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

Group Identity and Religious Conflict: The Self-Concept of the Hindu Bhagavatas

Post-Doc: Dr. Annemarie Mertens


The postdoctoral qualification project is part of long-time research work on the correlation of group identities and religious conflicts in Indian society. Focussing on a medieval religious text it intends to make a contribution to the reconstruction of the history of ancient Indian sects. For the first time the Bhâgavatapurâna, one of the most popular works of Hinduism and the ‚Bible’ of the Krishna disciples, is analysed systematically as a whole for contents, which (might) have had implications for societal development. Group formation and the relations with other socio-religious groups constitute the centre of attention. By assuming that in the context of religious conflict the Bhâgavatapurâna may have contributed to the construction of a positive social identity for the Krishna disciples, the analysis of the content relies on the “Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behaviour”, a socio-psychological concept, which is very well suited for the analysis of group conflict. The results to be expected relate to both content and method. The first aim is to gain a plausible and consistent picture of the Bhâgavata movement and of its social status, explaining (for example) the significant influence of this group on the religious life in India up to the present. If it is possible to identify social structures and psychical processes in historical text material, a further aim of this interdisciplinary approach is to open new perspectives to the analysis of religious literature not only for Indological research. It may also offer a new basis for questions concerning religious and social history, especially conflict studies, to other philological disciplines.

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