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Here you will find an overview of the journal articles and articles published in edited volumes by the research group and its members.

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2021

How Do We Measure Secularity?

André Laliberté

How Do We Measure Secularity?

When he wrote A Secular Age, Charles Taylor discussed the trajectory of societies of the North Atlantic influenced by Western Christianity and the changes in secularity they experienced. He had conceptualized three types of secularities: Secularity I, as separation between religion and state; Secularity II, qua decline of belief and practice over time; and Secularity III, or a condition of belief, “where religious belief is one option among others, and not necessarily the easiest one.” Taylor, however, acknowledged the limitation inherent to his work as contingent on a specific cultural area. In his approach, which combines phenomenology and hermeneutics with intellectual history, he has emphasized one particular path and its variants, but he has shied away from applying to non-Western societies the categories originally devised to analyze the forms of secularity that have unfolded in the West. Yet in our “secular age,” which is also the age of globalization, it has become diffcult to avoid the question of whether the trajectory of secularity within Western Europe and North America represents a secular exceptionalism that cannot be replicated elsewhere and precludes any Gadamerian “fusion of horizons.” This has implications that go beyond religion and the definition of the “secular” as it affects human rights, freedom of conscience, international law, and, in the end, global politics.

Laliberté, André. “How Do We Measure Secularity?” Journal of Law and Religion (2021): 1–8. Published online https://doi:10.1017/jlr.2021.21

This is a review article of the volume edited by Mirjam Künkler, John Madeley, and Shylashri Shankar A Secular Age Beyond the West. Religion, Law and the State in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

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2021

Menschliches Leid - Perspektiven der Philosophie und Theologie, des Buddhismus und der Medizin

Kleine, Christoph

Menschliches Leid - Perspektiven der Philosophie und Theologie, des Buddhismus und der Medizin

This contribution to the edited volume Human Suffering - Perspectives from Philosophy and Theology, Buddhism and Medicine discusses the particular interpretation of the causes of suffering and the possibilities of overcoming it from a Buddhist perspective. It is argued that for Buddhism as a classical redemptive religion, the realisation of suffering as being an inevitable element of human existence as such marks the starting point of all theory and practice. Everything initially revolves around the question of the causes of suffering and possible ways to emancipate oneself from suffering. It is no coincidence that Buddhist authors often use medical metaphors when dealing with the problem of suffering as an inherent quality of human nature. Here, the Buddha figures as the greatest doctor, who provides exactly the right therapy for each type of patient. Depending on the specific manifestation of the ailment, the personal situation and the needs of the patient, the Buddha provides a specific remedy. Since existence in the world itself is the ultimate ailment, a final liberation from suffering can only take place outside the world. It requires overcoming existence, itself, an existence which is conditioned by karmic factors that must be annihilated. It is shown that with regard to the interpretation of suffering and its cessation, Buddhism takes a completely different path than the great monotheistic religions. Since there is no creator God, the question of theodicy does not arise. Nor is the question raised whether suffering has any purpose or meaning. Certain philosophical problems that have strongly influenced European thinking are therefore completely ignored in Buddhism, as they are not considered relevant to salvation.


Kleine, Christoph. “Menschliches Leid: Perspektive des Buddhismus.” In Menschliches Leid - Perspektiven der Philosophie und Theologie, des Buddhismus und der Medizin. Edited by Mechthild Dreyer et al., 75–90. Berlin: Springer, 2021.

2021

Putting a Face on the Pathogen and Its Nemesis. Images of Tenkeisei and Gozutennō, Epidemic-Related Demons and Gods in Medieval Japan

Katja Triplett

Putting a Face on the Pathogen and Its Nemesis. Images of Tenkeisei and Gozutennō, Epidemic-Related Demons and Gods in Medieval Japan

In medieval Japan, so-called “four boundary demarcation rituals” were believed to turn invisible epidemic disease-bringing “demons” into visible beings. Making the demons visible, at least to the ritual experts involved, was a way of controlling them. The demons had a dual nature in that they harmed humans but could also become powerful protectors against disease and other calamities. This essay introduces the elaborate ritual culture of yin-yang divination, esoteric Buddhism, and kami worship in Japan, all of which involve “demonic” and protective deities. It explores images of two epidemic demons that serve humans as guardians and protectors against epidemic disease: Tenkeisei 天刑星, the Star of Heavenly Punishment, and Gozutennō 牛頭天王, the Bull-Headed Divine King. Tenkeisei ultimately merged with Gozutennō, who is also conflated with the deity Susanoo 素戔嗚.

Triplett, Katja. “Putting a Face on the Pathogen and Its Nemesis. Images of Tenkeisei and Gozutennō, Epidemic-Related Demons and Gods in Medieval Japan.” Asian Medicine, no. 16 (2021): 193–213.

2021

Asian Medicine and COVID-19: Ethnologies, Histories, Reflections

Michael Stanley-Baker and Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim

Asian Medicine and COVID-19: Ethnologies, Histories, Reflections

Everyone is waiting for a safe vaccine. A snake winds its way around a syringe as if it were the rod of Asclepius. Will a new drug render harmless the virus at the center of the picture, which has trapped the entire globe in a pandemic? On the left a biomedical doctor relies on antibodies hovering over him like a speech bubble. Stethoscope, ECG, and computer-assisted sequencing are his instruments. On the right is a traditional doctor. He tries to classify the new disease into classical interpretations of humoral theory, symbolized by the tree of physiology and pathology in Tibetan medicine above him. A Chinese doctor would perhaps recommend licorice root, red sage, or mandarin orange peel to recover from a mild course of disease. Everywhere the virus can infect us, but for all the difference in access and medical training, masks and protective clothing are mandatory for all.


Stanley-Baker, Michael, and Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim. “Asian Medicine and COVID-19: Ethnologies, Histories, Reflections.” Asian Medicine, no. 16 (2021): 1–10.

2021

Historicizing Secularity: A Proposal for Comparative Research from a Global Perspective

Christoph Kleine and Monika Wohlrab-Sahr

Historicizing Secularity: A Proposal for Comparative Research from a Global Perspective

Drawing upon the critique of secularization theory, especially its lack of historical depth, this article outlines a research agenda that focuses on a specific – but fundamental – aspect of secularization: it aims at the historicization of conceptual distinctions and institutional differentiations between the religious and the secular. The authors employ the heuristic concept of ‘secularity’ to refer to these demarcations, and argue that secularization studies should give due consideration to their historical predecessors in various world regions. This seems important against the background of enduring criticisms, which consider such distinctions and differentiations either as an exclusively Western achievement or as a colonial imposition on non-Western regions. Taking into account the development of different historical paths, the authors highlight the transcultural, but in its concrete shape nevertheless culturally specific emergence of distinctions and differentiations related to religion, and propose secularity as a tertium comparationis for comparative research in this field. The authors introduce two different religious and societal settings in the medieval period – Japanese Buddhism and Islam in the Middle East – in order to illustrate the divergent ideational and structural backgrounds to the development of relations between the religious and the secular.

Kleine, Christoph, and Monika Wohlrab-Sahr. “Historicizing Secularity: A Proposal for Comparative Research from a Global Perspective.” Comparative Sociology 20 (2021): 287–316.

2021

Letters to Sir Syed: Lajpat Rai’s response to the Muslim refusal of minorityhood

Vanya Vaidehi Bhargav

Letters to Sir Syed: Lajpat Rai’s response to the Muslim refusal of minorityhood

This article explores the thought of Syed Ahmed Khan, India’s most prominent nineteenth-century Muslim politician-thinker, and argues that Khan’s resistance to the Indian nationalist-democratic frame represented an early attempt by a Muslim aristocrat to resist the transformation of India’s Muslims into a new kind of vulnerable minority. It further examines the public refutation of Khan’s arguments by Lajpat Rai, a young Congressman later to become one of colonial India’s most well-known Hindu politicians, and illustrates that Rai’s easy and eager embrace of the Indian nationalist-democratic frame entailed an affirmation of Muslim minoritisation. The article argues that their different understandings and evaluations of modern representative democracy and nationalism, and their different emotive responses, dread or optimism, to these new phenomena was not a natural extension of their religious identity. What mattered more were their distinct socio-economic identities and belongingness to an all-India minority or majority.


Bhargav, Vanya Vaidehi. “Letters to Sir Syed: Lajpat Rai’s response to the Muslim refusal of minorityhood.” Global Intellectual History, 33 no. 2 (2021): 1–20.

2020

Comparative Secularities: Tracing Social and Epistemic Structures Beyond the Modern West

Kleine, Christoph, and Monika Wohlrab-Sahr

Comparative Secularities: Tracing Social and Epistemic Structures Beyond the Modern West

In view of the questionability of the concept “religion” as an analytical category for the investigation of pre-modern, non-Western cultures, how can one still pursue the history of religion or historical sociology of religion? Roughly speaking, scholars of religion can be placed between two poles with regard to this question: (1) those who reject the cross-cultural use of “religion” as a comparative concept and (2) those who believe they cannot do without it. We propose an approach that acknowledges the cultural dependence and historicity of concepts such as “religion” and the “secular,” while still conducting historical research on pre-colonial non-Western societies relevant to the study of both. Our approach aims to investigate the emergence of social and epistemic structures in various cultures—forms of differentiation and distinction—that have enabled the reorganisation of socio-cultural formations into religions and thus facilitated the formation of “multiple secularities” in global modernity.

Kleine, Christoph, and Monika Wohlrab-Sahr. “Comparative Secularities: Tracing Social and Epistemic Structures Beyond the Modern West.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 32, no. 4 (2020): 1–30.

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2020

Die Verunglimpfung des Dharma als Todsünde: Über die Grenzen der Toleranz im Japanischen Buddhismus

Kleine, Christoph

Die Verunglimpfung des Dharma als Todsünde: Über die Grenzen der Toleranz im Japanischen Buddhismus

This contribution to an anthology on blasphemy addresses the question of whether Buddhism, which in the West is generally regarded as exceptionally tolerant, possesses a concept similar to blasphemy at all. Using various emic terms from Buddhist texts, it is shown that slandering the Buddha and his teachings was considered one of the most serious offences in Buddhism from an early stage. However, in canonical writing, slandering the Buddha and his teaching was considered to be primarily a problem for the slanderer himself. The Buddha is unassailable and needs no protection for his own sake, whereas the slanderer has to face the karmic consequences of his evil deeds.  Accordingly, in older Buddhism, no sanctions are pronounced against slanderers of the Buddha and the Dharma. This changes radically in Mahāyāna Buddhism. All Buddhists were now called upon to create favourable social conditions for the attainment of salvation by as many people as possible. Accordingly, the preservation of the Buddhist doctrine and the institutions administering it was of central importance. The protection of the Saṅgha, i.e. the Buddhist order, was a duty of the laity, for only the order could guarantee the continued availability of the Buddha's liberating teaching. Thus, the authoritative writings of the Mahāyāna justify the killing of infidels who speak disparagingly of Buddhism. Using the example of the famous Japanese monk Nichiren (1222-1282), it is shown that these writings were used as a basis for concrete demands to punish supposedly heterodox Buddhist groups with death if necessary. Finally, the article asks about the differences and similarities between current and pre-modern Buddhist concepts of blasphemy. The central thesis is that in pre-modern societies, it was not the sensitivities of individuals (violation of religious feelings) that were of interest, but public order, which depended on the influence of transcendent powers. Anyone who angered these powers provoked collective disaster.

Kleine, Christoph. “Die Verunglimpfung des Dharma als Todsünde: Über die Grenzen der Toleranz im Japanischen Buddhismus.” In Blasphemie: Anspruch und Widerstreit in Religionskonflikten. Edited by Matthias Gockel, Jürgen Mohn, and Matthias D. Wüthrich, 315–33. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020.

2020

Religion - Aufklärung – Säkularisierung: Tibet und die mongolischen Regionen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert

Karénina Kollmar-Paulenz

Religion - Aufklärung – Säkularisierung: Tibet und die mongolischen Regionen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert

"Die ,Knochenzähler'-Episode belegt, dass in Tibet im 17. Jahrhunderr aus empirischer Beobachtung gewonnenes Wissen zunehmend in Widerspruch zu religiös fundiertem Wissen geriet. Die Hinwendung zu Methoden empirischer Überprüfbarkeit von Wissen und die Infragescellung religiöser Autoritäten sind Merkmale, die für Europa gemeinhin mit der Aufklärung in Verbindung gebracht werden. Heute ist wohl unbestritten, dass die Aufklärung eine in sich heterogene, von Ambivalenzen und oft widersprüchlichen Konzepten und Ansichten geprägte Bewegung war, und auch die Annahme, dass sie ein singulars und autonomes Produkt Europas und nirgendwo anders als in Europa zu finden ist, wird zunehmend in Frage gestellt.  Historikerinnen und Historiker haben begonnen, zum einen die Formierung der europäischen Aufklärung in der Interaktion mit außereuropäischen Wissenskulturen zu untersuchen, zum anderen nach parallelen und analogen Entwicklungen außerhalb Europas zu suchen. Von Interesse sind hier autochthone Prozesse der Rationalisierung, die nicht von europäischen Entwicklungen abhängig waren, aber zu ähnlichen Resultaten geführt haben. An dieser Stelle möchte ich ansetzen und untersuchen, ob in den tibetischen und mongolischen Gesellschaften des 18. bis frühen 20. Jahrhunderts Ansprüche entstanden, tradiertes Wissen durch direkte Beobachtung oder rationale Überlegungen zu überprüfen und gegebenenfalls zu korrigieren, und ob solche neuen Erkenntnisse Konsequenzen für den traditionellen Wissenskanon in den tibetischen und mongolischen Ausbildungssystemen nach sich zogen. Diesen Fragen werde ich anhand von zwei Fallbeispielen nachgehen. Ich verstehe das Säkulare hier als historisch und kulturell kontingente Kategorie. Darüber hinaus gehe ich davon aus, dass sich das Säkulare als taxonomische Ordnung relational zu Religion beziehungsweise dem Religiösen verhält, beide Termini also keine stabilen Bedeutungen unabhängig voneinander besitzen."


Kollmar-Paulenz, Karénina. “Religion - Aufklärung - Säkularisierung: Tibet und die Mongolischen Religionen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert.” In Bildung als Aufklärung: Historisch-Anthropologische Perspektiven. Edited by Anne Conrad, Alexander Maier and Christoph Nebgen, 577–89. Wien: Böhlau, 2020.

2020

Call of the mountain: modern enchantment on and off the screen

Magnus Echtler

Call of the mountain: modern enchantment on and off the screen

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, mountaineers faced mortal danger in vertical mountain walls, and imagined mountains as sentient, terrifyingly attractive foes. This agency formed the basis of mountain religion, in which enchanting mountains recalled notions of the sacred or holy, and mountaineering presented itself as a rite-of-passage outside disenchanted modernity. Such themes are on display in early and contemporary cinematic accounts of mountaineering. Death and fear were central elements in early mountain movies like Der heilige Berg (1926) or Der Berg ruft (1938), who used visual representations of verticality to incite bodily reactions, thus enabling audiences to experience their own commodified passage in the cinema. Recent climbing documentaries like Die drei Zinnen (2012) or Free Solo (2018) employ the same cinematographic techniques. As evidenced in these films, the cultural production of enchanting mountains relies on the agency of both mountains and cameras.


Echtler, Magnus. “Call of the Mountain: Modern Enchantment on and Off the Screen.” Culture and Religion 21, no. 1 (2020): 58–71.

2020

Power in the house: performing succession in the Nazareth Baptist Church (South Africa)

Magnus Echtler

Power in the house: performing succession in the Nazareth Baptist Church (South Africa)

In this article, I analyze the recent succession conflict in the Nazareth Baptist Church (NBC). With hereditary charisma at stake, multiple actors attempted to redress the crisis stage in the social drama of succession through legal and political/ritual processes leading to contradictory outcomes. Focusing on the church’s assemblies, I argue that the performance of a chief, who framed succession in terms of the house politics of polygamous homesteads, succeeded in gathering the majority of church members behind one contestant. With regard to the routinization of charisma, traditionalization beat legalization.



Echtler, Magnus. “Power in the House: Performing Succession in the Nazareth Baptist Church (South Africa).” Paideuma 66 (2020): 49–74.


2020

Physical and Epistemic Violence against Alevis in Modern Turkey

Markus Dressler

Physical and Epistemic Violence against Alevis in Modern Turkey

Turkey has gone through significant transformations over the last century—from the Ottoman Empire and Young Turk era to the Republic of today—but throughout it has demonstrated troubling continuities in its encouragement and deployment of mass violence. In particular, the construction of a Muslim-Turkish identity has been achieved in part by designating “internal enemies” at whom public hatred can be directed. This volume provides a wide range of case studies and historiographical reflections on the alarming recurrence of such violence in Turkish history, as atrocities against varied ethnic-religious groups from the nineteenth century to today have propelled the nation’s very sense of itself.





Markus Dressler, „Physical and Epistemic Violence against Alevis in Modern Turkey“. R. Kevorkian, St. Astourian (eds.), Collective and State Violence in Turkey. The Construction of a National Identity from Empire to Nation-State. New York: Berghahn, 2020, 347-71.

2020

The M-Plan Mandela’s Struggle to Reorient the African National Congress

Paul S. Landau

The M-Plan Mandela’s Struggle to Reorient the African National Congress

This is an account of Mandela’s strategy and actions in 1961 and 1962, organising and reorienting the African National Congress (ANC). Based largely on oral memoirs and interviews, including state witness depositions, the article argues that Mandela's plans were thwarted. After the government declared the ANC illegal, Mandela helped to supervise the programme called the M-Plan, in order to lay the groundwork for mass participation in an anticipated revolutionary transformation, but the effort did not succeed. Members resisted the M-Plan reorganisation on the ground; the state assaulted the ANC and its leaders, and ripped apart communities; and the leadership denied Mandela full access to the ANC in his preparations for the violence he saw ahead of them. He was allowed to form a separate group, relying on the South African Communist Party and port city trade unionists for its organising. That smaller network, Umkhonto, was grafted into the M-Plan hierarchy a year later, problematically and partially, too little, too late.



Landau, Paul S. “The M-Plan: Mandela’s Struggle to Reorient the African National Congress.” In Reassessing Mandela: Southern African Studies. Edited by Colin Bundy and William Beinart, 1073–91. [s.l.]: Routledge, 2020.

2020

Afterword: Apologetics as a Seismograph of Social Change and an Arena of Secular-Religious Conflicts

Monika Wohlrab-Sahr

Afterword: Apologetics as a Seismograph of Social Change and an Arena of Secular-Religious Conflicts

This is a book of comparative history. Its chapters approach a variety of apologetics across the ‘short 20th century’ through case studies taken from different world areas, under different conditions, and giving expression to various forms of pressure and tension. It captures religious– secular contestations involving different religious denominations and their internal divisions, often differing in their stance towards politics and the changing role of religion in society.

The book is not only relevant for historians, but also speaks to a sociology of religion that is interested in social conflicts and social change. It is especially appealing to sociologists of religion, like myself, who focus on the relations between the religious and the secular, including the boundary demarcations between the two. Over the past several years, I have co-led a research group at the University of Leipzig that deals with these issues under the heading ‘Multiple Secularities: Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities’. While discussing some systematic perspectives of the present volume, I will relate the findings on apologetics to some of the basic assumptions of the Multiple Secularities approach and explore the common ground between the two.


Wohlrab-Sahr, Monika. “Afterword: Apologetics as a Seismograph of Social Change and an Arena of Secular-Religious Conflicts.” In Defending the Faith: Global Histories of Apologetics and Politics in the Twentieth Century. Edited by Hugh McLeod and Todd Weir, 292–98. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

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