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Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies URPP Asia and Europe (2006–2017)

Concepts of Religion between Asia and Europe

International Symposium, November 1–3, 2012


URPP Asia and Europe, Department for the Study of Religions, University of Zurich, in cooperation with the Swiss Society for the Study of Religions.


Scholars agree with common sense that ‘religion’ (from Latin, religio) is a concept of ‘Western’ (European, Mediterranean, Roman…) origin; that the concept’s semantics (meaning) and pragmatics (function) have a long and complicated history with numerous transformations and adaptations from antiquity to the present; and that the encounters between European colonial powers and non-European civilizations have had a lasting impact on both sides, including their understanding of ‘religion,’ since at least the early modern period. The aim of this conference is to look behind the screen of superficial consensus, according to which ‘religion’ (both as a concept and as an object) is exclusively a European invention. This is neither to deny the pertinence of the concept’s deconstruction by scholars such as Talal Asad and others nor to question the concept’s objective alliance with Western colonialism and imperialism over centuries, but rather to refine historical awareness and enhance social-scientific analysis regarding the concept’s career in European and Asian social and intellectual history to this day. Moreover, it is time to restore the balance, so to speak, in our understanding of the concept’s history and career and to investigate in more detail how Asian societies and their elites dealt and continue to deal with the intellectual, cultural and institutional challenges posed to them by the ‘Western’ concept of ‘religion’.


November 1–2

Museum Rietberg
Park-Villa Rieter
Gablerstrasse 15
8002 Zurich

November 3

University of Zurich
Room SOC 1-106
Rämistrasse 69
8001 Zurich


Thursday, November 1: Museum Rietberg, Park-Villa Rieter

14:00   Opening: Andrea Riemenschnitter (Institute of East Asian Studies, Director URPP Asia and Europe, UZH)
Part 1: Before Religion
Chair: Wolfgang Behr (Classical Chinese Studies, UZH)
14:15   Christoph Uehlinger (History of Religions, UZH)
No religion before or without ‘religion’? Introducing the conference, with an attempt to investigate ways of locating religion in ancient Western Asia (or the ‘Ancient Near East’)
15:00   Raji C. Steineck (Japanese Studies, UZH)
Delineating the Buddha-Way: On the semantical field of the ‘religious’ in Dôgen
15:45   Max Deeg (Buddhist Studies, University of Cardiff)
Chinese religion before and after encounter – reflections on a Chinese semantic and conceptional field ante et post Buddhism
16:30   Break
17:00   Angelika Malinar (Indian Studies, UZH)
Before ‘religion’ in India? Delineating and defining religious pathways in classical Sanskrit texts
17:45   Karénina Kollmar-Paulenz (History of Religions and Central Asian Studies, University of Bern) Concepts of ‘religion’ in Asia? The case of the Mongols
19:00   Dinner (by invitation)


Friday, November 2: Museum Rietberg, Park-Villa Rieter

Part 2: Negotiating Religion
Chair: Ulrich Rudolph (Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, UZH)
9:00   James D. Frankel (Department of Religion, University of Hawai’i at Manoa)
Dīn in between: East-West connections of Islam
9:45   Stefan Reichmuth (Oriental and Islamic Studies, University of Bochum)
The concept of Dīn and the Islamic religious sciences in the 18th Century: The case of Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī (d. 1791)
10:30   Break
11:00   Vincent Goossaert (EPHE, Paris)
The vagaries of religious authority: The Heavenly Master (aka, the ‘Taoist Pope’), 1850–1950
11:45   Jason A. Josephson (Department of Religion, Williams College)
Unreasonable demands: Inventing religion in Japanese diplomacy
12:30   Lunch
13:30   Annual business meeting of the Swiss Society for the Study of Religions
Part 3: Religion Defined and Delimited
Chair: Benedikt Korf (Political Geography, UZH)
14:30   Geoffrey A. Oddie (South Asian History, University of Sydney)
India: Construction of Hinduism as ‘religion’
15:15   Sudipta Kaviraj (Indian Politics and Intellectual History, Columbia University, NY)
16:00   Break
16:30   Christian Lee Novetzke (Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington)
Religion and the end of history in modern India
17:15   Lily Kong (Department of Geography, National University of Singapore)
Constructing ‘religion’ in context: The geographical and historical contingencies of religion
18:00   Plenary discussion
19:00   Evening: Individual arrangements


Saturday, November 3: University of Zurich, City Campus (SOC 1-106)

Part 4: Religion Contested and Reclaimed
Chair: Bettina Dennerlein (Islamic and Gender Studies, UZH)
9:00   Yang Fenggang (Center for Religion and Chinese Society, Purdue University)
The definition of religion for the social scientific study of religion in China and beyond
9:45   Katsuhiro Kohara (Comparative Study of Monotheistic Religions, Doshisha University, Kyoto)
Requirements of ‘good religion’: An inquiry into the effects of the 3/11 disaster on the concept of religion in Japan
10:30   Break
11:00   Volkhard Krech (Center for Religious Studies, University of Bochum)
Where are the boundaries of religion? Considerations on the emergence of a global religious field and on processes of sacralization
11:45   Plenary discussion, conclusion
12:30   Lunch
Zusatzprogramm der SGR / Programme spécial de la SSSR
13:30   Projektpräsentationen von Doktorierenden und Postdoktorierenden / Présentations de projets de recherches
15:30   Doktorat – Doktoratsprogramme – Graduiertenschulen: Paneldiskussion über neue Entwicklungen und Herausforderungen im Bereich der akademischen Nachwuchsförderung im Fach Religionswissenschaft
Doctorat – programmes de formation doctorale – École(s) doctorale(s): nouvelles orientations de la formation doctorale en Histoire et Sciences des religions?

The conference will be held in English.

Weiterführende Informationen