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Multimedia Documentation of the Annual Conference 2010

12. Mai. 2011

"The Flow of Concepts and Institutions" was the theme of the Cluster's Annual Conference 2010 that attracted more than 200 scholars from around the world. The discussions on concepts such as religiosity and governance are reviewed in a report by Radu Carciumaru, Martin Hofmann, and David Mervart. Filmed interviews, audio slideshows and a photo gallery enrich this multimedia documentation of the Annual Conference 2010.

"The Flow of Concepts and Institutions"

Heidelberg University’s Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” held its three-day annual conference on the theme of “The Flow of Concepts and Institutions”. The main focus of the conference was to explore concepts of governance and religiosity from a transcultural perspective.

Andy Warhol: Mao, 1972 © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. With support of Artmosphere Galerien GmbH.
Andy Warhol: Mao, 1972 © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. With support of Artmosphere Galerien GmbH.

First Day - October 6

The opening keynote lecture, “European visions of liberty - a genealogy”, by Quentin Skinner, focused on the complex history of the concept of liberty, individual freedom in particular. Identifying freedom as Europe’s prime “export” concept, Skinner sketched a genealogy of the rival historical definitions of the notion as put forth by the pivotal Anglophone thinkers. In response to questions from the audience he contended that, although admittedly based on European material only, the genealogy as a tree of conceptual opportunities could conceivably be applied to other contexts, including Asian, thus enriching a historian’s analytical toolkit. He also gestured toward a more active role for a historian-genealogist, who might recover for his contemporaries the traces of conceptual opportunities buried in the course of past controversies.

Flash ist Pflicht!
An Interview with Prof. Quentin Skinner

Second Day - October 7

Podium Discussions on "Governance"

On the second day, the first full podium discussion continued to unravel the contested deployments of key terms of political theory past and present. Bo Strath’s conceptual history of “governance” identified the struggles involved in defining concepts which, he argued, is a political process in itself. Crucial to any conceptual history is the need to identify counter-concepts. Replacing most former usages of the term government, the neat, fashionable vocabulary of “governance” partly serves to cover up the fault lines in political discourse past and present and reduce its complexity. Examining views from 17th century Germany concerning governance processes in Mughal India, Antje Flüchter highlighted the relevance the then prevalent concept of “gute policey”. Flüchter proposed that analyzing the perceptions of religion and the legal system of the Mughal Empire in the light of this concept leads to a new and more historically appropriate picture of European notions of India.

Podium Discussion with Dr. Antje Flüchter and Prof. Thomas Maissen
Podium Discussion with Dr. Antje Flüchter and Prof. Thomas Maissen

The second podium discussion explored how societies, designated as “traditional”, react to concepts and institutions classified as “modern”. While reflecting on the idea of conceptual flows, Niraja Gopal Jayal showed how the notion of “legal citizenship” travelled the same geographical trajectory over different time periods, acquiring a differentiated quality based on its local appropriations. Jayal demonstrated that legal citizenship holds specific meanings in different institutional settings, being differently appropriated and deployed for different political objectives. Rudolf Wagner explored the function of metaphors in becoming vehicles of discourse and providing rallying points of public imagination and action. Drawing on Chinese political essays, cartoons and other images between 1870-1930, Wagner reminded the audience of the common metaphor of a “sleeping nation” in Europe and documented its deployments in China’s public sphere, from a Chinese nation “asleep” to “awakening”, including the equation of being “fast asleep” with being, historically, “dead”.

Panel Sessions in the afternoon

The afternoon session was divided into four separate panels. The focus of the panel “The politics of conceptual change” was the interaction of existing East Asian and newly introduced Western concepts and terminology of government, polity, and religion. Ulrike Büchsel addressed the question if the Chinese ‘dragon flag’ could be regarded as a national symbol while the concept of ‘nation’ was still unfamiliar to most Chinese in the late 19th century. Hans Martin Krämer argued that the notion of ‘religion’ as a sphere separated from politics existed in East Asia prior to the advent of Western categories of thought. Michael Burtscher demonstrated how the German term “Subjekt” was associated and intermingled with divergent existing concepts when it was translated into Japanese. David Mervart proposed that for a more imaginative grasp of the problem of government and political legitimacy, concepts and vocabulary originating in East Asia might serve as useful alternatives to commonly employed Western analytical paradigms.

Panel Session on "The Politics of Conceptual Change"
Panel Session on "The Politics of Conceptual Change"

The panel “Exhibitions” examined “modern art” and the institution of modern art museums as two entangled concepts that determine the field of art production across Asia and Europe in the 20th century to the present day. Patrizia Kern showed how the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art (opened 2004) was instrumentalized—amid Turkey’s efforts to secure the opening of EU accession talks—as an institution displaying exhibits in conformity with a modern, self-consciously European concept of art, for a national and international public. Cathrine Bublatzky mirrored this approach with her presentation about the display of Indian contemporary art in museums where the auto-exoticism of a supposedly authentic and essential “Indianness” played a crucial role during the recent boom of new Eastern art in the Western markets. Finally, Franziska Koch critically examined virtual (re)presentation modes of contemporary Chinese art in Western museums’ internet exhibitions and the claim of educational effects of such art displays on Chinese internet users.

The third panel explored aspects of governance in relation to phenomena, notions and institutional forms that traverse national and cultural borders. Roberta Tontini argued that a potentially conflicting dual commitment to Islamic law and to Chinese legal codes is still present among the Muslim minority in China, even today. Matthias Liehr proposed that the perception of the relationship between the state and the newly emerging environmental groups is responsible for a particular feature of the civil society in China. In order to avoid the ban of their activities, NGOs try to portray themselves as supporting government’s policies. Focusing on three case studies from his fieldwork, Markus Pauli scrutinized the impact of microfinance institutions in India. Mareike Ohlberg explored how Le Bon’s crowd psychology theory has been perceived in China and in what aspects it influenced Chinese political thought. Finally, Lionel Koenig analyzed “cultural citizenship” in India, arguing that the participation of individuals and smaller groups in the media pose a challenge to attempts by the government to channel and homogenize public discourse.

A special session on the Cluster’s IT infrastructure (Heidelberg Research Architecture) featured the projects currently under development, as well as the tools already available to assist the Cluster members in their transcultural research. After a short introduction into the metadata framework by Dulip Withanage, Jens Petersen presented the latest developments in setting up a historical and comparative encyclopedia of Chinese conceptual schemes, the Thesaurus Linguae Sericae. Jennifer May and Anna Mündelein introduced QuotationFinder, a program for the comparison of texts enabling researchers to find intertextual references, thus detecting not just cases of academic plagiarism, but also citations, paraphrases, or innuendos about earlier texts by later commentators. Matthias Arnold presented the GeoTWAIN, a tool allowing fast and efficient geo-referencing. By way of conclusion, Eric Decker outlined the metadata framework’s future potential.  

Keynote Lecture by Sobhanlal Datta Gupta

The second day ended with the keynote lecture by Sobhanlal Datta Gupta, who addressed the impact of Marxism in Asia after the Russian revolution. Taking as examples the communist leaderships in the Middle-East, China, Korea, Vietnam and India, he argued that, since the idea of revolution and the related concepts of social and political change had been defined in the West, Asian Marxists had to adapt them to their own cultural backgrounds. Gupta proposed that the decline of Marxism in Asia, after an initial stage of success, may have been the result of a flawed understanding of these concepts.

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Multimedia Slideshow: An Interview with Prof. Sobhanlal Datta Gupta

Third Day - October 8

Podium Discussions on "Religiosity"

The third day of the conference opened with two podium discussions dedicated to the overarching theme of "Conceptualizing religiosity". The first podium discussion consisted of two papers. Volkhard Krech’s presentation raised important questions regarding the state of the field and current challenges faced by the scholars studying religion, both in the historical and present-day perspectives. Among such challenges are the historical dominance of the Western perspective, the difficulty of distinguishing different religious traditions and the question of what exactly constitutes the religious field in different historical and geographic contexts. Krech proposed to strike a balance between the concrete materials and historical context, to consider the processes of formation of regionally-bound religious fields, their continuous abstraction and further emergence of global religious fields and to identify the meaning of religion and spectrum of basic religious concepts necessary for the formation of such. Joachim Quack’s paper dealt specifically with the flow of deities between ancient Egypt and its neighboring countries. Ancient deities were perceived not only as specific divine entities but also as tangible figures defined by the materiality of the very objects impersonating or embodying them. In some case studies, the Egyptian deities are perceived and conceptualized as the lords of foreign countries, whereas other findings indicate that it was the foreign deities whose presence and influence had to be acknowledged in Egypt. The investigation of such processes of transfer highlights the importance of migration and flows in the ancient world and offers a useful insight into the workings of religious impetus both within and outside ancient Egypt.

In the second podium discussion on “Conceptualizing religiosity”, Inken Prohl proposed “transreligion” as a new analytical category for the study of religion. The advantage of approaching religiosity from this perspective lies in its applicability and its ability to capture recent developments. Moreover, Prohl suggested, this category positions practice, as opposed to theory, in the center of researchers’ attention. Mark Juergensmeyer portrayed religious violence as a global phenomenon triggered by a loss of faith in secular nationalism. After exemplifying the emergence and the escalation stages of religious violence in different parts of the world, Juergenmeyer highlighted certain common themes and causes characteristic of all religious movements and outlined some strategies to contain such violence.

Flash ist Pflicht!
Interview with Prof. Volkhard Krech

Panel Sessions in the afternoon

The afternoon of the third day was divided into two sessions with three panels each. The panelists on “Secret intelligence” analyzed the relevance of undercover knowledge-gathering in pre-modern societies, illustrating how concrete pieces of information about practices and institutions were transferred between Asia and Europe. Tobias Graf’s paper focused on the role of the renegades in the Ottoman Empire during the early modern period. These Christian converts to Islam, Graf argued, often played a crucial role in gathering secret information, assessing its value, and performing secret missions on behalf of both sides, the Christian Europeans and the Islamic Ottomans. Barend Noordam looked into the practice of secret knowledge acquisition in the two year military conflict between the Dutch East Indian Company and China (1622-1624). Noordam suggested that the experience gained in these early days of European forays into Asian waters shaped intelligence gathering across linguistic and cultural boundaries in later encounters.

The following section on archaeological perspective on the transfer of ideas attempted to present case studies that document the existence of “global” interactions within and among pre-modern societies. Ideas, symbols and technologies spread throughout the world along with material artifacts. This transfer often led to an adaptation or even re-definition of the transported object as the foreign was adjusted to local customs and processes. Sarah Cappel demonstrated this phenomenon in her research on Minoan seals and sealing practices. The seals, clearly derived from Asian prototypes were, in their Minoan context, adapted to a different language, which in turn changed the underlying iconography. Nicolas Zensen explored the so-called hippodamic system, which developed in Asia Minor, Greece and Sicily nearly contemporaneously, a fact that points to a dynamic flow of ideas and technology between these cultures. Svenja Nagel discussed the process of adaptation and transformation of the Egyptian goddess Isis into a new Graeco-Roman deity whose shape and attributes were clearly better cognitively suited to non-Egyptian audiences.

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Multimedia Slideshow: Poster Presentation of the Graduate Students

The panel “The pre-modern reconsidered” analyzed the migration and appropriation of religious concepts within East Asia. Dominic Steavu highlighted the importance of the correlation between cosmic principles and the body and its relevance to healing practices in Daoist and Buddhist thought. Anna Andreeva demonstrated how the esoteric Buddhist concept of sudden enlightenment was reconciled with local cults by the local practitioners in medieval Japan.  

Film on the Afghan Diaspora in Germany

Deepali Gaur interviews an Afghan in Germany
Deepali Gaur interviews an Afghan in Germany

In her acclaimed film, whose screening opened the last block of panels, Deepali Gaur Singh explored the multi-faceted lives of the Afghan diaspora in Germany as it attempts to re-build a social identity amid discourses of alienation and assimilation in the host country. The film dealt with the themes of memory, loss, identity, alterity and multiple belongings permeating the individual narratives, lived experiences and collective histories. Exemplifying the variegated types of self-conception, the film challenged the notion of a rigid, singular and homogenized group identity supposedly characterizing the Afghans in Germany.

The contributions to the panel “Governing health in South Asia with European institutions” addressed the impact of Western medical notions and practices on the contemporary Indian health system. Adopting an ethnographic and anthropological approach, Gabriele Alex demonstrated how Western ideas of health management and health education behind primary health care centres are negotiated and transformed in present-day South India. Examining the 2009 Syllabus for Âyurveda undergraduate studies, Ananda Samir Chopra proposed that the standardization of learning âyurvedic practices according to Western standards fundamentally changes both the contents and the structure of the traditional Indian medical system. Finally, drawing on research into commercial surrogacy practices conducted at two clinics in Gujarat, Sheela Saravanan outlined the tension between international fertility tourism and health policy in India.

Pictorial representations of the cultural “other” and the motivations for adjustments and the re-contextualization of these depictions were the topic of the last regular panel, “The pen and the brush”. Nicoletta Fazio persuasively demonstrated the intermingling of elements from various cultural contexts in a single painting from 15th century Central Asia. Examining the production non-Christian religious images in Europe, Eva Zhang highlighted the ambivalence of fascination with the exotic and aversion to the pagan idols and rituals among the European audiences. Following on the theme of fear evoked by images, Jule Nowoitnick analyzed how illustrations to novels on Chinggis Khaan by Michael Prawdin were reflective of the ideology and propaganda of the German Nazi regime.   

Final Plenary

Prof. Herren-Oesch, Prof. Gopal, Prof. Mitra, Prof. Jacobson, and Prof. Fuess
Prof. Herren-Oesch, Prof. Gopal, Prof. Mitra, Prof. Jacobson, and Prof. Fuess

In the concluding plenary session Harald Fuess, Niraja Gopal Jayal, David Jacobson, Subrata Mitra and Madeleine Herren-Oesch discussed the relevance of the Cluster’s agenda to the concerns of the broader public, as well as the contribution in terms of concepts and methodologies that it can make to the ongoing study of transculturality. While commenting on the diversity of the research at the Cluster, Jayal called for a more cautious and discriminating use of the analytical concept of ‘flow’, one of the hallmark terms of the Cluster’s methodological arsenal. Jacobson pointed out that if any methodology is to be universally accepted it must have a multi-operational approach and suggested diversification as a strategy for the pursuit of knowledge. Fuess welcomed the importance given to visual material in the Cluster’s research and acknowledged the difficulties in identifying concepts that are truly universal. In conclusion, Herren-Oesch emphasized that a move towards a global history of concepts could help bridge the gap between area studies and related disciplines.

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Interview with the organisers Prof. Subrata Mitra and Dr. Antje Flüchter

Photo Gallery

Additional Information

About the conference:

The Annual Conference 2010 was organised by Prof. Subrata K. Mitra, Dr. Antje Flüchter, and Dr. Jivanta Schöttli. 

Prof. Subrata K. Mitra is Professor of Political Science and Head of the Department of Political Science at the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University. He was speaker of research area A "Governance and Administration" at the Cluster of Excellence until autumn 2010.
Dr. Antje Flüchter specialised in Early Modern History and is Leader of the Cluster's Junior Research Group A9 "Cultural Transfer".
Dr. Jivanta Schoettli is Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Political Science at the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University and former assistant coordinator of research area A "Governance and Administration".

During the conference, a number of graduate students presented their research projects in a poster exhibition that was organised by Oliver Lamers, Graduate Programme Manager.  


About the authors:

Radu Carciumaru is Assistant Lecturer at the Department of Political Science of the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University.
Dr. Martin Hofmann is Research Fellow at the Chair of Intellectual History of the Cluster "Asia and Europe".
David Mervart, PhD (Tokyo), is Assistant Professor for Japanese History at the Chair of Cultural Economic History of the Cluster "Asia and Europe".

All films were made by, the multimedia slideshows were produced by Oliver Radtke and Yasmin Saruji, and the pictures were made by Anne Scheuing. This multimedia documentation was realised by Verena Vöckel, Dr. Alexander Häntzschel, and Eric Decker.