International Graduate School (IGS) to be funded for a further four and a half years

In a second funding period, the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Austrian Research Fund will provide a total of around 4.1 million euros to support the International Graduate School (IGS) „Resonant Self–World Relations in Ancient and Modern Socio-Religious Practices“, which the University of Erfurt has been running since 2017 in cooperation with the Karl Franzens University of Graz.

The IGS aims at the cooperation of ancient history and biblical studies with sociological research. Its subject matter is the relationships of the individual to the social, material, but also transcendent world, which are established and reflected in different social and especially religious practices. The central question is under which conditions and with which consequences such self-world relations are experienced as resonant, i.e. as dialogic-responsive. The exciting interdisciplinary cooperation across two complementary locations allows for a materially saturated comparison as well as the development of new methods and thus a high-quality education for doctoral students.

Background: Ritual practices have always been a crucial element of cultural research, as they provide the key to understanding the differences in cultural belief systems. Thus, the differences and changes within antiquity have been reconstructed as the differences between polytheistic and monotheistic rituals and beliefs. However, a closer look reveals that many central elements of these practices – both ancient and modern – cannot be explained by reference to belief systems. Questions arise as soon as we realize that there are just as many practices in contemporary society that are in obvious contradiction to the belief systems of the actors. The central assumption of the IGS programme is that these rituals are to be taken much more seriously and must be analysed and understood as socio-religious practices, since they establish highly significant and special relationships between the self and the world. The researchers investigate the extent to which, in all these ritual practices, certain persons, objects or places are endowed with a power that sacralises these relationships and makes them resonate.

In the first funding phase, the researchers have initially drawn up an inventory and typology of the most diverse socio-religious practices and the associated patterns of world relations. In a further step, the focus was on analysing the interactions between resonant and non-resonant (‚mute‘) world relations. In the second funding phase, which will now follow, the researchers intend to concentrate on four topics: Repetition, looking at the temporal sequence and change of rituals and the consequences of repetition; second-order resonance, characterised by references to or personal or cultural memory of such experiences; power, agency and resonance, focusing on the question of action and suffering; and the role of objects in establishing lasting relationships.

„Our research approach is intended to enable the analysis of world relations beyond the level of mere worldviews, in order to take appropriate account of the physicality of experience and objects beyond cognitive interpretation,“ explains Prof. Dr. Jörg Rüpke, the project leader on the German side. „Our complex questioning enables a cross-fertilisation based on the understanding of the dependence of culture and religion, the basis for self-understanding and tolerance in contemporary and ancient societies. The combination of micro-studies and large-scale intercultural comparisons promises new insights into historical and contemporary practices and cultural change.“

New Collaborative Research Centre of the Universities of Erfurt and Jena explored the structural change of property

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding a new major scientific project at the University of Erfurt and the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena: As the DFG announced today, the Collaborative Research Centre/Transregio „Structural Change in Property“ at the two Thuringian universities will be supported with up to ten million euros over the next four years. The consortium brings together researchers from the social sciences, law, economics and history and will begin its work in January 2021.

The report on social inequality, which the international aid organisation Oxfam presents every year, shows a clear trend: while the wealth of some people is growing faster and faster, the vast majority of the world’s population has to get by with less. Currently, 26 billionaires own as much property as the poorer half of all humanity put together. „In view of the immense economic, ecological and technological challenges of our time, however, the concentration of wealth and the resulting property system is proving to be crisis-prone and highly controversial,“ is the assessment of Prof. Dr. Hartmut Rosa. The sociologist, who researches and teaches at the Max-Weber-Kolleg of the University of Erfurt and the University of Jena, is the spokesperson for the new Collaborative Research Centre.

In addition to this redistribution of wealth, completely new questions of ownership arise today, Rosa continues: Who actually owns the sunlight or wind from which energy is generated and sold? Who owns the genetic information of active substance-producing microorganisms or medicinal plants marketed by the pharmaceutical industry? Who can claim intellectual property rights in Wikipedia articles?

The approach of the new Collaborative Research Centre is to systematically analyse these questions and investigate the change in ownership structures. More than 30 experts and their teams from both universities as well as associated partners from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, the Free University of Berlin, the Technical University of Darmstadt and the University of Oldenburg are investigating the structural change of property on two levels: the change in the concept of property itself and the changes in social, political and economic structures caused by property. In addition to Prof. Rosa, the Jena sociologist Prof. Dr. Silke van Dyk and her colleague Prof. Dr. Tilman Reitz are the deputy spokespersons of the consortium.

With the new Collaborative Research Centre, the Universities of Jena and Erfurt are setting further strong accents in their respective research profiles. Under the title „Light, Life, Liberty – Connecting Visions“, the University of Jena is bundling its top-level research, with „Liberty“ bringing together the focal points of the humanities and social sciences, especially topics such as social change, contemporary history and Eastern Europe. The new Collaborative Research Centre strengthens this area with its discussion of the relationship between freedom and property and contributes to the interdisciplinary networking and further development of this profile area. Processes of social change through value and meaning concepts as well as different media and institutions are the subject of the University of Erfurt’s focus areas „Religion – Society – World Relations“ and „Knowledge – Spaces – Media“. Here the Collaborative Research Centre brings a new thematic focus to the field of property.

Ramón Soneira Martínez presents a working paper on „‚Unbelievers‘ in Classical Athens“

This paper summarises some of the main ideas that shape the theoretical terminology of my project. It focuses on the application of the term “unbelief” in Classical Athens reflecting on the establishment of “self-world relations” at that time. This draft belongs to the final chapter of my dissertation (see the table of contents) in which I analyse some of the most relevant sources to study “atheism” in Athens during the second half of the 5th and the first decades of the 4th centuries BCE. The paper is structured in four main sections. The first one deals with Protagoras and his “agnosticism”. The second section reflects on Prodicus’ theory of religion and his connections with the so-called Sisyphus fragment. Thirdly, the paper follows some ideas developed in this fragment that resonates with Democritus’ theology. Finally, the last section focuses on Diagoras of Melos and the relationship between being “atheist” (atheos) and the crime of “impiety” (asebeia). The text concludes with some reflections on unbelief as part of the “religious individuation”.

Antje Linkenbach presents a working paper on ‚Value Discourse, Normative Conflicts and the Politicization of Nature‘

Nature has become explicitly politicized since the second half of the 20th century: hegemonic forms of human-nature relationships started to be critically challenged, and alternatives emerged in public debates, civil society, as well as on the level of state policies. Environmental ethics as an academic field of reflection on values and norms emerged, and soon radiated into larger society and inspired environmental movements.

The paper explores conflicts as well as value- and normative transformations in the field of human-nature relationships. On a theoretical level it will discuss concept and phenomenon of politicization, and the relationship between values and norms. Empirically it will focus on different strands of environmental ethics, including environmental pragmatist ethics; on debate and practices of environmental and ecological justice, and on attempts to impinge on the legal order through juridification of nature (rights of nature-debate). Finally, the paper makes a plea for re-territorializing humans in nature. Starting from pointing out affinities between pragmatist environmental ethics and indigenous worldviews, it argues for situated, localized and contextualized ethics and praxis of care.

Hartmut Rosa presents a working paper on ‚Resonant Sovereignty? The Challenge of Social Acceleration – and the Prospect of an Alternative Conception‘

Traditionally, conceptions of sovereignty are based on, and dependent on, the capacity to synchronize political decision making with both the internal dynamics of social and economic life and the external speeds of global markets and technologies as well as environmental processes. Only as long as politics is capable of setting and/or following the pace of societal life, the idea of sovereignty appears to be plausible. Yet, modern societies continue to operate in a mode of dynamic stabilization, which means that they are persistently forced to grow, accelerate and innovate in order to reproduce their structure and to preserve their institutional status quo. This leads to a form of social acceleration which threatens or even destroys this very capacity for synchronization; it leads to serious forms of desynchronization on all levels of social and political life (i.e. between citizens, between markets and politics, between states as well as between social life and environmental temporalities). Hence, this contribution argues, what is needed is a different conception of ‘soft sovereignty’ which is not based on autonomy and instrumental control, but on responsivity on all those levels: This form of sovereignty, or of the common good, is realized when a body politic establishes ‘axes of resonance’ a) between citizens b) between citizens and the ‚body politic‘ as a whole, c) towards the (natural and institutional) environment d) towards history and e) towards other political bodies beyond its borders.

Vanina Kopp presents a working paper on ‚Lay confraternities and their artistic devotion between 1400 and 1750 in French urban centres‘

The aim of my talk is to discuss how elements of economic history and art history continue or change between 1400 until 1700. Confraternities of lay men and women, mostly dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and featuring literary and various artistic activities, called puys, existed in various cities from 1400 to 1700 in several French urban centres (Amiens, Rouen, Abbeville, Paris…). Visual images such as huge paintings, material objects such as silver reliquaries, chapel dedications in cathedrals or a sculptural program in the sacred space were underlining as well as undermining the pious undertaking. The textual productions of the Paris confraternity, as well as those of several older communities in Rouen and Amiens, show the entanglements of literary culture, visual art, and social practices of pious association and economic distinction. I analyze the textual and visual sources produced by these confraternities to express their devotion.

Jörg Rüpke presents a working paper on ‚Grasping urbanity: Propertius’ Book 4 and urban religion of the Augustan period‘

Propertius’ last book of elegies (publ. c. 16 BCE) has been read as a staged conflict between antiquarianism and love elegy. This article argues that the book as a whole is above all a reflection on the spatial and temporal boundaries of the city and the internal impact of the permanent crossing and breaking down of these boundaries. Then and now, imperial expedition and internal treason, permanent and temporary absence, burying outside and loving inside, admission to and exclusion from sacralised and gendered space and finally the vertical dimension of life’s above and death’s below explore these limits and transfers and constitute the urbanity of the city as well as the urbanity of religion.

David Palme presents a working paper on ‚In the Turn of the River‘

The river as a metaphor for „the world“, „the things“, „time“, etc. is ubiquitous in philosophy. This paper starts with a short-story by Bertolt Brecht and investigates the meaning of the metaphor in Brechts story about philosophy and transfers this to Hercalitus‘ and Wittgenstein‘s use of the river-metaphor. The paper differentiates the river-metaphor into two „rivers“, an actual river and a metaphorical river. Brecht‘s story gives an account of philosophy as criticizing the metaphorical river. With Wittgenstein and Marx the paper suggests a critique of language that goes back to the actual river. This critique of language can help to solve problems of modern moral philosophy.