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Summer Term 2017


Joachim Kurtz

Sites of Knowledge in Asia and Europe

Scholars from many disciplines have argued that “all knowledge is local.” But what can we learn from scrutinizing the specific sites where diverse forms of knowledge are generated, stored, taught, and circulated? This seminar will address this question by looking into a broad array of locations implicated in the knowledge economies of early modern Asia and Europe. Focusing on places implicated in circulations of knowledge in and between Asia and Europe—ranging from courts, schools, academies, temples, and observatories to print shops, bazaars, roadhouses, ports, and ships—our aim will be to determine how and to what extent places can shape practices such as the gathering and interpretation of data, the generation and propagation of concepts and theories, as well as the modes and media of dissemination and display.

Martin Hofmann

Concepts of boundaries and territoriality in Asia and Europe

National boundaries are an essential component of our contemporary conception of the geographical and political world. A world without boundaries seems illusionary. Yet, national boundaries are political constructs. Although boundaries on maps appear to be precise and stable, they are in fact often contested and volatile. Moreover, the ideas of national territorial sovereignty and of the inviolability of boundaries have a relatively short history. They owe much to the rise of political nationalism from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century when territories and boundaries became political symbols and projections of power.

This seminar will consider the emergence and politicization of the notion of national boundaries and territories in Asia and Europe. It will investigate what spatial ideas shaped the modern nation-state, which ideological, political, and social problems arose from the notion of fixed boundaries, and how the concepts of the territorial state and national identity are related.

Egas Moniz-Bandeira

Constitutions as symbols of modern statehood: The globalisation of a legal and political instrument

Constitutions are one of the most fundamental elements of modern statehood. Almost all states have such documents, which often possess a strong symbolical value alongside their legal function. But how has this legal and political instrument become near-universal? Current scholarship often shows an unwholesome tendency to focus on a) the power-limiting function of constitutions and on b) the constitutions of Western Europe and the USA. Such approaches are not able to fully explain the historical process that engendered this defining feature of today’s polities.

This seminar explores the globalisation of constitutionalism by reconstructing a global movement that affected all parts of the world and was accompanied by intercontinental debates. At a time when constitutions were far from being taken for granted in Europe, intellectuals and officials elsewhere developed their own versions of constitutionalism as tools for their respective political agendas. By shining light on examples from Eurasia to the Americas and from Oceania to Africa, the seminar hopes to show that the creation of constitutions did not simply consist of local copies of a Western concept. Rather, the various constitutional experiences were inter-related parts of a global movement co-producing the paraphernalia of modernity.

Manuel Sassmann

Chinese Buddhism and the West

This seminar deals with interactions between the West and China through the lens of Buddhism by utilizing exemplary primary sources (in English / German translation or Chinese) and secondary literature. It is divided into three parts. First, we will discuss the evidence for Buddhist-Christian encounters prior to the Ming dynasty as found on steles, in manuscripts, and visual arts. Then, we will place Buddhism in the social, cultural, and intellectual context of the late Ming dynasty (late 16th and 17th century) to understand how the Jesuits and their ideas were received.

Autobiographies, for example, will help to grasp the complex bature of being "Buddhist" in-between self and society. In order to interpret Buddhist apologetics we will also learn about the Jesuit counter-texts and their argumnets against Buddhism. Finally, we will deal with the interactions of Buddhism and Western (scientific) knowledge in the late Qing and Republican era.

Crucial for understanding all these examples of transmission, reception, inbention, interaction, and communication are the methods utilized for research. Thus we will also discuss the theoretical issues of previous scholarly approaches to think about how to frame our own research.