Religion and Urbanity at the EASR annual conference 2019 (part one of two)

From 25 to 29 June the 17th annual conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions took place in the Estonian University town of Tartu. The overarching topic was “Religion – Continuations and Disruptions”, a broad theme which was interpreted in many different ways and across a wide range of times and locations. (See here for the programme).

Tartu itself is a city with a long and varied history. Indeed, the town iself illustrates aspects of the reciprocal formation of religion and urbanity. Much of the town’s development was connected to the fact that the town was the seat of a bishopric. Similarly, the influence of the Teutonic Knights, an order which understood itself as primarily religious in nature, continued to influence the fortunes of the town for centuries. And even now, the ruins of Tartu Cathedral are one of the key factors in the urban toruist economy, besides being the site of many ghost stories, many of which participants heard during a “Ghost Tour”.

Tartu Cathedral Ruins (Source: Wikipedia)

The KFG was present with two series of panels, one on women’s agency and the second one (subject of the forthcoming second part of this conference report) on urban religion, intellectualization and the invention of ritual. The first panel series was organised by Asuman Lätzer-Lasar, post-doctoral fellow of the research group, and consisted of two linked panels on the theme of “Women’s Agency and Religious Networks”. The panels were co-organised with Julietta Alexandra Steinhauer-Hogg, lecturer at University College London and a former fellow at the Max Weber Centre, and Sabine Neumanm, post-doctoral researcher at the University of Marburg.

The panel explored the agency of women in and via religious networks, taking an interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach. Throughout the history of religions, women have initiated, shaped and maintained religious networks in their capacities as founders, priests, benefactors, dedicands, worshippers and more. Female agents were responsible for cult foundations, cult transfers and the creation of new religious organisations. Yet Research on female networks, agency and ‘religious creativity’ is limited, partly owing to the place of women on the margins of many societies. The panel aimed, on the one hand, to narrow the gap in knowledge with regard to female agency and the establishment, maintenance and decline of religious networks. On the other hand, it raised questions about current approaches to gender and religion. This perspective allowed speakers and the audience to see beyond the single category of gender by taking into account the various factors that shaped an individual’s (religious) experience, such as origin, social, and marital status.

Radwa Salem delivered a paper on women and rituals in classical Athens. The paper shed light on the role of women as active agents in shaping society and maintaining the “cultural System”. As “cultural Systems” are maintained by rituals, the significant role of women as patrons of culture can be identified by studying their role in the performance of rituals. Classical Athens provides a good case study as the role of women in creation, change and maintenance of death rituals is recognized in both the textual and material evidence. Most phases of the mortuary treatment were the responsibility of the Athenian women and so it is them who were directly associated with the performance of death rituals and the ones responsible for the continuity and survival of different aspects of culture from ancient times until the modern-day Greece. As the paper showed, the diverse society of Athens during the classical period provided a significant atmosphere of cultural interaction that clearly influenced female identity and the way women expressed that identity.

Sabine Neuman‘s presentation on “Women’s agency in cults for non-Greek deities in Classical and Hellenistic Athens” analysed the agency of women in religious cults for so called non-Greek deities in Athens during Classical and Hellenistic times. Previous studies stated that women played an essential part in ancient Greek religion because men provided priests for male deities and women for female deities. Ancient Greek religion is therefore regarded as a traditional sphere for the agency of women. The paper explored which roles women played in the introduction of so called non-Greek deities and new religious cults for i.e. Kybele, Isis, Bendis and Isodaites. Inscriptions and literary sources attest women, Athenians as well as migrant women, who introduced new deities, dedicated votive offerings and were active in cult associations for non-Greek goddesses. The paper drew particular attention to material culture, for example representations of priestesses. A closer look at these sources shed light on how Athenians and migrant women shaped the religious life in Classical and Hellenistic Athens.

Julietta Alexandra Steinhauer-Hogg‘s paper was entitled “Religious associations, women and agency”. It explored the social dynamics of religious associations in Hellenistic Greece with a focus on priestesses and female agents. Religious associations offered individuals the scope to create and shape a socio-religious space for themselves and their fellow worshippers. Societal norms and restrictions such as ethnic origin, gender and civic status often played a marginal role. Women, whether local or non-local, could therefore hold leading positions often associated with men, as presidents, priests, religious specialists and secretaries, as well as benefactors and simple members. However, owing to the restrictions inherent in the overwhelmingly epigraphic evidence, it is often difficult to decide to what extent the positions described in the texts meant that these women held actual agency. By comparing certain inscriptions referring to female agents in Asia Minor, the Aegean and Athens, the paper illustrated the potential for this line of research and the limitations faced when solely relying on epigraphy.

The Main Building of Tartu University, Venue of the EASR Annual Conference (Source: Wikipedia)

The second panel was opened by Anna Mech, who delivered a paper on “Women in religious life in Roman Dalmatia. Were they really silent?”. The paper attempted to reconstruct the religious life of women who lived in Dalmatia – one of the most ethnically diverse Roman province. The paper presented not only the choices that women made when engaging in religious life but also some important aspects of their private life. Epigraphic monuments were set up – among other reasons – to express the social position of the dedicant. Therefore, it is possible to track the dedicant’s ethnical origin, find their husbands and children or examine the individual intentions of their prayers. Through this Analysis, the paper argued, valuable insights can be reached into the beliefs of individuals and in what ways the “female religiosity” differed (if at all) from the dominant ancient male narrative.

The paper by Carmen González-Gutiérrez, associate of the KFG and COFUND fellow at the Max Weber Centre, moved the discussion to medieval Spain. She showed that European historiography has traditionally assumed that the Islamic urban landscape in the Middle Ages was predominantly a male arena, in which the presence and actions of women were relegated to the interior of the domestic spaces. However, new methodologies and perspectives pioneered in the history of gender, combined with the advances in research on Islamic cities – especially Al-Andalus – allow us to glimpse quite a different reality. The most recent analyses show that the division between the public and private spheres was not so strict, and that determined women could take an active part in providing cities with mosques and other religious facilities, as well as in encouraging specific religious practices. Through a combination of written and recent archaeological sources recovered for al-Andalus, the paper showed that the presence of women in streets and public spaces influenced their configuration; furthermore, the papers addressed the conscious dynamics through which the female patronage, mainly by founding mosques and other pious legacies, became an essential part of the normal functioning of the city and of women’ visibility.

The discussions after the papers showed how much potential the further exploration of women and their agency has. Taking an inter-disciplinary and wide-ranging view yielded some fascinating points of comparison, as well as showing points of divergence between different regions and times. Undoubtedly, women and their networks are not always immediately apparent and their presence in the sources has to be unearted through layers of evidence and, in some cases, also disentangled from a male-dominated historiographical narrative. But, as the two panels clearly showed, this is an essential undertaking if we want to gain a more accurate picture of the past.

Asuman Lätzer-Lasar to Deliver Paper on Religious Ancient Place Making

On Tuesday, 9 July 2019, KFG post-doctoral fellow and steering group member Asuman Lätzer-Lasar will present a paper as part of the colloquia held at the Max Weber Centre. The paper considers the concept of “place making” in antiquity and combines insights from archaeology, urban planning, history and religious studies to explore the ways in which religious space was shaped.

The choice of location of a sanctuary was mainly dependent on its sacred geomancy, recognized, for instance, through an augurium during the Roman period. However, in dense and crowded places such as a city, there were also other needs and requirements that had to be respected, such as urban topography, infrastructure and accessibility, as well as policy, economy, local legislation, or even traditions. Establishing a place for religious communication, be it a sanctuary, a grave or the erection of a dedication to a deity therefore had to be a negotiation between the religious communicator and the physical and non-physical pre-existing environment.

However, even in antiquity the establishment of places of religious communication in dense and diversely crowded cities cannot have been taken place as mere top-down processes decided only by elite, ruling actors without taking any significant and urban-related factors into account. Lätzer-Lasar argues that the decision-making process, when creating a place for religious communication, was an interplay of spaces, objects, actors, practices and imagination (, i.e. aspirations and semantics) that lead involuntarily to reciprocity.

The paper describes the term “placemaking”, which derives from the disciplines of urban planning and geography, in order to elucidate its advantages and disadvantages for the research of ancient cities and religions. The cocnept is developed into a specific form, “Religious Ancient Placemaking”. The paper is a first attempt to make the concept suitable for the discipline of archaeology and enrich it with examples from the ancient city of Rome – because it is an exceptional city that provides a plethora of material and written sources and therefore guarantees a qualitatively broad variety of phenomena – and then to apply the conceptual framework on a specific case study, which will be the Provincia Hispania.

The paper takes place from 10 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. on Tuesaday 09 July at the Max Weber Centre, Erfurt.

How can one describe a bazaar? A first attempt: Walking over the “Big Bazaar” in Calicut

In April 2019, when I accepted an invitation to give a lecture at Kannur, our partner university, I combined my stay with initial on-site research on our research project “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”. I already had a first idea of what I wanted to investigate in selected West Indian coastal cities. As with any historical research question, I first wanted to check whether the necessary sources were available to answer my questions – especially since this is a completely new region that I am currently exploring. So I used my stay to visit museums, libraries and archives in Kerala and to get an overview of existing objects and texts. One of my excursions took me from Kannur to Calicut (or, as it is called in the national language: Kozhikode). Since I didn’t want to repeat the adventure of a three-hour bus ride (for about 90 cents), I bought a ticket in an air-conditioned train compartment for 12 April 2019 (for about 7 EUR and only a two-hour ride).

Train in Calicut, India (© Susanne Rau).

Arriving at the station in Calicut, I approached the city on foot and, turning left shortly before the SM-Street, famous for its sweets, reached the Railway Bridge. On the right I see a mosque, straight ahead, after the crossing the Bazaar Road starts, which is called MA-Road for the first half. This bazaar in Calicut is in fact a street, as the name says, and not a market with stalls or a kind of big department store that could carry the name bazaar in modern times. It is essentially a wholesale market, although one can still buy there as an individual consumer. To the right and to the left of the street are stores lined up, at first mostly metal goods, but a few meters further there are already dried fruits, dates, nuts, but also rice, sugar, chili, spices (a lot of turmeric and other local spices) in large quantities to choose from. Many products can be tested, i.e. viewed, touched, compared and tasted. Large bags are loaded onto trucks, which sometimes block the road, and brought to the countries or the storage rooms behind them, which can be reached via alleys and courtyards between the shops. It is loud with the horns of motorcycles, cars and trucks, but also with people on the phone and communicating across the street. People draw attention to themselves, negotiate prices or shout something to the loaders. At the other end of Bazaar Road there are warehouses again, then a standing snack where some young men eat something – and again a mosque.

This morning it’s so incredibly hot that the next thing I do is call a taxi, or rather one of those yellow-black autorickshaws. But the driver has no time, he has to go to the mosque to pray and therefore drives on. So I walk a few steps further and come to the Beach Road that runs parallel to the Arabian Sea. I walk as far as Gujarati Street, then finally an autorickshaw driver has mercy on me and drives me to the archive further north in the city, which is located in the Civil Station. In the Regional Archives Kozhikode I am allowed to look through some finding aids. But I also have to think about this Bazaar Road, which is also called “Valiyangadi” in Malayalam. Since when does it exist? What is it about this conspicuous structure that there are mosques at both ends?

In the evening, after the visit to the archive, I go back to this street and record a 15-minute video with my mobile phone by slowly walking the street from front to back again. This is a 1.5-minute short version of this, cut by Fritz Unruh:

Then I must hurry to the train and continue my reading. I read in Narayanan’s History of the City of Calicut, where I also find some interesting reference to this street (Narayanan 2018, p. 25-27, 66, 96, 98, 246): It has been documented in the sources since 1442. At that time, of course, it was not yet paved. It was asphalted under British rule in the 1930s. For some time there must have been tracks on which wooden shutters were used to transport the goods. For centuries Muslims, Jains, Hindu Seths, Gujarati and Marwari moneylenders as well as Tamils and Andhra Chettis have met here. They are the actors of this place, where large quantities of goods and money are handled. This must have been a hub of South Asian trade, which Calicut has been since the late Middle Ages. Religion played and plays a role here not only by the present representatives of different religious groups, which came from the north, east, from the Arabian peninsula, from Persia and since the end of the 15th century also from Europe.

Religious practices were integrated into the daily routines of trade. This can be seen not only with my rickshaw driver, who had to pray instead of driving me to the archives, but also in the commercial practices and morals for which the religions have always formulated rules. And it is evident in the urban structure (mosque – bazaar or suk), which can be found in many Islamic cities. Whether this is an urban planning concept remains to be clarified for Calicut. At the one end, near the Railway Bridge, is the Sunni Masjid, at the other end (seaside) the Khaleefa Masjid. Myths have formed around the long-lasting prosperity of the urban centre of Calicut, which the inhabitants pass on orally. Narayanan tells of a legend about Mangatt Achan, the first secretary of Zamorin Raja. „After a long and difficult penance, the Achan had succeeded in having Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, appear before him and offer a boon. He made her promise to wait in the same place until he returned, then went home and committed suicide. The clever idea was that the Goddess, unable to break her oath, will stay permanently in Valiyangadi (Big Bazaar), where the devoted Secretary had left her, and that is why prosperous trade continues in that street in spite of all sorts of changes. Besides illustrating the intelligence and self-sacrificing loyalty of the First Secretary, this popular tradition tries to offer a mythical explanation for the steady progress of trade in Valiyangadi from medieval to modern times. It provides an insurance against slump, and a source of confidence.” (p. 26-27)

The bazaar of Calicut, its historical depths, the worldwide interdependence of people and goods, the religious practices and urban structures that characterize the everyday life of this street have captivated me. I would like to know more about it – more about the different interdependencies and mutual formations of trade, religion and urban development in this ‘global city’ avant la lettre; but also more about the connection between piety and trade in cities influenced by Islam. Because only this should be undisputed so far: that bazaars, like the fairs in Europe, are a distinguishing feature. They seem to have existed only in cities, whereas there were cities without bazaars and without fairs.

In the coming weeks I will continue to read, go to the bazaars of different world cities and then report again…

— Susanne Rau


M.G.S. Narayanan, Calicut. The City of Truth Revisited, Kozhikode 2018 (first published: 2006)

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, Bazars and markets in medieval India, in: Studies in People’s History, 2, 1 (2015): 61–70

Saskia Sassen, The global city. New York, London, Tokyo, Princeton, N.J. 2001 (2nd edn.)

New edited volume: Knowledge and the Indian Ocean by Sara Keller

Sara Keller, core group member of the DFG-funded Humanities Centre in Advanced Studies “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”, has recently edited a volume with the title Knowledge and the Indian Ocean. Intangible Networks of Western India and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

The volume examines Western India’s contributions to the spread of ideas, beliefs and other intangible ties across the Indian Ocean world. The region, particularly Gujarat and Bombay, is well-established in the Indian imaginary and in scholarship as a mercantile hub. These essays move beyond this identity to examine the region as a dynamic place of learning and a host of knowledge, tracing the flow of knowledge, aesthetic sensibilities, values, memories and genetic programs. Contributors traverse the fields of history, anthropology, agriculture, botany, medicine, sociology and more to offer path-breaking perspectives on Western India’s deep socio-cultural impact across the centuries. Western India emerges as a pivotal region in the maritime world as a transmitter of knowledge.

Map of Western India (Source: Wikipedia).

New Book: History, Space, and Place by Susanne Rau

Susanne Rau, project leader of the KFG, has recently published a book entitled History, Space, and Place (Routledge, 2019). This book offers the first comprehensive introduction to the theory and methodology of historical spatial analysis.

Spaces, too, have a history. And history always takes place in spaces. But what do historians mean when they use the word „spaces“? And how can spaces be historically investigated?

History, Space. and Place by Susanne Rau

Susanne Rau provides a survey of the history of Western concepts of space, opens up interdisciplinary approaches to the phenomenon of space in fields ranging from physics and geography to philosophy and sociology, and explains how historical spatial analysis can be methodologically and conceptually conceived and carried out in practice. The case studies presented in the book come from the fields of urban history, the history of trade, and global history including the history of cartography, but its analysis is equally relevant to other fields of inquiry.

Recently, Susanne Rau has also reviewed a book which might be of interest to readers of this blog. The review concerns the volume La bourgeoisie statutaire de Lyon et ses privilèges. Morale civique, évasion fiscale et cabarets urbains (XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles) by Olivier Zeller and can be read here.

Lived Urbanity: Religion and the City in Erfurt

Our core group experienced urbanity and religion in the lanes of Erfurt. Members of the KFG prepared short presentations at spots connected to Religion and Urbanity along a route through Erfurt. 

The walk on the 4th of June aimed to explore our theme “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” through the history of Erfurt. Starting from the Max-Weber-Kolleg, six stations in the city gave us the opportunity to discover city spaces and some of Erfurt’s iconic monuments through the perspective of the entangled relationship between city formation and religiosity.

A brief introduction to the city history reminded us that Erfurt had its golden age as ‘Messestadt’ (fair town) in the late medieval period: Its flourishing economy was based on the cultivation of the precious woad plant (isatis tinctoria), the major European blue dye of the time. (If you want to know more, see the temporary exhibition on the colour blue (‘Blau und Blaues. Farbbetrachtungen der besonderen Art‘) at the Museum für Thüringer Volkskunde.)  Following the increasing enthusiasm for Marian devotion (the Virgin Mary wore a blue mantle), blue, unpopular until then, was in high demand from the 12th and 13th centuries onwards. Erfurt’s fortunes rested on religion and the evolution of religious practices.

Our first station gave us the opportunity to discover the Augustinian monastery (Augustinerkloster), a well preserved architectural complex and an example of the long and dynamic religious life of the city. Erfurt not only witnessed the creation of multiple churches, chapters and convents, but it also fostered a rich theological and intellectual life. This eventually helped the foundation of the university in 1392 (our second station), and influenced the paths of great theologians, philosophers and reformers, such as Meister Eckhart and Martin Luther.


Erfurt’s Cathedral (Dom) and the Severikirche.


The Dom with its peculiar monumental platform and north side portal is an important landmark of the city. The Cathedral, alongside the church St. Severi next to it, (stations five and six on our walk) continue to dominate the city. One of the memorable chapters of Erfurt’s history was written by the Jewish community that actively contributed to the wealth of the place.

Well embedded in the core of the city fabric, the Jewish buildings testify by their presence and location to the entanglement of urban and religious life. They also bear the marks of terrible clashes that repeatedly resulted in the complete disappearance of the Jewish community. The visit of the mikwe (station three) showed us how water and religious practices were taken care of in the tense urban context. Another spot of Jewish life in Erfurt is the impressive Old Synagogue. Station four, at the ‘Kunsthalle’, originally known as the ‘Haus zum Roten Ochsen’ (‘house of the red bull’), provided an opportunity to discover lively and colourful depictions of planetary gods on a Renaissance façade freed from medieval religious codes.

The walk was an inspiring experience, evidenced by the fact that we did not lose any participants, despite the terrible heat of this Thursday noon. Since the city has many other treasures – open as well as concealed – that could be discovered in a two hour walk, we are intending to continue our exploration with another tour of other stations.  If you are interested in joining our next walk, feel free to get in touch! 

— Sara Keller

Stadt und Religion: Internationale Tagung im Augustinerkloster, Erfurt

Wie wichtig ist Religion für das Entstehen und Bestehen von Städten? Wie tragen Rituale dazu bei, dass aus Dörflern nun Städter werden? Diesen Fragen stellt sich eine internationale Konferenz, die von der Forschungsgruppe „Religion und Urbanität“ organisiert wird, welche seit Herbst 2018 am Max-Weber-Kolleg der Universität Erfurt unter der Leitung von Susanne Rau und Jörg Rüpke von der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft gefördert wird. Die Konferenz wurde in Kooperation mit der schottischen University of St. Andrews (Christopher Smith) organisiert. Die Organisatoren haben Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler aus ganz Europa und den USA vom 12. bis 14. Juni in das historische Augustinerkloster eingeladen um den Fragestellungen anhand von Fallbeispielen und typischen Konstellationen aus dem Mittelmeerraum von der Späten Bronzezeit bis in die Spätantike nachzugehen.

Mit Blick auf die Geschichte kann man ohne Zweifel behaupten, dass Religion ein bedeutender Faktor bei dramatischen Entwicklungen in Städten war, beispielsweise bei der Gründung von Städten über Einwanderungswellen, tiefen Umbrüchen bis hin zu sogar Völkermord. Religiöse Rituale dienten hierbei um Gemeinsamkeiten zu stiften wie auch Rückzugsräume für die Stadtbewohner zu schaffen und Abgeschiedenheit von einzelnen oder Gruppen zu ermöglichen. Umgekehrt hat das räumliche, soziale und politische Umfeld von Städten, ob klein oder groß, religiöse Ideen und Praktiken geprägt. Vorstellungen von „Göttern“ und verstorbenen „Ahnen“, vom Ort der Verehrung, von der Zugänglichkeit zu Göttern und deren Tempeln, sowie die Vorstellungen über ihre Wirkweisen, aber auch, wie man sein eigenes Leben vor den Göttern lebt, wurden dabei nachhaltig beeinflusst. Das Erfurter Forschungsprojekt „Religion und Urbanität“ widmet sich der Untersuchung dieser wechselseitigen Beeinflussungen in historischen und zeitgenössischen Kontexten und bezieht die Ergebnisse auf das Zusammenleben in Städten.

Die jetzige Tagung beschäftigt sich mit den Anfängen dieser Wechselbeziehung, als sich Städte bilden. Dafür ist der Mittelmeerraum im Übergang von der Bronze- zur Eisenzeit besonders spannend. Hier gab es starke Umgestaltungen der Umwelt, neue soziale und wirtschaftliche Beziehungen und Herrschaftsformen. Welche Bedeutung hatte Religion in solch einem kritischen Moment? Und wie wirkten sich Veränderungen auf nachfolgende Epochen aus? Bisher wurde die zunehmende Gründung von Städten nur einseitig mit dem Verweis auf Handelsplätze und Transportwege erklärt. Gerade die Verbindung von archäologischer und religionsgeschichtlicher Forschung, erklärt Dr. Asuman Lätzer-Lasar als Organisatorin, verspricht neue Aufschlüsse darüber, wie eng die Entwicklungen von Religionen und die Entstehungen von Städten tatsächlich miteinander verflochten waren. Der Tagungsort in Erfurt mit seiner eigenen reichen Geschichte ist dafür sehr passend gewählt.

 Kontakt:; Programm

Carmen González Gutiérrez in ARTE documentary

Carmen González Gutiérrez, a COFUND fellow associated with our project, recently contributed to a documentary by the French TV channel ARTE on Al-Andalus. The region was a medieval Muslim territory, which is now part of Spain. Carmen talked about the Great Mosque of Córdoba, now called Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, one of the most important sacred spaces in Spain. The mosque was a key feature of the medieval town and influenced the whole region for centuries. Indeed, as a space steeped in history and a major tourist attraction, it still shapes the city today. 

Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba (Source: Wikipedia).

Martina Stercken to Deliver Paper on Salvific History and Urbanity

Martina Stercken, fellow of the KFG and professor of Medieval History at the University of Zurich, will deliver a paper in the KFG’s research colloquium on 28 May 2019. The paper is entitled “Embedded in salvific history. Mediating urban time and space in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period”. 

Urban studies have assumed the power of salvific history to be an important element
influencing the medieval notion of towns in Europe. Discourses and artifacts reflecting on the celestial Jerusalem have been examined; scholars have investigated how much this idea has influenced town planning; and performative ways of defining the urban space as a religious area and the urban community as a sacral community have been described. The paper aims for a deeper analysis of texts, images, and maps and their ways of mediating temporal and spatial dimensions of towns between the 13th and 16th centuries, so at a time when the urban landscape was being shaped in Europe. Analysing manifold combinations of maps and historiographical texts relating to Zurich, it will explore the means to create images of the town as a spatial and historical phenomenon embedded in salvific history. It will be argued that urbanization changed the notion of the town’s embeddedness in the history of salvation, and developed multifarious ways to connect representations of space with its historical significance.

The paper will start at 10 a.m. in the Max-Weber-Kolleg, Erfurt. 

Pralay Kanungo on the Indian Election

Our fellow, Pralay Kanungo, has recently published an article in the Wire on the Indian elections. He investigates the rise of the ‘NaMo’ cult and traces what may lay ahead for India after this momentous election. The article shows that there were two strands to the personality cult around the new and old Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. By combinding a narrative of development with an aggressive nationalism the ‘cult’ was able to withstand any pressure and Modi and the BJP Party won a historic election vctory.

See here for the full article.   

New Publications by Supriya Chaudhuri and Pralay Kanungo

We are pleased to announce the publication of several articles and chapters by members of our research group.

Supriya Chaudhuri, who recently joined us as a fellow and researches early modern literature, has recently published six articles:

‘Eyes Wide Shut: Seeing and Knowing in Othello’ and ‘What does the Slave know? A Response to Stephen Spiess’ in Blind Spots of Knowledge in Shakespeare and his World, ed. S. Mukherji (Medieval Institute Publications: De Gruyter, 2019), 75-88; 153-55

‘Indian Travel Writing’, in The Cambridge History of Travel Writing, eds. N. Das and T. Youngs (Cambridge University Press, 2019), 159-74

‘Modernist Literary Communities in 1930s Calcutta: the politics of Parichay’, in Modernist Communities across Cultures and Media, eds. C. Pollentier and S. Wilson (University Press of Florida, 2019), 177-96

‘On Making Noise: Hokkolorob and its place in Indian Student Movements’, Postcolonial Studies (2019), 44-58, DOI: https://10.1080/13688790.2019.1568168

‘Nishchindipur: The Impossibility of a Village Utopia’, Open Library of Humanities, 5(1): 25 (2019), 1–28. DOI:

Pralay Kanungo, who is also a fellow in the KFG and works on modern Indian history, has published an article entitled ‘Sangh and Sarkar: The RSS Power Centre Shifts from Nagpur to New Delhi’, in Majoritarian State. How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India (Hurst Publishers, 2019), eds. Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen and Christophe Jaffrelot, 133-149.

If you are interested in the research of any of our fellows, or the KFG as a whole, feel free to get in touch! 

Short Review of Hans G. Kippenberg: Regulierungen der Religionsfreiheit

Hans G. Kippenberg, Regulierungen der Religionsfreiheit: Von der Allgemeinen Erklärung der Menschenrechte zu den urteilen des Europäischen Gerichtshofs für Menschenrechte, Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2019, 190 pp.

Hans G. Kippenberg, former fellow of the Max Weber Centre, Erfurt, has written a book on legal regulations of freedom of religion from 1948 onwards. The book covers the period from the „Universal Declaration of Human Rights“ of 1948 to the „International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights“ of 1966/76. Written with an international perspective, the focus of the book shifts to European developments, the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Commission on Human Rights and the European Court in the second half of the book. Individual cases and legal developments from Italy to the United Kingdom, from Switzerland to Greece and Turkey are analyzed.

The historicization of the process is interesting for the history of religion in general and for the problems of religious beliefs, actions, and institutionalizations in urban contexts and urban religion. The book demonstrates the manifold strands and quick changes in the perspectives on and the contents of legal matters, but it also demonstrates how the trace of such texts and court cases produces lasting changes. The historicization of this process from the point of view of the history of religion is a big asset of the book.

 — Jörg Rüpke


Notre-Dame of Paris: From Paradise to Inferno

‘Etiam periere ruinae’ (tr.: Even the ruins have perished). Old St Paul’s Cathedral burning in the Great Fire of London. Engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1666.
(Photo by Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
by Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

15 April 2019. Our Lady of Paris burns. The Notre-Dame cathedral of the ‘Île de la cité’, the historical heart of Paris, turns into a huge blaze, exhausting the fire brigade, stunning the helpless Parisian crowd and shaking people all over the world. For a moment, everyone felt: France is burning.

This first conclusion may sound like an exaggeration, warranting a more detailed look at the significance of Notre-Dame of Paris. The monument certainly enjoys particular attention from the Parisians and the tourists – a fondness which is not a given in a secular state. Notre-Dame of Paris, with approximately 13 million visitors every year, competes with the Eiffel Tower for the highest ranking of the most visited monuments of France[i] Both come behind the unbeatable Disneyland, which attracted 14.8 million visitors in 2015[ii]. Yet it seems difficult to estimate fairly how much the French cherish the cathedral of the ‘Île de la cité’. Surveys suggest the deep attachment of the French to such regional sites.

What about the meaning of Notre-Dame in the history of France? In this regard, the most suitable representation would rather be Notre-Dame de Reims, where most of the kings of France were crowned or the Basilica of Saint-Denis near Paris, the royal burial place from the 10th to the 18th centuries. From an architectural and art historical perspective, the prominence of  Notre-Dame cathedral is anything but obvious: One rather remembers Saint-Denis, where Suger inaugurated the Gothic style in the 1140s; Chartres and Bourges, the classic Gothic cathedrals and big work sites of the late 12th and early 13th century, Chartres again, with its revolution of the colours; Reims, Amiens, Beauvais as big monuments[iii]; the Mont-Saint-Michel, an architectural achievement and a unique pilgrimage place since the 8th century. Notre-Dame of Paris with its long building history and controversial completion by architect Viollet-le-Duc during the 19th century is rather remembered as an experimental space for the Neo-Gothic and the emerging disciplines of building archaeology and (today this seems questionable) heritage management. A rather doubtful example of the Gothic.

Despite these facts, and notwithstanding the ambivalent feeling towards Notre-Dame of Paris, it is clear that the recent disaster caused a great stir amongst the public, the media and the politicians. The 15th of April became an event the very same night when Parisians and the press helplessly witnessed the annihilation of the 13th century attic, known as the ‘forest’[iv].

The first reason for this strong emotional response certainly lies in the impact of the  spectacle of the devastating blaze. Europe had not seen a fire of this scale and cultural impact for about 75 years. It triggered deeply engrained memories of destruction, conflicts and suffering. Accidental and criminal fires that regularly devastated European medieval towns are, since the Renaissance, ‘rare and shocking events’[v]. Arsonists, when they were caught, were quickly and mercilessly punished: Jean Froissart reports for instance in his ‘Grandes Chroniques de France’ (late 14th century)[vi] that the arsonists of the Abbey Saint Lucien of Beauvaisis would “pay heavily”[vii] for their deed. The king of England ordered twenty persons to be hanged so ‘that others learn how to behave another time’[viii]. In densely built medieval cities, where wood was an important part of the everyday architecture, churches were damaged many times by large fires, though they were rarely the target and the origin of the fire. But the phenomenon of large city fires, mostly a result of military activity,[ix] drastically diminished during the Renaissance. The ‘Hausmanisation‘ and other pioneering urbanistic improvements of the late 19th century finished the move of the urban fire to the level of an archaic abnormality.

Remembering the Roman Emperor Nero who enjoyed the contemplation of burning Rome in 64 AD, the fire becomes a spectacular and apocalyptic sight, and the arsonist a demonic creature or a dangerous madman. “The arsonist is a man divided between his pleasure to initiate fire and the expression of his sadomasochism,”[x] wrote psychiatrist Michel Bénézech.

Such a situation was relegated to the tribulations of the dark days of our past, till Notre-Dame of Paris suddenly revived these memories which many believed forgotten. More than in terms of architectural importance, the significance of Notre-Dame is to be understood in the national imaginary developed since the 19th century. Initially a neighbourhood parish, Notre-Dame became a ‘lieu de célébrations nationales’, a place of national celebration, from the mid-19th century after Victor Hugo published ‘Notre-Dame de Paris’ in 1831 and Lassus and Viollet-le-Duc intervened in its architectural substance between 1843 and 1864.[xi] The urbanistic work conducted by the Baron Haussmann on the ‘Île de la Cité’ between 1858 and 1868 cleared the space in front of the façade (the ‘Île de la cité’ lost two third of its population in the 19th century)[xii], thus creating a real staging of the monument. The building was no more celebrated for its religious function but started embodying the social history of the place. The ‘parvis’, or large open square with the new cathedral facade set an example for the urbanistic staging of other church-monuments of France. In the case of Notre-Dame, it became the central place of the ‘Tout-Paris’ (‘whole Paris’) and the square that crystallised the life, memories and struggles of the Parisians. One remembered that the place saw the execution of Jacques de Molay, last Master of the Knights Templars burned upon a scaffold in 1314; as well as the revolution struggles, the demolition of the cathedral sculptures and the coronation of Napoleon in 1807. Paris was born on the ‘Île de la cité’ and the ‘point 0’ embedded in the square of Notre-Dame reminds individuals since 1796 that all roads of France start from there. Thus, the ‘parvis’, from old French ‘parais’ for ‘paradise’, became, maybe more than Notre-Dame herself, the heart of France.

The development of published guides of Paris fostered this promotion by mentioning Notre-Dame as “the most beautiful monument of the gothic art of France” (‘Guide parisien’ of Adolphe Joanne published in 1863).[xiii] Professor of History and Cultural Anthropology Evelyne Cohen brightly demonstrates in her paper entitled “Visiter Notre-Dame de Paris” how the site became a symbol of the history of Paris and eventually of France in the course of the 19th and then the 20th century. More than a religious place or an architectural wonder, Notre-Dame of Paris and its ‘parvis’ had become a symbol of the heart, emotions and struggles of the Parisians and the French.

Today, after the fire, Notre-Dame is on its way to become a European symbol for cultural collaboration since the French president Emmanuel Macron promptly proposed to create a network of European experts for heritage and heritage conservation.[xiv] The global call by French leaders for architects to design a new spire could be the stepping-stone for Notre-Dame to become a cultural and popular representation across borders.[xv]

Cover image of the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ magazine on 16.04.2019, exceptionally released one day before its usual release date. Source: Website of Europe 1.

The spectacular fire of the 15th of April will remain in memory. The emotions triggered by the blaze and its high level of media attention already created a new ‘image d’épinal’ which confirms the visuals and staging of Notre-Dame. While the nation is in turmoil over the yellow vest movement and the national debate, the fire of Our Lady in the heart of Paris had a cathartic value.

With the reconstruction of the roof and the implementation of the gigantic ‘Île de la Cité’ project,[xvi] Notre-Dame of Paris now faces the immense challenge of becoming an icon of the 21th century.

— Sara Keller

[i] Parisians seem to prefer Notre-Dame, while the Eiffel Tower is the favourite elsewhere in France.

[ii] Sources: AtoutFrance (French Ministry of Culture) and ‘Les sites touristiques de France’, in: Mémento du Tourisme 2017, 7e partie pp.129-143. The Eiffel Tower sells 6.9 million tickets every year, but that does not take into consideration the large amount of visitors who visit the monument but do not climb the steps.

« Selon l’Observatoire de l’an 2000 et d’après un sondage effectué en mars-avril 1996, la tour Eiffel reste le premier monument européen visité, après leur monument national, par les Italiens, les Anglais, les Allemands, les Américains et les Japonais. Elle est considérée comme le premier monument symbolique de l’Europe, sauf par les Allemands qui choisissent la porte Brandebourg et par les Japonais qui choisissent le château de Versailles » (Cohen, Evelyne. 2002. ‘Visiter Notre-Dame de Paris’ In: Ethnologie française XXXII. 2002. p.506).

[iii] Timbert, Arnaud. 2018. Qu’est-ce que l’architecture gothique ? Septentrion Presses Universitaires.

[iv] The wooden framework of gothic churches is commonly known by French carpenters as the ‘Forêt’ (the forest).

[v] « À la fin du Moyen Âge, très loin d’être l’apanage des grandes compagnies ou des écorcheurs, pratiqué plus ou moins par l’ensemble des belligérants, y compris par les armées permanentes, ils restent un événement plutôt rare qui frappe encore les esprits mais s’inscrit dans une liste de désolations, qui en changent la portée » Raynaud, Christiane. 2007. ‘L’incendie des églises : un événement ?’ In: Faire l’événement au Moyen Âge, pp. 175-192. Accessed online on 03.05.2019 (paragraph 25):

[vi] Chroniques of Jean Froissart mentioned in Raynaud 2007, paragraph 23.

[vii] ‘ceux qui ont fait cel outrage oultre sa deffence le comparroient chierement.’ Chroniques of Jean Froissart mentioned in Raynaud 2007, paragraph 23.

[viii] ‘affin que li aultre gardaissent une autre foix mieux son commandement’ Chroniques of Jean Froissart mentioned in Raynaud 2007, paragraph 23.

[ix] See Raynaud 2007.

[x] « L’incendiaire est un homme partagé entre son plaisir de mettre le feu et l’expression de son sadomasochisme. » Bénézech, Michel. 2010. ‘Le feu criminel’ In Libres cahiers pour la psychanalyse, n° 22, p .39.

[xi] Cohen 2002, 503.

[xii] Cohen 2002, 504.

[xiii] Cohen 2002, 504.

[xiv] «Notre-Dame: la France veut une coopération européenne pour sauver le patrimoine en péril » Article published in Le Monde on the 21st of April 2019. Accessed online on 21.04.2019:

[xv] See the web article entitled ’12 serious proposals by architects for the reconstruction of the spire of Notre-Dame’ (« 12 propositions sérieuses d’architectes pour la reconstruction de la flèche de Notre-Dame » 03.05.2019). Accessed on 06.05.2019:

[xvi] Bélaval, Philippe and Perrault, Dominique. 2016. Mission Île de la Cité le coeur du cœur. Unpublished report. Accessed online on 03.05.2019:

Notre-Dame de Paris : Du Paradis à l’Inferno

‘Etiam periere ruinae’ (tr. : Même les ruines ont disparu). Incendie de l’ancienne cathédrale Saint Paul lors du grand incendie de Londres. Gravure de Wenceslaus Hollar, 1666. (Photo by Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

15 Avril 2019. Notre-Dame de Paris brûle. La cathédrale de l’Île de la cité, le cœur historique de Paris devient un immense brasier, exténuant les pompiers à pied d’œuvre, sidérant la foule parisienne et choquant le monde entier. Un instant, tout le monde pensa que la France brûlait.

Cette conclusion hâtive pourrait paraitre exagérée, ce qui mériterait de s’interroger sur la dimension et l’importance du monument. Notre-Dame de Paris jouit sans aucun doute de l’attention particulière des Parisiens et des touristes –une affection qui n’est pas évidente dans le contexte de laïcité française. Notre-Dame de Paris, avec approximativement 13 millions de visiteurs par an, dispute à la tour Eiffel la place du monument le plus visité de France[i] –mais reste dans tous les cas derrière l’imbattable Disneyland et ses 14.8 millions de visiteurs en 2015[ii]. Toutefois il semble difficile d’estimer combien les Français réellement chérissent la cathédrale de l’île de la cité : d’autres sondages suggèrent le profond attachement à divers sites régionaux.

Qu’en est-il de l’histoire ? Notre-Dame est-elle une cathédrale significative pour l’histoire de France ? Dans ce registre, on nommera plus volontiers Notre-Dame de Reims où eu lieu le sacre de la plupart des rois de France – ou encore la basilique Saint-Denis, nécropole des rois de France du 10e au 18e siècle. Dans une perspective architecturale, la proéminence de Notre-Dame de Paris est toute sauf évidente: on mentionnera plutôt Saint-Denis où l’abbé Suger inaugura le style gothique à partir des années 1140, Chartres et Bourges, les cathédrales classiques et grands chantiers de la fin du XIIe et début du XIIIe siècle, Chartres encore pour la révolution des couleurs ; Reims, Amiens, Beauvais, les grands monuments[iii]; le Mont-Saint-Michel, une prouesse architecturale et un lieu unique de pèlerinage depuis le VIIIe siècle. Avec sa longue histoire architecturale et son achèvement (contesté) par l’architecte Viollet-le-Duc au XIXe siècle, Notre-Dame de Paris évoque plutôt un haut lieu du néo-gothique et de l’émergence, dans la controverse, de disciplines liées à la gestion du patrimoine. Voilà donc plutôt un exemple douteux du gothique.

Malgré ces faits et en dépit du sentiment ambivalent des Français pour Notre-Dame de Paris, il est évident que le récent désastre architectural a causé un grand émoi parmi le public, les médias et les politiques. Le 15 avril devint un évènement la nuit même où la foule assistait, démunie, à la disparition de la forêt[iv] du XIIIe siècle.

La première raison de cette vive réaction émotionnelle est certainement liée à l’effrayant spectacle d’un incendie dévastateur. L’Europe n’avait pas vu un brasier de cette ampleur et de cet impact culturel depuis près de 75 ans. Cette vision a réveillé des mémoires profondément enfouies de destructions, de conflits et de souffrances. Les incendies accidentels ou criminels qui ont dévasté les cités d’Europe au Moyen-Âge étaient devenus, depuis la Renaissance, des évènements rares et choquants[v]. Les incendiaires, quand ils étaient identifiés, étaient punis rapidement et sans merci : Jean Froissart rapporte par exemple dans ses « Grandes Chroniques de France » (fin du XIVe siècle)[vi] que les incendiaires de l’abbaye de Saint Lucien en Beauvaisis « payeronent chèrement »[vii] leur acte. Le roi d’Angleterre fit immédiatement pendre vingt personnes ‘affin que li aultre gardaissent une autre foix mieux son commandement’[viii]. Dans les villes médiévales densément peuplées où le bois était un élément de construction majeur de l’architecture vernaculaire, il n’était pas rare que des églises prennent feu, bien qu’elles ne soient généralement pas l’objectif ni le foyer initial de l’incendie. Mais ce phénomène d’incendies urbains, souvent le résultat de l’activité militaire[ix], déclina fortement à partir de la renaissance. L’hausmanisation et les améliorations urbanisitiques novatrices de la fin du XIXe siècle finit de reléguer l’incendie urbain au rang d’anormalité archaïque.

A l’image de l’empereur romain Néron qui pris plaisir à voir Rome brûler en 64 ap. JC, le feu devint un spectacle apocalyptique et l’incendiaire une créature démoniaque ou un fou dangereux. « L’incendiaire est un homme partagé entre son plaisir de mettre le feu et l’expression de son sadomasochisme. »[x] commente le psychiatre Michel Bénézech.

Une telle situation était reléguée aux tribulations des jours sombres de notre histoire quand Notre-Dame de Paris raviva soudainement nos mémoires que l’on pensait oubliées. Plutôt que comme un fait d’importance architecturale, la signification de la cathédrale peut être comprise dans le cadre d’un imaginaire national développé au XIXe siècle. A l’origine une paroisse de quartier, Notre-Dame devint un « lieu de célébrations nationales » à partir du milieu du XIXe siècle après que Victor Hugo eût publié son célèbre « Notre-Dame de Paris » en 1831 et que Lassus et Viollet-le-Duc furent intervenus sur le bâti entre 1843 et 1864.[xi] Les travaux d’urbanisme conduits par le Baron Haussmann sur l’île de la Cité entre 1858 et 1868 dégagèrent l’espace devant la façade (l’île de la Cité perdit les deux tiers de ses habitants au cours du XIXe siècle)[xii], créant ainsi une formidable mise en scène du monument. Le parvis, avec la façade ouest de la cathédrale comme décor, devint un exemple de théâtralisation des parvis d’églises en France. Dans le cas de la capitale, le parvis devint un lieu dynamique pour le tout-Paris, une place qui cristallisait la vie, les mémoires et les luttes des parisiens. On se rappela alors que Jacques de Molay, dernier Maître de l’Ordre du Temple fut brûlé vif sur cette place en 1314, que le parvis vit la révolution française et la destruction des sculptures de la façade de la cathédrale, ou encore le couronnement de Napoléon en 1807. Paris elle-même est née sur l’île-de-la-Cité et le « Point 0 » est gravé sur la place, rappelant à chacun depuis 1796 que toutes les routes de France partent de ce point. Ainsi le parvis, du vieux français « parais » pour « paradis », devint, peut-être plus que Notre-Dame elle-même, le cœur de la France.

Le développement de guides touristiques de Paris contribua à cette promotion en mentionnant Notre-Dame comme « le plus beau monument de l’art gothique français » (« Guide parisien » d’Adolphe Joanne publié en 1863).[xiii] Evelyne Cohen, Professeure en Histoire et Anthropologie culturelles du XXe siècle, démontre brillamment dans son article intitulé « Visiter Notre-Dame de Paris » comment le site devint au cours des XIXe et XXe siècles un symbole de l’histoire de Paris, puis de celle de la France. Plus qu’un lieu de culte et une merveille architecturale, Notre-Dame de Paris et son parvis sont devenus le symbole du cœur, des émotions et des luttes des Parisiens et des Français.

Aujourd’hui, après l’incendie, Notre-Dame est sur le point de devenir un symbole de la collaboration culturelle, le président Emmanuel Macron ayant promptement suggéré de créer un réseau d’experts européens pour le patrimoine et sa conservation[xiv]. L’appel international par les dirigeants français aux architectes qui pourraient faire une proposition pour la reconstruction de la flèche peut devenir un marchepied vers une Notre-Dame, représentante culturelle et populaire au-delà des frontières[xv].

Page de couverture de Charlie Hebdo du 16.04.2019. Source: site web d’Europe 1.

L’incendie spectaculaire du 15 avril 2019 restera dans les mémoires. Les émotions suscitées par le feu et la forte attention médiatique a déjà créé une image d’Epinal qui confirme la vocation visuelle et théâtrale de Notre-Dame. Alors que la nation est tourmentée par la crise des gilets jaunes et le débat national, le brasier de Notre-Dame prit une valeur cathartique. Avec la reconstruction du toit et la concrétisation du projet de l’Île de la Cité [xvi], Notre-Dame de Paris relève le défi de devenir une icône du XXIe siècle.

— Sara Keller

[i] Les Parisiens semblent préférer Notre-Dame, tandis que la tour Eiffel remporte les suffrages ailleurs en France.

[ii] Sources: AtoutFrance (Ministère de la Culture) et « Les sites touristiques de France » In: Mémento du Tourisme 2017, 7e partie pp.129-143. La tour Eiffel vend 6.9 millions de tickets par an, mais ce chiffre ne prend pas en compte tous les visiteurs qui viennent voir la tour sans pour autant monter les escaliers.

« Selon l’Observatoire de l’an 2000 et d’après un sondage effectué en mars-avril 1996, la tour Eiffel reste le premier monument européen visité, après leur monument national, par les Italiens, les Anglais, les Allemands, les Américains et les Japonais. Elle est considérée comme le premier monument symbolique de l’Europe, sauf par les Allemands qui choisissent la porte Brandebourg et par les Japonais qui choisissent le château de Versailles » (Cohen, Evelyne. 2002. ‘Visiter Notre-Dame de Paris’ In: Ethnologie française XXXII. 2002. p.506).

[iii] Timbert, Arnaud. 2018. Qu’est-ce que l’architecture gothique ? Septentrion Presses Universitaires.

[iv] Ou charpente.

[v] « À la fin du Moyen Âge, très loin d’être l’apanage des grandes compagnies ou des écorcheurs, pratiqué plus ou moins par l’ensemble des belligérants, y compris par les armées permanentes, ils restent un événement plutôt rare qui frappe encore les esprits mais s’inscrit dans une liste de désolations, qui en changent la portée » Raynaud, Christiane. 2007. ‘L’incendie des églises : un événement ?’ In: Faire l’événement au Moyen Âge, pp. 175-192. Accès en ligne le 03.05.2019 (paragraphe 25) :

[vi] Chroniques de Jean Froissart mentionné dans Raynaud 2007, paragraphe 23.

[vii] ‘ceux qui ont fait cel outrage oultre sa deffence le comparroient chierement.’ Chroniques de Jean Froissart mentionné dans Raynaud 2007, paragraphe 23.

[viii] Chroniques de Jean Froissart mentionné dans Raynaud 2007, paragraphe 23.

[ix] Voir Raynaud 2007.

[x] « L’incendiaire est un homme partagé entre son plaisir de mettre le feu et l’expression de son sadomasochisme. » Bénézech, Michel. 2010. ‘Le feu criminel’ In Libres cahiers pour la psychanalyse, n° 22, p .39.

[xi] Cohen 2002, 503.

[xii] Cohen 2002, 504.

[xiii] Cohen 2002, 504.

[xiv] «  Notre-Dame : la France veut une coopération européenne pour sauver le patrimoine en péril » Article paru dans Le Monde le 21 Avril 2019. Accès en ligne le 21.04.2019 :

[xv] Voir l’article « 12 propositions sérieuses d’architectes pour la reconstruction de la flèche de Notre-Dame » 03.05.2019). Accès en ligne le 06.05.2019:

[xvi] Bélaval, Philippe et Perrault, Dominique. 2016. « Mission Île de la Cité le coeur du cœur ». Unpublished report. Accès en ligne le 03.05.2019 :


Congratulations to Martin Christ on Winning Research Prize

On 27 April 2019, Martin Christ, core group member of the KFG “Religion and Urbanity”, received the Hermann-Knothe Preis — Research Prize of Upper Lusatia (Hermann-Knothe-Preis – Wissenschaftspreis der Oberlausitz). Christ received the prize for his article “The Century of the Reformation in a Bohemian Small Town, Lauban and its Lutheran Preachers, c. 1520-1620” („Das Jahrhundert der Reformation in einer böhmischen Kleinstadt, Lauban und seine lutherischen Prediger ca.1520–1620“).

The prize is awarded by the Upper Lusatian Scholarly Society (Oberlausitzische Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften), one of the oldest learned societies in Germany. It is named after the local historian Hermann Knothe and recognises exceptional research on Upper Lusatian history and culture. The prize was presented by the Mayor of Görlitz, Siegfried Deinege, and the vice-president of the society, Dr. Lars-Arne Dannenberg.  

The essay will be printed in the next issue of the New Lusatian Journal (Neues Lausitzisches Magazin) and focuses on the town of Lauban (today Lubań in Poland). This town was part of Bohemia in the early modern period and so was ruled by a Catholic king. However, the Lutheran Reformation made serious inroads in the region, leading to a constellation where a Catholic king ruled over a largely Lutheran area. The essay focuses on Lauban as one example of the complex introduction of Lutheranism in this region and shows how the Reformation changed urban institutions and influenced the daily lives of men and women. As Dr. Jens Bulisch stressed in the laudatory speech, this research is particularly important as the fact that the now-Polish Lauban was part of Upper Lusatia is frequently forgotten. 

For a German version of this report, see here

The mayor of Görlitz, Siegfried Deinege (left) and the vice-president of the Upper Lusatian Scholarly Society, Dr. Lars-Arne Dannenberg (right) (picture: Kai Wenzel).


Book Announcement: The Algebra of Warfare-Welfare

Pralay Kanungo, fellow of our Advanced Centre in the Humanities “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”, has just published a co-edited volume. The book is published by Oxford University Press and co-edited with Irfan Ahmad (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen). 

Kanungo, Ahmad (eds.), The Algebra of Warfare-Welfare (OUP, 2019).

The Algebra of Warfare-Welfare. A Long View of India’s 2014 Election explores how the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) won the 2014 Parliamentary elections with such an unprecedented majority, and what that victory means for politics in general and Indian politics in particular. It opens up space for new theoretical and methodological reflections on electoral democracy, critically taking on such salient issues as development, terrorism, charisma, media, new mechanisms of mobilization, nationalism, rumour, religion, regionalism, polarisation, space, Muslim vote, and caste. This volume is distinct in its ability to focus squarely on the empirical acts of voting. It sociologically and historically examines the enduring as well as changing institutional, social, political, and cultural landscapes in which voting takes place. Unlike most other studies on elections in India, this book puts human subjectivity at the centre of election studies. The anthropological-sociological perspective the volume places before readers draws on political-social theory whereby the volume also examine the larger and changing contours of modernity, democracy and elections being its key faces. As such the volume situates the 2014 elections in relation to changing nature and forms of elections and democracy globally, in particular in conversation with those in the democratic nation-states in the West.

Besides co-editing the volume, Pralay Kanungo has also contributed the chapter   ‘Gurus and the Hindu Nationalist Politics: The Baba Ramdev-BJP Partnership in the 2014 Elections’ (pp.119-142) and written the afterword (pp. 357-375). The book was officially launched at a celebratory roundtable in Delhi on 25 March 2019.

Official Book Launch of The Algebra of Warfare-Welfare in Delhi on 25 March 2019.