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

Research Field 1: Concepts and Taxonomies

Descriptive and explanatory adequacy when conceptualizing and studying phenomena such as identity constructions, exchanges and encounters etc. between various cultural spaces in Europe and in Asia can only be achieved on the basis of a precise terminology. It is therefore one of the major goals of the URPP to contribute to the understanding of fundamental concepts, their translational equivalents/correlates, and of the their use as heuristic instruments. At the same time, we are interested in how these concepts historically became effective, both normatively and institutionally, in terms of taxonomies of knowledge and in how that in turn influenced their meaning.

By way of coordinated research efforts, we concentrate on the conceptual fields demarcated by the notions of "philosophy", "religion" and "law and order". We systematically explore the terms that define the conceptual fields such as "philosophy" or "religion", but also other related terms of a different taxonomic status or possible definienda of the terms such as the concept of "convincing". Obviously, our research should be accompanied by efforts of methodological and theoretical self-reflection such as a reflection on the concept of "concept" or the concept of "taxonomy" between Asia and Europe.


1.1. Philosophy

This group is dedicated to the study of the question: "What is philosophy?", which up to now has been discussed mainly within the framework of the European tradition. We seek to extend the scholarly discussion to traditions in the Arabic-Islamic world, India, China, and Japan and to investigate the taxonomic functions of different words for ‚philosophy‘. The focus is set on the diverse intellectual traditions, their self-conceptions, their terminology (both from an internal and an external point of view), the historical development and their place in cultural, social, and institutional contexts. The nexus to the concept of religion The goal is twofold. On the one hand, we will attempt to identify these traditions and describe their relationship to each other and with regard to the underlying concepts of philosophy, including the respective normative implications. On the other hand, we shall attempt to reflect on the general concept of philosophy itself and on the conditions under which it might engender innovative research.

1.2. Religion

The concept of religion, already etymologically and semantically controversial in Roman antiquity, has in the course of history experienced various careers. However, in the European discussion the tension between a positive auto-referential understanding (vera religio vs. idolatria) and a neutral classificatory understanding (religion, religions) has until now remainded distinctive. The successive broadening of the concept is, of course, intimately related to European colonial history, but the development of a more universal and neutral understanding in the course of the Age of Enlightenment also contributed to the emergence of the new and distinctive field of religious studies.

It is by no means clear whether the conceptualization of a specific area of social communication as "religion" is a characteristic of the European history of ideas or whether similar terminological differentiations are to be observed precisely in Asian societies. This calls for clarification, but so do questions regarding the possible correlations between conceptual taxonomies, on the one hand, and socio-cultural and institutional variability, on the other. Within the framework of the URPP, we will focus on the European and Asian taxonomies and semantics and study them in a comparative and diachronic-historical perspective. Special attention will be given to questions of the mutual intertwinings of different religious traditions and their conceptual systems.

1.3. Comparative Conceptual Research

Researching concepts between Asia and Europe raises a series of questions of both a philosophical and a research pragmatic kind. For one thing, the concept of "concept" must be investigated to recognise pre-understandings at work in comparative conceptual research and to pursue critically the possibilities of enlarging and specifying the employed concept by means of Asian languages and texts. This research group seeks to gain insights into the relation of concept and language and into the historicity of concepts by a constructive dialogue between philosophical conceptual analysis and the various Asian philologies. With regard to research pragmatics, the choice of concepts conducive to comparative research may be examined. Might it be promising to supplement the frequent studies on concepts such as "religion", "nature", "the self" with studies on concepts which are taxonomically on a different level, such as "washing", "gift" , or "text"? What precise promise would such a taxonomical shift in perspective hold? Moreover, the concept of "comparison" must be examined, and the activity and possibilities of comparing be subjected to various perspectives. What about concepts akin to that of "comparison" such as "analogy" and "similarity"? What can be learned for example from the texts of the Nyāya-school in India for a philosophy of comparison? Does the comparison between human nature and a water swirl in the Mengzi (Mencius 6A:2) amount to an example or an analogy employed for rhetorical or pragmatic ends or is it an expression of a more deeply rooted correlative thinking?

This research group on comparative conceptual research is closely linked to the other groups in the research field "Concepts and Taxonomies", but is not primarily interested in one specific concept. It rather seeks to investigate the methods and the prospects, but also the limits of comparative conceptual research.

1.4. Law and Order

Law (i.e. ius and lex) as a regulatory social system exists in one or the other form in nearly all cultures in Asia and Europe. From a historical perspective, law is not only effective in sociopolitical realms of cultures – as more modern views might suggest. On the contrary, as concepts and in their conceptual equivalents it is usually understood to be much more comprehensive and also applicable to phenomena in the cosmos, in nature etc., thus developing into the later concept of the "laws of nature". Reconstructing the history of the concepts of law and order in their multiple frameworks of reference will shed light on their current usages and implicit dimensions of meaning, and lead to a more profound understanding of their diverse roles in the fields of law, culture, and natural science.

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