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The two central questions of the research group are: "How do new technologies change the form and content of traditional religious performances and bring them from a socially limited context (caste, clan, court) to new public spheres (television, folk-festival, tourist show)?" and "How can we extend (or narrow) the concepts of globalization and transculturality and contribute to academic discussions of the quality and value of asymmetrical flows between Asia and Europe?" The use of new media and technologies causes shifts in asymmetrical relationships where "cultural property", "publicity" and "public sphere" are locally and globally negotiated and contested, both inter- and intraculturally. These public spheres are transnational and not coterminous with national spaces. Therefore, they require new forms of documentation and analysis (Clifford 1997, Vertovec 2000). The exploration of the "global imaginaire" connected to this is still in its early stages. Yet the visual plays!
a discursive role in the construction and global transfer of identity, in Asia as well as in Europe.
The project will analyze processes of media-induced change in religious performances in Asia and Europe, ranging from film, video and audio recordings to printed media, images, photographs, TV, internet and virtual worlds, in order to document and analyze local patterns of production, the use and consumption of such materials, and the changes they cause in the events themselves as well as in the social and cultural worlds of the people involved. New forms of media do not only affect the form and the content of traditional performances, they also raise new questions concerning the "authenticity" of traditional texts, performative practices, cultural copyright and processes of definition: Who is legitimated? Who has the (discursive) power to label cultural practices as rituals, tradition or cultural heritage? Are such definitions negotiated only globally and not locally? The recent development of "cultural heritage" programs, not only by regional organizations and governments but also by global players like UNESCO or tourism agencies, will be one of the main research areas of the project. The intented protection of endangered cultural practices, which seems to be based upon emergent notions of "One World Philanthropy", will be analyzed systematically in the sub-projects.   

Dr. Heike Moser

Dr. Heike MOSER (University of Tübingen) is working as affiliated research
fellow on the impact of the UNESCO-program Masterpiece of the Oral and
Intangible Heritage of Humanity on the religious performances that have
received this award. The program was introduced in the year 2001. Moser¹s
main subject, the Sanskrit theatre Kutiyattam of Kerala / South India, was
awarded in the first batch. Moser works on how the UNESCO defines a
Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity and how it
selects a specific tradition to be part of the program. Further, she
analyzes the impact of this scheme on traditions like Kutiyattam. She will
study how the program is accepted among performers and how the scheme
influences these traditions as art-forms and as rituals. Being a Kutiyattam
actress herself since 1995, she has the unique chance to have a deep insight
into the process, starting from the time of application itself.  


Bilder zum Subprojekt H. Moser

"The Vedic Sacrifice in Transcultural Public Spheres"

Silke Bechler M.A.

Nowadays, traditional performances are frequently endangered both in Asia and in the “Western World”. Nevertheless, simultaneously, such practices turn out to be more and more significant for people and countries concerned. They become realized as “one’s own tradition” and further as cultural heritage which has to be maintained, whereby revitalization practices vastly differ.
In my project I will focus on the Vedic sacrifice, as one example for maintaining and reviving tradition. Especially the homa-sacrifice, an Indian ritual, that is characterized by “the act of making an oblation to the devas or gods by casting clarified butter into the fire (Monier-Williams 1999: 1306)”, will be considered here. It is an excellent example that can be traced back to the early stages of Vedic religion and – for this study even more important – still persists today. Further, the contemporary homa-sacrifice is not only performed throughout the Indian subcontinent, but can be found all over the “Western World” as well.
Nowadays, homa-sacrifices can frequently be observed throughout the Indian subcontinent. Whereas it is difficult to give a funded statement about the use of those rituals in former times, it is obvious that today simple procedures, which are primarily connected with the traditional “domestic” rituals (gṛhya-rites), are performed comparatively often. The more complicated ritual acts instead, that are embedded in the classical corpus of the “public” rites (śrauta-rites), are rare, albeit research during the last decades mainly focused on these. Simpler performances, which are carried out today for individual purposes as well as for joint reasons, are often left unnoticed. In this context different homa-sacrifices concerning health (āyuṣyahoma, dhanvantarihoma), prosperity and wealth (gaṇapatihoma, lakṣmikuberahoma, mahālakṣmihoma), the removal of for acquiring knowledge and wisdom (sarasvatihoma) have to be mentioned. Those shape the contemporary cultural, religious and social life in India, and even affect the political scenery, where homa-sacrifices are organized as religious happenings on behalf of various parties often emphasizing a welfare or charity purpose. Further, homa-sacrifices are performed on the Indian subcontinent for Indian people living abroad. End of the last century, an elaborate system developed which enables emigrants to practice their religious traditions even away from home. An increasing number of internet presences emerged, which offer sacrificial services, combined in individual packages, which promise to overcome difficulties in life. Now, various websites provide individual enquiries or organize occasionally collective sacrificial events. If a client has chosen a particular ritual, an expert performs it in his name in a local temple, whereas the propitiatory gift (prasāda) is delivered to the customer’s home by airmail. To get a proof of the performance, it is frequently possible to order video material or photographs of the event.
Simultaneously, an increasing practice of homa-sacrifices outside the Indian subcontinent can be observed. During the last decades, the number of Hindu temples outside India rapidly increased. They became an important meeting point for an ethnic and religious minority, and formed an oasis of Indian culture in an alien environment. Here homa-sacrifices are performed for individual reasons as well as to establish a corporate feeling of an Indian community. At the same time several formerly merely Indian organizations expanded their branches to the “Western World” and influenced Indian people living in the diaspora as well as various parts of the “Western Society”. As a result even these people become attached to the practice of homa-sacrifices, which are here mainly performed as public events, whereby charity and welfare purposes are often emphasized again.
Considering these aspects, it becomes obvious that the homa-sacrifice is an excellent example of “religion on stage”, where a formerly socially limited small-scale happening is transferred into a global event influenced by migration aspects as well as by means of numerous new media and technologies. Therefore, one of the main questions I want to investigate is: “How do new media and technologies change form and content of the homa-sacrifice, and bring it from a socially limited context (family, clan, caste, etc.) to new public spheres (printed media, television, video, internet, festivals, “Western World”, etc.)? On one hand it is obvious that there is a tendency to keep the tradition of performing homa-sacrifices alive, but one the other hand there is an evident change in the practice as well as in the intention going on that needs to be considered from a scientific point of view.  

Bangalore Mahalakshmihoma
Pushkar Mela Yajna

„Media, Globalization and Modernity in Sinhalese Subaltern Performances“

Eva Ambos, M. A.

Sinhalese healing rituals, traditionally performed as night-long village performances, have undergone dramatic changes in the last century. They are shortened, purified of “backward” elements like animal sacrifices, and staged in new contexts, for example as “cultural shows” in hotels or TV. In this process, different images of them have developed: from „healing rituals“ to „devil dances“ (as British missionaries called them) to their recent marketing as exotic `tourist art' and `national heritage' in (new) media.

Through culture contact, cultural practices are often revitalized or even newly invented, transformed and marketed whereby a gap between religion and entertainment develops. With regard to the transformation of the healing rituals, influences from Europe (e. g. colonialism, tourism) and from new media on the performances and the performers can be traced. Kandyan dance, extracted from an “up country” healing ritual (kohomba kankariya), is presented by the Sri Lankan government as part of the national (e. g. Sinhalese-Buddhist) heritage whereby “low country” healing exorcisms (tovil) seem to develop more in the direction of a kind of “tourist art” (and are still also performed as healing rituals for patients). In my research, I investigate the reasons for and the consequences of these developments.

Both performances are put on the market, distributed, exported to Europe and re-imported with the support of new media. These de-contextualizations lead to transformations of the former healing rituals so as to adapt to the tastes and expectations of new consumers (e. g. tourists) and to fit into new forms of (re)presentation (e. g. TV, film, internet). Therefore, new meanings are generated. “Religious” healing aspects (e. g. mantram) are neglected and performative, exotic elements like the drumming and expressive (mask) dances are emphasized; the rituals are shortened and a shift from village level rituals to national or cultural performances can be observed; dance schools sponsored by transnational organizations like UNESCO or by the government, go on tour to Europe. The transformations of the Sinhalese healing rituals serve as an example how “global flows” from and to Europe influence cultural practices and probably lead to new asymmetrical relationships (e. g. between producers and new consumers of the performances), embedded in a “ritual/cultural economy”.

Questions to be dealt with are the following:
Are the healing rituals transformed into political instruments or commodities? How does their marketing/commercialization and institutionalization affect the status of the traditional performers? Are they sellers of culture, ritualists or artists? Do others take over their role? Can they take advantage of these “new meanings”, new contexts, new public spheres, new technologies?

Can these practices still be labeled as “rituals”? Which implications has the label “ritual”? This has to be viewed in the context of topics like the “Buddhism Revival” whereby Buddhism is attempted to be purified from such “superstitious” “pre-modern” practices like healing rituals. Are the categories “ritual”, “tradition” and “authenticity” only selling labels but empty of content? What is the role of the anthropologist in the “marketing of culture”?

Thus lead the new technologies and modern institutions to a democratization of the “ritual/performance production”? This leads also to questions regarding the “copyright”: whose cultural property and cultural capital/resource are these cultural practices? And whose cultural identity is at stake (e. g. that of the berava, of the nation)?  

All pictures are taken by the Author.