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Constructions of Religious Pasts

Session Chair: Martin Mulsow | Friday, August 28, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Anastasia Serghidou

Nature, the challenge of ‘thauma’ and the invention of the physical history

Plinius in his Natural History (III) proposes a global conceptual approach on what he called ‘miracles of the earth’ (miraculis terreae). Indeed, though the notion of ‘miracle’ takes in his work a purely naturalistic dimension it serves as an epistemological base which challenges the evenemential history: Based on the concept of the ‘exceptional’ and the ‘spectacular’, the author re-evaluates the archaic or classical cosmological predicates related to the power of physis. He focuses on the rationale which forges the meteorogical dynamics and the meaningful interconnection between geographical localities, human and/or animal identities and religious experiences associated with the epistemological dimension of the autopsiae. We mainly explore the evenemential challenge of thaumata and the way Plinius associate them with the idea of erêmos, unexplained disasters and/or vanishing agglomerations, including cities or human communities. We explore the narrative paths the author followed to establish historical temporalities and production of events. By that we take in consideration the conceptual analogies which helped him to cover the ‘circumstantial’ events that meet with the cosmos as a locus of ‘great and wonderful achievements’ (megala and thaumasta) (Hrdt I). We finally study the programmatic sentences of Plinius and the changes they brought, notably on the interpretative level of the physical phenomena and religious interpretation (N.H III, I). This last interpretation is expected to be analyzed on the classical reception level through some Byzantine authors, notably through the commentaries of Malalas and Tzetzes.

Tillo Detige

Dynamics of Reform & Orientalist Discourse in Digambara Jainism

While Digambara Jainism’s ascetic ideal is that of the naked, peripatetic muni, seats of clothed, sedentary bhaṭṭārakas formed the backbone of Digambara asceticism for most of the second millennium C.E. In the 17th century, their power bases were eroded by two consecutive reform movements, Adhyātma and the Digambara Terāpanth. Early in the 20th century, quasi contempary to the ‘revival’ of the muni lineages, the bhaṭṭāraka institution again came under siege, this time by modernist reformers. Through a comparative study of these various mo(ve)ments of opposition to the bhaṭṭārakas, this paper attempts to trace the impact of the Orientalist discourse on the later reformers’ self-understanding and self-articulation. Did Western conceptions about ‘original’ Indian religions degenerating at the hands of ‘corrupt priests’ merely dovetail with the opposition to the bhaṭṭārakas and reinvigorate the ideal of the muni? Or did it enable a new type of criticism by installing an evaluative, normative framework?

Uta Karstein

Religion and Modernity: The Ambivalent Role of Christian Art Unions in the 19th Century

The presentation discusses first empirical findings from a habilitation project which deals with the complex and ambivalent role of Christian art unions in 19th century Germany from a sociological perspective. Those associations (e.g. „Deutsche Gesellschaft für christliche Kunst“) were taking part in debates about architecture and fine arts, were supporting artists and were influencing relevant decision-makers within churches, academies, parishes or councils during the second half of the 19th century. In doing this, they were becoming part of conflicts about the secularization and professionalization of art and architecture and the so called “Verbürgerlichung” (bourgeoisification) of religion. The presentation discusses three dimensions of these associations to illustrate the ambivalent effects and results of their activities: 1. A tension between democracy and elitism in terms of the organizational form of these associations; 2. A tension between autonomy and heteronomy which relates to the support of art 3. A tension between higher and lower taste patterns related to their target groups.

Deirdre Nuttall

Re-remembering Their Past; Protestants in the Republic of Ireland

Members of the Protestant denominations in the Republic of Ireland (excluding recent immigrants) are largely descended from people on the “wrong side” of the dominant Irish narrative of an oppressed Catholic majority that won freedom from an oppressive colonising power. Although Ireland has been independent for almost a century, this narrative is still a potent historical, mythological and psychological force. At the time of independence most Protestants were broadly unionist, embracing membership of the British Empire. Since then, their oral culture has undergone a series of shifts – there is a tendency to re-remember the past; to tell stories of history and origins that are more congruous with Ireland’s national narrative, and to mis-remember or omit aspects that no longer seem to cast them in a favourable light. In this aspect, their Protestantism is as much, if not more, a marker of an almost tribal identity than a description of faith.


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