submitted to the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research

How do Religious Markets Emerge? (Prof. Dr. Thomas Kern, Dr. Insa Pruisken)

The Protestant field in the US has experienced a profound process of transformation over the past decades: Evangelicalism has considerably gained in influence, so-called "Megachurches" have spread all over the country, and the traditional Protestant denominations have increasingly lost their impact on the religious everyday life of ordinary believers. Contemporary sociological approaches tend to interpret this development either in terms of secularization theory as a decline of religion, or with a critical view to secularization theory as a sign for its increasing importance.

In contrast to both perspectives, the planned project builds on market sociological approaches and proposes a "middle range theory" that looks into the specific institutional conditions of religious change in the US. We assume that the previously dominating "logic of Protestant denominationalism" has been superimposed by a new "logic of religious markets". In this process, firstly, religious competition shifts from the level of denominations to the level of congregations (competitive orientation). Secondly, believers are increasingly perceived as religious "consumers" with congregations tailoring their offers to their expectations (consumer orientation). The project aims at answering two questions: (i) What are the conditions for the institutionalization of the new market logic? (ii) What effects does the institutionalization of markets have on religious participation?

To study these questions, six congregations each from Houston and Minneapolis will be compared in terms of their cultural and social network structures. We expect that the religious market is more established and institutionalized in Houston than in Minneapolis. On this basis, we will examine how religious participation changes under the conditions of the market logic. The project builds on recent qualitative and quantitative methods such as social network analysis (SNA), topic modeling (TM) and qualitative comparative analyses (QCA).

Submitted to the German Research Foundation

Expired projects

About the project

The research project Unintended Side-Effects of Performance-Measurements in Science (NEL) is a comparative study sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and conducted by Prof. Richard Münch, Dipl. Soz. Len Ole Schäfer and Oliver Wieczorek, M.A. Our research aims are to uncover the complex, social dynamics that affect research conditions on individual level, department level, and level of the disciplines.

Research Questions

Our research project aims to answer the following six research questions:

1)      How do performance-measurements, rankings, and prestige differences affect inequality among departments and different types of universities?

2)      How strongly are research diversity and research autonomy affected by material and prestige inequalities?

3)      How strongly are research autonomy and scholarly output influenced by the introduction of monitoring practices on the levels of the university and how on the level of the academia as whole?

4)      How do resource- and prestige inequalities affect long-term and basic research?

5)      What are the effects on career patterns of scholars and their self-attribution as researcher?

6)      Does as possible segregation between teaching- and research-focused institutions have significant effects on research diversity, creativity, links to companies and politics, and returns on investment?

Theoretical Framework

In order to answer the six research questions raised, we use a theoretical framework based on the Academic Capitalism approach. This theoretical model proposes that a shift in boundary conditions influenced research conditions at universities. These boundary conditions comprise of the introduction of performance assessments in the 1980s, increasing attempts of state intervention into academia, scarcity of resources, and an alteration of how universities gain reputation. These developments introduced a struggle for material- and symbolic resources at the same time, affecting coping strategies and scientific values all over the world. These coping strategies in turn influence research autonomy, career advancement, possibility to establish collaboration, the necessity to monetize research results, and to be on top of academic league tables such as rankings and research assessments.

In a second step, our theoretical model suggests that the abovementioned shifts affect how scholars compete for academic merits and material resources. To this end, our research understands Academic Capitalism as a unique hybrid that unites the scientific search for truth and the economic maximization of profits. It turns universities into enterprises competing for capital accumulation and businesses into knowledge producers looking for new findings that can be turned into patents and profitable commodities. Therefore, Academic Capitalism has an impact on the strategic management of the universities and the relation between researchers and the university administration. On the level of the researchers, the question arises who can conduct autonomous, not directly marketable research under which conditions.

Further, our model suggests that a shift in both the general condition for research and the adaptation of the university as actor within the broader academic and economic development have different effects for scholars located at elite- and non-elite departments. Scholars at elite departments are backed by larger extents of material resources and are able to use their reputation and to remain relatively autonomous. These conditions ensure them to live according the principles of universalism, organized skepticism, disinterestedness, and intellectual communism. In case of elite departments, we suppose that criteria such as originality, creativity and diversity of research are highly valued (see Schäfer: Performance assessment in science and academia: effects of the RAE/REF on academic life).

However the majority of scholars at non-elite department must cope with their constraints in material and symbolic resources to a larger extent. Scarcity of resources, increasing competition for grants and the introduction of additional missions such as being responsible for economic growth and knowledge transfer to industry have an impact on scholars. They have to meet the demands of sponsors as well as the demands of the public, rendering them as assets in order to gain prestige and material resources while strengthening ties to companies. At the same time, researchers are trained to take the financial strain and power relations into account when conducting research. They must at least partially deviate from the principles universalism, organized skepticism, disinterestedness, and intellectual communism, leaving them with a weaker, competitive position for reputation and grants.


To accomplish the aims of our research, we use a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. To trace the long-term effects on department level, we use fixed- and random-effects regression models. Furthermore, we use methods of social network analysis to highlight the effects of academic capitalism on career opportunities, collaboration and competition in academia. Additionally, we use semi-structured interviews with researchers and university administrators to enhance our understanding of the proposed effects on daily routines on both scholars and administrators.

The survey adds to our methodological framework in the sense that it provides data needed for multilevel regression. This technique allows us to investigate the effects of academic capitalism on the level of the state-systems (e.g. University of California System), the departments, and individual researchers. 

About the survey 

The survey accompanies the research project Unintended Side-Effects of Performance-Measurements in Science is an online survey. It will take approximately 30 minutes to complete and consists of 45 questions in total. The questions are divided into six different topics and gives insights into the mechanisms affecting research careers, research autonomy, collegiality and competition, research diversity and academic values.

We are interested in the experiences of students, postdoctoral researchers and professors in the subjects Chemistry, Physics and Sociology. To do so, our survey is designed in such a manner that it allows us to aggregate individual responses on department level. After aggregation and anonymization, the departmental data will be matched with data that was collected by the National Science Foundation Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges and the IPEDS Salaries, Tenure, and Fringe Benefits Survey. By doing so, we hope to uncover the complex arrangement between structural effects at department level and individual level that are framed by political decisions and economic developments on the long run.

Selected Publications

During the last two and a half years, we accomplished more than 20 publications regarding the unintended effects of performance measurements in science. A selection of these publications is presented below:

1.       Münch, Richard (2014): Academic Capitalism. London, Routledge.

2.       Münch, Richard (2015): Alle Macht den Zahlen! Zur Soziologie des Zitationsindexes. In: Soziale Welt 66(2), 149 – 160.

3.       Münch, Richard (2015): Evaluation 2.0: von der wissenschaftlichen zur managerialen Qualitätssicherung? In: Bulletin 147/148, 22 – 28.

4.       Münch, Richard (2016): Die Universität im akademischen Kapitalismus [The university within academic capitalism]. In: Bauer, Nina, Christina Besio, Maria Norkus and Grit Petschick (Hg.): Wissen – Organisation – Forschungspraxis. Der Makro – Meso – Mikro – Link in der Wissenschaft [Knowledge – Organization – Research Practice. The Macro – Meso – Micro – Link in academia]. VS-Verlag: Wiesbaden, 95 – 121.

5.       Münch, Richard and Thomas Heinze (2016): Innovation in Science and Organizational Renewal. Historical and Sociological Perspectives. Palgrave.

6.       Münch, Richard and Len Ole Schäfer (2014): Rankings, Diversity, and the Power of Renewal in Science. A Comparison between Germany, the UK and the US. In: European Journal of Education 49(1), 60 – 76.

7.       Schäfer, Len Ole (2016): Performance assessment in science and academia: effects of the RAE/REF on academic life. Centre for Global Higher Education working paper series (no. 7).

8.       Heiberger, Heiko and Oliver Wieczorek (2016): Choosing Collaboration Partners. How Scientific Success Depends on Network Positions. Working Paper.

9.       Wieczorek, Oliver, Stephanie Beyer and Richard Münch (2016): Fief and Benefice Feudalism. Two Types of Academic Autonomy in US Chemistry. In Publication (Higher Education).

10.   Wieczorek, Oliver and Len Ole Schäfer (2016): Verwaltungspraktiken – Konstruktion von Leistungsindikatoren am Beispiel des britischen Research Assessment Exercise. [The Effect of Management Practices on Performance Indicators: The Example of the British Research Assessment Exercise]. In: Bauer, Nina, Christina Besio, Maria Norkus and Grit Petschick (Hg.): Wissen – Organisation – Forschungspraxis. Der Makro – Meso – Mikro – Link in der Wissenschaft [Knowledge – Organization – Research Practice. The Macro – Meso – Micro – Link in academia]. VS-Verlag: Wiesbaden, 510 – 551.

Len Ole Schäfer
Oliver Wieczorek