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.“

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