Visions of Community. Comparative Approaches to Ethnicity, Region and Empire in Christianity, Islam and Buddhism (400-1600 CE) VISCOM
VISCOM (http://sfb-viscom.univie.ac.at/) focuses on the question how particular communities and identities are constructed in the Middle ages and the early modern period. The project proposes a comparative approach focusing on Christian, Islamic and Buddhist examples in order to explore the interaction between religious and political 'visions of community'. All three religions were used to legitimize imperial rule, but they also encouraged other forms of community, be they local, regional, civic or ethnic. Here, interesting differences become visible: for instance, ethnicity played a different role in the three cultural zones. Was that due to the respective impact of religion, or, in some cases, rather to their lack of impact? How did concepts, perceptions or cultural memories frame the emergence of new communities, and how were they in turn influenced by religious discourses? How did different forms of community (for instance, regional or ethnic groups and empires) interact? These questions are situated between the fields of history and social anthropology, of European and Asian studies, between religious and political history, between research on discourse and on practice, and therefore have not been addressed sufficiently so far.
This project is carried by the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences, under the direction of Walter Pohl. Comparative research will be undertaken through a cooperation of Social Anthropologists (Institute for Social Anthropology – Andre Gingrich), Tibetologists (Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia – Helmut Krasser) and specialists in the field of Austrian and Eastern European History (University of Vienna - Christina Lutter, Oliver Schmitt).
South Arabia between Late Antiquity and Early Modernity: International connections and the entanglement of histories
The South Arabian part of the project will investigate visions of community for three periods through the angle of encounters between regional inhabitants and ideas, goods, and representatives from afar. The corresponding choice of sources relates to Late Antiquity, the medieval period in Islamic Yemen, and to the early modern period. Among these periods, medieval Islamic Yemen represents the best researched realm so far and thereby also provides the point of departure in the present endeavor. From there, the early modern period and Late Antiquity will be scrutinized in this sequence of research phases. On a theoretical and conceptual level, the South Arabian part of this project will closely follow the overall project’s central research questions in order to address them through the unique materials to be delivered: these include a steady flow of ‘foreigners’ interacting with, and settling down in southern Arabia throughout the centuries, and their explicit reference in a number of known sources. By consequence, this material allows for new assessments as to what extent ‘ethnic’ labeling took place at all during these encounters, and what role it played for integrating or for distinguishing specific groups from the rest. At the same time, these questions intersect with notions of Islamic and non-Islamic denominations in South Arabia after the 7th century CE, and with the important roles of regionalism and tribalism in understanding the interrelationship between folk Islam and scriptural traditions. These insights will simultaneously be compared with regard to their relevance for other realms in the VISCOM project, such as tribes and tribalism in Europe or Tibet, or the absence of any centralized religious clergy as in medieval Tibet. Visions of community might thus be re-conceptualized as a multiplicity of registers of ethnicity, regionalism, and denominations for socio-historical purposes of practice.