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Cosmologies and religious practice

What are the dynamic relationships and tensions between different religious traditions, between religious and non-religious spheres, and between cosmologies and religious practice?

What influence do religions have on the emergence of conflicts, to what extent do they determine their shaping, and do they possibly contribute to conflicts being settled through negotiation?

These are just some of the questions addressed in the research focus „Cosmologies and Religious Practice“. With the phenomenon of Christian fundamentalism, the connection between Hindu religions and Indian kingship, as well as changes in lived Islam, the corresponding projects focus on various topics whose significance has been increasing worldwide in recent years, even beyond the academic framework. In this context, religions are understood as arenas in which different and often conflicting interests, emotions and convictions clash. With a decidedly religio-ethnological and praxeological perspective, it is primarily about expressions and actions, i.e. what people say about their beliefs, for example, and what they do concretely within the framework of rituals and everyday life...


Completed and ongoing third-party funded projects

From “poor man's food” to “nutri-cereals": emergence of a new millet assemblage in Odisha, India
(Roland Hardenberg, funding period 2021-2023, DFG)

Religious speech as a resource in South and Central Asia. Instruction, medialisation and commercialisation.
(Ruth Conrad, Roland Hardenberg, sub-project of SFB 1070, 2017-2021).

Resource Cultures of Rice and Wheat in South and Central Asia. Religious and (agrarian) economic dimensions of cereals
(Roland Hardenberg, SFB 1070, 2021-2025)


Long-term project without additional financial support

Christian Fundamentalism in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea
(Holger Jebens)


More information on the focus...

Looking at the history of the Institute, today's research on religious traditions and practices is part of a tradition that basically begins with Frobenius: he was in close contact with the religious scholars of his time, such as Karl Kerényi, who in turn published several times in the Institute's journal Paideuma. An excerpt created by Frobenius on motifs of “world mythology” is just as much a part of the Institute's archive holdings as the “African Myths and Fairy Tales Archive”, which goes back to Hermann Baumann and was expanded in the 1960s with the support of the German Research Foundation.

Adolf Ellegard Jensen, on the basis of research stays in southern Ethiopia and on the Moluccan island of Ceram, among others, dealt with fundamental commonalities in the development of the beliefs and religious actions of foreign peoples. His main work “Mythos und Kult bei Naturvölkern” (1951) found little resonance in the contemporary English-speaking scholarly world, but from today's perspective has the status of a solitaire. The “Ad.E. Jensen Memorial Lectures”, established in 1997, are dedicated to the memory of the second director of the Frobenius Institute. So far, the lectures have dealt with “The Colour of the Sacred” (Michael Taussig, 2004), “Cult and Art” (Fritz Kramer, 2010) and religion as a special form of the social (Maurice Boch, 2012).

Jensen was followed by C.A. Schmitz, renowned New Guinea specialist and editor of an anthology entitled “Religionsethnologie” (1964), and Eike Haberland. The latter's successor, Karl-Heinz Kohl, published numerous contributions on the ethnology of religion in eastern Indonesia from the mid-1980s onwards, with a particular focus on the "capacity for change" and “resilience” of local religion. His monograph “The Death of the Rice Maiden. Myths, Cults and Alliances in an Eastern Indonesian Local Culture” was published in 1998 as the first volume in the book series “Religionsethnologische Studien des Frobenius-Instituts”, which he founded.

Among the mostly long-term projects in the research focus “Cosmologies and Religious Practice” are Holger Jebens' study of Melanesian cargo cults as a special form of religiously based liberation movements, as well as his analysis of the relationship between local religion, Catholicism and Protestantism in the mountainous country of Papua New Guinea, based on stationary field research, which in part anticipated insights of the later established "Anthropology of Christianity". Research by Roland Hardenberg deals with the diversity of India's indigenous religions, the connection between Hindu religions and Indian kingship, and changes in lived Islam under the influence of various fundamentalist movements in Central Asia. The projects he is leading as part of the Collaborative Research Centre “Resource Cultures” examine the significance of economic practices and ideas for religious institutions (churches, mosques and temples), sermons (Christianity, Islam, Hindu religions) and rituals of agriculture (tribal religions and Islam) in India, Iran, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Within the framework of these and other projects, also funded by the German Research Foundation, doctoral projects on topics related to ethnology of religion are supervised, workshops are organised, seminars are held and publications on topics such as animism, perspectivism and ritual economy are presented. An interdisciplinary anthology co-edited by Hardenberg entitled "Speaking to God", for example, is expected to be published by Bloomsbury in 2023.

Although religious anthropology has a long tradition in the German-speaking world, represented by the works of Konrad Theodor Preuß, Carl Strehlow and P.W. Schmidt, among others, it has received little attention in today's university ethnology or cultural anthropology. The Institute therefore has a special role to play. However, the aim is not only to continue the relevant research, but also to consolidate and expand it. For example, together with representatives of ethnology and archaeobotany at the University of Groningen, the Institute is participating in the research network "Cereal Cultures in South and Central Asia", from which various externally funded projects on the study of the religious significance of cereals are to emerge. A broad research consortium, which includes various departments of the Goethe University in addition to the Institute and the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften, is concerned with processes of understanding and misunderstanding between the monotheistic scriptural religions as well as between these, other religious traditions and the secular world under the title “Dynamics of the Religious”. An initiative is currently emerging from this consortium for the establishment of a centre for the study of religious dynamics within the framework of the “Landes-Offensive zur Entwicklung wissenschaftlich-ökonomischer Exzellenz”. The foundation of another institution, namely a Käthe Hamburger Kolleg on the topic of “Toxic Religions”, is currently being planned by Roland Hardenberg and other scholars from the Goethe University.