What is transcendence in the general sense


The Latin version of the German prepositions is behind the word pair this side and beyond. In their main meaning they mark places in space, e.g. in relation to mountains or rivers (lat. cis and trans). In its substantiated form, a metaphorical usage is predominant. This is about provisions relating to death. Talk of Beyond enables statements to be made about a world that is in itself unavailable. Nevertheless, this is filled with content-related ideas of various kinds. The pictorial side is based on the idea of ​​Greco-Roman antiquity, according to which the deceased found an underworld river (styx) and then into the world of the dead (Hades) Find entrance. On the Christian side, the world beyond is characterized by the various post-mortem expectations (Moltmann, 1999). The believer's destination is in any case the sky. It is disputed whether the deceased (in whatever form) or their → soul go to heaven directly after the → resurrection or after a judgment and whether only the believers or all achieve this goal. Hell then appears as a negative expectation. In theology these questions are referred to as → Eschatology discussed. With the increased perception of alternative post-mortem expectations, also in other religions, a neutral umbrella term such as Beyond or transcendence as helpful (Schreiber / Siemons, 2003).

For medieval philosophy, statements about the hereafter had in principle the same status as statements about everyday objects - both ultimately belonged to the divine world of being. But with the beginning of the modern era, the perception of space changed. The increasing knowledge about the real world leads to an understanding of a coherent space. The religious interpretations of the world - in the context of the increasing intensity of piety - cannot support transcendence equivalent space offer more and thus strengthen more subject-related conceptions (Taylor, 2009, 246-250). Transcendence thus becomes a moment of immanence - at least on the level of spatial conceptions. In terms of system theory, it will be said that the negation of immanence can be thought of as a space of possibility that is initially unavailable. This space of transcendence manifests itself first as a distinction within immanence. Complementary to this, one can then see in idealism a re-entry of excluded immanence into transcendence; the appearance is the immanent realization of the transcendent idea. The immanence thus contains the distinction between immanence and transcendence - the transcendence is thus first of all an element of immanence and vice versa.

This theoretical operation then corresponds to observations that are important and at the same time relevant to religious education at the level of sociological observation. For example, Peter Berger (1981) sees elements of reference to transcendence in our everyday life. Thomas Luckmann explicitly differentiates between small, medium and large transcendencies (Luckmann, 1991, 168f.), So that the onset of transcendence is, so to speak, gradual differentiated from extraordinary to more or less intense religious experiences.

Thoughts from the last section are also incorporated into a draft theory that takes up the question of immanence and transcendence within the framework of a theory of society. Systems theory in the sense of Niklas Luhmann, which I will outline below, is first and foremost an observation theory. It claims to perspective things and events in such a way that new insights can be gained. In other words, it is not about evaluating and acting, but about creating additional transparency. The “sociological enlightenment” (Luhmann) wants to draw attention above all to aspects that lie beyond the intentions of the actors. The determining object of observation is that communication. The Attendees at this only appear as theirs environment. In relation to a church service, for example, this means that only the interactions taking place such as songs, prayers, readings, sermons, gestures and actions of the pastor and the individual parishioners, for example during the Eucharist, but also informal acts of turning to or turn away, come into focus personal conversations, etc. It should be clear that such a view allows for different observations than one that is guided by the intentions of the actors or the agenda of the worship service.

In modern, differentiated society, Luhmann differentiates between subsystems, each with their own functions. The systems of economy, politics, law, science, art, education and finally religion, to which Niklas Luhmann has dedicated his own monographs, are to be emphasized. Individual people only play a selective role in these systems. Concretized with an example: As a buyer of a pretzel, I take part in the economic system, even if this act takes place in the church parish hall during a parish festival, in which otherwise the rules of the religious system are communicated. According to Luhmann, each of these functional systems has its own medium and is determined by a key distinction. This is easy to understand for the economic system with the medium of money and the main distinction Payment has been made / payment has not been made. In this system everything is assigned to this point of view: Even a hymnbook is reduced to its possible purchase or sale price.

Luhmann also sees the religious system according to this basic pattern. The medium of this system - its currency or language - is faith. His main distinction is that of immanence and transcendence. The positive pole is immanence, because communication ultimately only has access to it. Thus, transcendence is first and foremost non-immanence. It is characterized as what is initially excluded, the field of the possible. The excluded transcendence can be achieved by including the distinction between immanence and transcendence in immanence. In immanence there are places, things, actions that have double connotations. From their material side, they are ascribed to immanence: as bread and wine, as a collection of stones, as objects made of paper and printer's ink. In the light of transcendence, their existence doubles. They are now perceived as manifestations of the (in principle intangible) transcendence: as eucharistic elements, as sacred spaces or books. The art now consists in continually redefining the difference between immanence and transcendence. In a specific communication community, e.g. a Christian denomination, the distinctions are usually regulated by tradition and convention. For example, it is regulated differently whether and when the bread used in the Lord's Supper is considered holy; here there are clear differences between Protestant and Catholic Christians. One must take into account that the drawing of differences - expressed for example in the question of what as holy is to be seen - are also quite fluent among the representatives of a certain denomination.

If one considers the question of drawing the difference in religious perspectiveThen it becomes more complicated because it is disputed to what extent the classifications of a certain denomination or religion can be shared by another, or whether the transcendent of one point of view becomes immanent in the other. Conceptually, this is expressed in the question of whether the manifestation of the transcendence of a certain religion in the other is viewed as a variant of the divine or as an idol. In the latter case it is assumed that the predicate of transcendence is being wrongly claimed.

The functional systems of society can be clearly distinguished from the terminology. With regard to concrete communication processes, however, the attribution is more difficult. For example, if a father attends a church service with his son and the two talk about details regarding form and content on the way home, we are inclined to assign this scene to the communication of the religious system. Manifestations of faith are exchanged and discussed. But in the event that the father is more competent in this matter than the younger son, communication can also be understood as a variant of upbringing. Then this scene could also be seen as an event within the educational system. The determination of medium and key difference in the educational system has not been clearly clarified in science. I am following the original determination by Luhmann with a modification made by Veit-Jakobus Dieterich and me. For Luhmann, the child or the person to be brought up is the medium. Luhmann originally thought that the actual key difference could only be determined with regard to the selection performance of the educational system, in the sense of a performance differentiation expressed in grades. Such a view is fixed on the central authority of the educational system: the school with its year classes. If, however, one relates the idea of ​​upbringing to the overall human aspect of childhood and adolescence (and beyond), another key difference becomes plausible: poorer upbringing / better upbringing. The difference does not manifest itself superficially in the comparison of the age-homogeneous learning group, but with regard to the individual child or the individual adolescents with regard to the time dimension. If you follow the conversation between father and son outlined above, then education has taken place to the extent that the son is “better educated” with regard to the learning content of religion.

This example already makes it clear that the educational system itself can only determine the content of what is to be learned to a limited extent. If one looks at the organized form of the educational system, the school, it becomes clear that the system is irritated in many ways by other systems. The economy demands certain qualifications, as does the political system and the science system. These irritations must now be translated into the language of the educational system. It does this in the form of Programs. For example, from the irritations of the science system, the program can be derived that pupils should be able to solve certain equations in order to be “better educated”. In this way, the level concretizations with regard to the competencies to be achieved can be seen as an indicator of where a pupil stands between “poorly educated and better educated”.

Religious education as part of the organized education system must also adopt its program in the form of curricula from other functional systems. According to the previous argument, this would mean that the learning progress in the subject of religion is measured according to the extent to which the students can orientate themselves within a field that is spanned along the difference between immanence and transcendent. Specifically, this means observing the phenomena of this world in the light of God. Johan Amos Comenius (2000, 161) already wrote in his “Great Didactics”: The students “should get used to referring directly or indirectly to God everything they see, hear, touch, do and suffer . ”In the context of the competence discussion, Büttner / Dieterich / Roose formulated the ability to orientate within this key difference as a central competence of religious education:“ The abstract definition of religious observation of the world based on the key difference between immanence and transcendence is specified by the fact that this observation does not take place singularly , but part of a tradition that provides a sophisticated repertoire of knowledge and communication rules ”(Büttner / Dieterich / Roose, 2015, 49). At the same time, a certain semantic is addressed in which the lessons are socialized and which are habitualized through their use. The focus on this key difference gets its meaning in view of the fact that in the religious-pedagogical discussion with competing program orientations and thus key differences has been and is operated. The problem-oriented religious instruction is based on the moral system with the distinction morally desirable / undesirable. The idea of ​​therapeutic religious instruction is based on the health system with the distinction ill healthy. The performative religious education with its orientation towards the art system gets into difficulty at most because after the rejection of the leading distinction pretty ugly it is not entirely clear what the actual main distinction should be. With these considerations, however, we must always make it clear that one does not look directly at the individual religion lesson, or scene from it, whether and how it can be conceptually assigned. The program of a lesson often seems rather implicit and only becomes explicit through ascription. In this way, the distinctions mentioned become more manifest on the level of didactic discussion and can also contribute to more precise or self-description here.

On the other hand, Herbert Kumpf has shown that a key distinction between immanence and transcendence can also be important with regard to the control of specific teaching (Kumpf, 2015). Especially when I realize that religion classes can (and maybe must) deal with any topic, then it becomes clear that classes run the risk of getting lost in aesthetic, political or moral discourses. The reference to the key distinction between immanence and transcendence can then serve as a corrective and, in the sense of Comenius, call for an explicitly religious perspective on the respective question.

Initially, transcendence is not an explicit topic in the classroom. Nevertheless, the question is of central importance. In elementary school it appears in the lifeworld meaning mentioned at the beginning. God “lives in heaven” as a space that is concretely imagined. The afterlife is localized “above”, not only as God's residence, but also as a place of refuge for the deceased. This picture is supplemented by the negative place of hell located “below”, as a place of banishment for the “bad guys” (Bucher, 1989). Topics such as the talk of the kingdom of God can then also be drawn into this geography of the hereafter (Alkier / Karweick, 2003; Büttner, 1998). Christian and non-Christian children share this look (Hoffmann, 2009; Naurath, 2008). Children's book literature tries to counter this very concrete world of ideas with metaphorical images, but with good reason with little success (Büttner, 2005).

Although the topic formulations from lower secondary level onwards tend to move in the field of the abstract distinction between immanence and transcendence outlined above, the question must be asked whether thinking in spaces is really overcome. Cognitive psychological studies assume that children, like adults, can always update two ideas about God - one concrete and one abstract (Barrett, 1999; Biewald, 2008; Bucher, 2009). With regard to post-mortem expectations, too, it has been shown that adults also tend to place metaphorical and concrete ideas next to one another (Pereira / Faísca / Sá-Saraiva, 2012) and, in doing so, apparently update materialistic and religious interpretations depending on the situation, without taking offense at their incompatibility (Legare, 2012). Dalferth's theological intervention (Dalferth, 2015) in favor of a theologically conceived transcendent transcendence then corresponds to the fact that the outlined spatial conception of immanence and transcendence is still present and relevant in the lifeworld. This cannot be given up for any teaching, but also pastoral care (Karle, 2005) with the topic.

  • Alkier, Stefan / Karweick, Felix M., The workers in the vineyard. A Bible conversation between an elementary school student and a New Testament scholar, in: Bucher, Anton A. (ed., Among others), “Nobody is angry in the Kingdom of Heaven”. Children as exegetes, Yearbook for Children's Theology 2, Stuttgart 2003, 54-59.
  • Barrett, Justin L., Theological Correctness. Cognitive Constraint and the Study of Religion, in: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 11 (1999) 4, 325-339.
  • Benk, Andreas, God is not good and not just. On the present image of God, Düsseldorf 2nd edition 2008.
  • Berger, Peter L., In the footsteps of angels. Modern society and the rediscovery of transcendence, Frankfurt a. M. 1981.
  • Biewald, Jörg, Between two gods? The double image of God in children and adults, in: Bucher, Anton A. (ed. Et al.), "You can see him, but you can touch him ...?" Approaches to the Christology of Children, Yearbook for Child Theology 7, Stuttgart 2008, 91 -110.
  • Bucher, Anton A., But more than a person? The development of the concept of God in children, in: Englert, Rudolf (ed.), God in Religious Education, Yearbook for Religious Education 25, Neukirchen-Vluyn 2009, 24-37.
  • Bucher, Anton A., "If we dig deeper and deeper ... maybe hell will come." Plea for first naivety, in: Katechetic Blätter 114 (1989), 654-662.
  • Büttner, Gerhard, The coding of immanence / transcendence as a key difference in communication in religious education, in: Büttner, Gerhard / Scheunpflug, Annette / Elsenbast, Volker (eds.), Between Education and Religion. Religious educational perspectives according to Niklas Luhmann, Münster 2007, 188-202.
  • Büttner, Gerhard, Talking about heaven with children and young people, in: Evangelische Theologie 65 (2005) 5, 366-381.
  • Büttner, Gerhard, "My grandma said to me that I was a sweetheart to her". Understanding of parables by children and young people, in: Belief and Learning 13 (1998) 2, 152-164.
  • Büttner, Gerhard / Dieterich, Veit-Jakobus, Religion as Teaching, Göttingen 1994.
  • Büttner, Gerhard / Dieterich, Veit-Jakobus / Roose, Hanna, introduction to religious education. A competence-oriented didactics, Stuttgart 2015.
  • Comenius, Johann A., Great Didactics. The complete art of teaching all people everything. Translated and edited by Andreas Flitner, Stuttgart 9th edition. 2000.
  • Dalferth, Ingolf, transcendence and immanence as theological concepts of orientation, in: Dalferth, Ingolf / Bühler, Pierre / Hunziker, Andreas (eds.), Hermeneutik der Transzendenz, Tübingen 2015, 1-26.
  • Hafner, Johann E., Religious doubling of the world. The function of the sacral-profane distinction, in: Hafner, Johann E./Valentin, Joachim (ed.), Parallelwelten. Christian religion and the multiplication of reality, Stuttgart 2009, 127-161.
  • Hoffmann, Eva, Interreligious Learning in Kindergarten? An empirical study on dealing with religious diversity in discussions with children on the subject of death, Münster 2009.
  • Karle, Isolde, “Tell me something about the afterlife”. The meaning of heaven for religious communication, in: Evangelische Theologie 65 (2005) 5, 334-349.
  • Kumpf, Herbert, key distinctions and their function in religious education, in: Büttner, Gerhard (ed., Etc.), Glaubenswissen. Learning Religion, Yearbook for Constructivist Religious Didactics 6, Hannover 2015, 141-158.
  • Legare, Cristine, The Coexistence of Natural and Supernatural Explications Across Cultures and Development, in: Child Development 83 (2012), 779-793.
  • Luckmann, Thomas, The Invisible Religion, Frankfurt a. M. 1991.
  • Luhmann, Niklas, The Education System of Society, Frankfurt a. M. 2002.
  • Luhmann, Niklas, The Religion of Society, Frankfurt a. M. 2000.
  • Luhmann, Niklas, Does our society allow communication with God ?, in: Luhmann, Niklas, Sociological Enlightenment. Contributions to the functional differentiation of society, Opladen 1967, 227-235.
  • Moltmann, Jürgen, Is there life after death? Where are the dead ?, in: Bonin, Konrad von (ed.), Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag 1999, Gütersloh 1999, 286-308.
  • Naurath, Elisabeth, “Who dies earlier, is longer dead?” What Christian and Muslim children expect after death, in: Bucher, Anton A. (ed., Among others), “Only those who understand each other can go to heaven” . How children think and speak about religious difference, Jahrbuch für Kindertheologie 8, Stuttgart 2008, 60-70.
  • Pereira, Vera / Faísca, Luís / Sá-Saraiva, Rodrigo, Immortality of the Soul as an Intuitive Idea. Towards a Psychological Explanation of the Origins of Afterlife Beliefs, in: Journal of Cognition and Culture 12 (2012) 1/2, 101-127.
  • Roose, Hanna, Between Education, Morality, Religion and Science. The biblical canon in religious instruction, in: Büttner, Gerhard / Scheunpflug, Annette / Elsenbast, Volker (eds.), Between Education and Religion. Religious educational perspectives according to Niklas Luhmann, Münster 2007, 214-231.
  • Schreiber, Stefan / Siemons, Stefan (ed.), The Beyond. Perspectives of Christian Theology, Darmstadt 2003.
  • Taylor, Charles, A Secular Age, Frankfurt a. M. 2009.

All versions of this article from October 2017 can be downloaded as a PDF archive:


  • Abduction
  • Lord's Supper / Eucharist
  • Abraham and Sarah, biblical didactic, elementary school
  • Abraham and Sarah, biblical didactic, secondary school
  • Abraham, interfaith
  • adolescence
  • Advance Organizer
  • Academy, Protestant
  • Academy, catholic
  • Religious education integrated into everyday life
  • Old Testament in religious education, biblical didactic
  • Requirement situations
  • anthropology
  • Anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism
  • Acts of the Apostles, biblical didactic (primary and secondary level)
  • Worksheet
  • Poverty Movements in the Middle Ages
  • Articulation schemes
  • asylum
  • Resurrection of the dead
  • Resurrection of Jesus
  • Task analysis, religious didactic
  • enlightenment
  • Augustine of Hippo
  • training
  • Auschwitz / Auschwitz Memorial
  • Extracurricular learning / exploration
  • Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), biblical didactic, primary level
  • Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), biblical didactic, secondary level
  • Career orientation
  • Vocation narratives (OT and NT), biblical didactic, elementary school
  • Vocation narratives (OT and NT), biblical didactic, secondary level
  • Pray, Christian perspective
  • Pray, Jewish perspective
  • Bible
  • Bible telling
  • Bible, gender equitable interpretation
  • Biblical interpretation, feminist
  • Bible clouds
  • Bible didactics, discursive
  • Bible didactics, basic questions
  • Bible illustrations / pictures in Bibles, biblical didactic
  • Bible reception of young people
  • Bible word card index
  • Bibliodrama
  • Bibliolog
  • Biblical full texts in religious education - biblical didactic
  • Biblical motifs in the Simpsons
  • Biblical motifs in pop culture
  • Biblical learning in Christian Orthodox religious instruction
  • images
  • education
  • education for Sustainable Development
  • Education, aesthetic
  • Education, media
  • Education, religion sensitive
  • Education, religious
  • Values ​​education
  • Educational research, transnational
  • Educational equity
  • Educational policy
  • Educational standards
  • Educational studies
  • Educational theory
  • Educational responsibility, state, church
  • Bioethics
  • Biography / life story / curriculum vitae
  • Biography research
  • Biographical learning
  • Floor images
  • Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (1906-1945)
  • British religious education
  • Buddhism in religious education
  • Caritas - Diakonie
  • equal opportunity
  • Choirs and music groups
  • Christian teaching
  • Persecution of Christians in early Christianity
  • Christianization of the Teutons
  • Being a Christian in the 1960s
  • Christ / Christology
  • Comenius, Johann Amos (1592-1670)
  • Comic
  • Compassion
  • Cyberbullying
  • The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany