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Workshop: "Economies of the Sacred: Dreams, Oracles and Sacred Sites in Asia and Europe"


Economies of the Sacred:
Dreams, Oracles and Sacred Sites in Asia and Europe

8th – 9th of February, 2014

Venue: Library (Room 002), Karl Jaspers Centre, Voßstraße 2, Bldg. 4400, Heidelberg

Organised by project MC 3.1 „Economies of the Sacred“
Cluster of Excellence „Asia and Europe“

Max Ernst, "Epiphany", 1940; Image Source: Max Ernst Museum Brühl des LVR.

Cultic sites and places of worship operate on their own logic that involves production, circulation, and consumption of concepts, rituals, practices and material objects. Broadly defined, such operations may be referred to as the “economies of the sacred”. Set within the specific loci, such economies entail not only the material production of images, charms, talismans, texts and properties. They operate also on a symbolic level. Cultic sites and places of worship may therefore be associated with an array of strategies, mechanisms and dynamics of reconfiguration and interaction of religiously charged elements. The key concepts and notions that serve as linchpins to such operations may derive from or loosely adhere to a number of larger religious narratives and traditions but in effect, the local discourses and necessities also play a definitive role in shaping up such “economies of the sacred”.

This workshop aims to test the applicability of this model, by questioning the modes of constitution and operation of the “economies of the sacred”. In premodern societies, dreams, oracles and dreamlike states often acted as crucial media for the communication with the divine. The visions received in dreams often suggested or even actively specified the necessary course of ritual actions that had to be performed within the compounds of certain cultic sites. Such prescriptive motives can reveal a lot about the internal logic of each cultic site’s operation, as well as the defining elements of its ritual and symbolic economies.

The papers in this workshop thus aim to question the roles and functions of dreamlike states and their constitutive meaning for the “economies of the sacred” set within the loci of specific cultic sites and places of worship. For example, in pre-1600 Japan, such “economies” were influenced by a variety of Buddhist doctrines and teachings which came into shape in India and China, East Asian continental ritual practices (both elite and popular), Yin-Yang divination and, later, other traditions. Dreams, oracles (broadly defined) and visions, especially received at specific cultic sites were also extremely important; they often specified the itineraries of sacred objects, texts, and figures that were to influence further states of institutions, facilities or individuals associated with places of worship.  

Whether or not it is the case for other cultural and historical contexts remains to be determined. To do so, the papers will discuss dreams, oracles and their relationship with local sacred sites, particularly, the cases when dreaming involved ritual dream incubation, dreamlike dialogues with the divine, and visionary experiences at specific sacred sites set in a variety of cultural and historical contexts.

This workshop is the first in the series of research workshops focusing on the “economies of the sacred” and the dynamics of their constitution, operation, and disintegration. It aims to start off the discussion of whether the aforementioned notion has the capacity to act in lieu of the notion of “religion” which itself is a term loaded with notions of Eurocentric modernities.