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16 December 2002

Heidelberg Research Magazine "Ruperto Carola 3/2002": Rituals and their Uses

Other topics: Recipes for "itching in unmentionable places" — Micro-financing: a panacea in the fight against poverty? — Watching the wavicles — The RAGE hypothesis: a new key to understanding chronic diseases — The "Bioquant" research network

Christenings and marriages, rites of passage, pilgrimages or prize ceremonies — rituals are an integral part of societies, ancient and modern, as the new Research Magazine of the University of Heidelberg makes clear. Far from dying out, they are proliferating all over the place at breathtaking speed. "Ruperto Carola 3/2002" features a unique new Long-Term Collaborative Research Programme, in which scholars and scientists investigate what it is precisely that makes rituals an essential feature of all cultures, at different times and in different regions. Fifteen disciplines from Egyptology and medical psychology to liturgical studies are involved in the 12-year undertaking. In the title story of the latest issue, Axel Michaels, the spokesman of the research project, outlines the main objectives of this ambitious enterprise.

Other topics in the magazine range from "itching in unmentionable places" (prescriptions for the royal court from the treasures of the Heidelberg University Library) to the question whether micro-financing really is the panacea it is cracked up to be in the fight against poverty. Other articles describe magnetic calorimeters operating at extremely low temperatures and the RAGE hypothesis, a new key to the understanding of chronic diseases. The aims of the new "Bioquant" research network are also set out.

Vice-Rector Chaniotis criticizes a memorandum on Slavonic studies by Baden-Württemberg's state auditing office

In the Editorial of the new issue, Vice-Rector Prof. Dr. Angelos Chaniotis offers a critical view of a memorandum from Baden-Württemberg's state auditing office recommending a fifty-percent cutback on the number of students admitted to Slavonic studies and a restriction of the discipline to one, or at the most two centres. Alluding to a popular soap opera on German television, Chaniotis writes: "The fact that a TV programme like this panders to the cliché of a lazy professor solely out to line his own pocket and also presents a distorted picture of a teaching approach completely divorced from research is not something the academic world needs to get excited about. But when a serious institution like the state auditing office of Baden-Württemberg does precisely the same thing, this is not to be shrugged off lightly."

In its calculation of the capacity utilisation of Slavonic studies departments in the universities of Baden-Württemberg, Chaniotis argues, the auditing office has only taken the teaching side of things into account, ignoring the research side, which is of cardinal significance for the further development of the subject. "In short, the auditing office has failed to consider a fundamental fact that is, not least, anchored in the University Law of the state," the Vice-Rector contends. "Universities are institutions of teaching and research. And it is teaching closely associated with research that enables a university to assure its competitive status, both nationally and internationally."

An academic subject is part of a network of disciplines cooperating in research and teaching. As such, says Chaniotis, it can never be regarded in isolation. The offerings provided by Slavonic studies are important for a wide range of other disciplines, notably business studies, economics, Eastern European history, the political sciences and literary studies. "A university's research contacts with Eastern Europe — say, the partnerships the University of Heidelberg entertains with universities in Cracow, St. Petersburg or Prague — depend crucially on whether Slavonic studies are taught at that university or not," Chaniotis insists, going on to deplore the fact that this subject is not the only victim of such an unrealistic viewpoint and to protest vehemently at such attempts to "reallocate" the "smaller subjects" in the humanities.

"Itching in unmentionable places"

The next article in the new magazine takes an intrepid look at "itching in unmentionable places". The pride of the Heidelberg University Library in its treasure trove of medieval manuscripts such as the Codex Manesse, the Sachsenspiegel, the Song of Roland or Parsifal is shared not only by specialists. At the mention of the "Bibliotheca Palatina", most people's minds will turn first to the magnificent manuscripts of literary works centring around the subject of courtly love. But many of the documents in the keeping of the Library are in fact non-literary, stemming notably from the medical field. At present, these manuscripts are being sifted for systematic editing and presentation. In the latest issue of "Ruperto Carola", Karin Zimmermann, Matthias Müller and Wolfgang Eckart describe this ongoing project and discuss some hitherto unknown "prescriptions for the court" that are unique examples of their kind.

Micro-financing: a panacea in the fight against poverty?

Micro-financing — small loans for people too poor to normally qualify for assistance from banks — has been hailed as a "panacea" in the battle against poverty. Institutions providing such credit now run into the hundreds, the latest of them operating in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Eva Terberger, professor of general business studies at the University of Heidelberg, takes a critical look at the justification for the hopes attached to this procedure, notably by the recipients themselves.

Watching the wavicles

Scientists at the Kirchhoff Institute of Physics at the University of Heidelberg have succeeded in developing magnetic calorimeters that operate at extremely low temperatures. These new tools are now available for a wide range of applications. They can help track down hitherto unknown elementary particles possibly accounting for a large part of the "dark matter" that makes up about 90 percent of all matter in the universe. Christans Enss of the Kirchhoff Institute gives a graphic explanation of how the new low-temperature detectors work — and what they can do.

A key to the understanding of chronic ailments

The quest for the causes of aging and illness and the desire to offset these processes has preoccupied scientists and physicians for centuries. Recently, a receptor has been discovered — an "aerial" on the surface of cells — that can evidently identify and interact with molecules that proliferate in chronic diseases and aging processes. Angelika Bierhaus and Peter Naworth of the Internal Medicine Hospital of Heidelberg University explain the exciting new "RAGE hypothesis", which may hold the key to a better understanding — and hence better treatment — of typical diseases occurring in old age.

"Bioquant" — a new research network

In early 2002, the Council of Ministers of Baden-Württemberg gave the green light for a number of building projects for the life sciences. Among these new buildings is a central location for the "Bioquant" research network at the University of Heidelberg. Its working area measures some 5,000 square meters. "Ruperto Carola" talked to one of the people vitally involved, virologist Hans-Georg Kräusslich. In an interview with Press Officer Michael Schwarz, Kräusslich outlines the aims and objectives connected with the "Bioquant" network, the full name of which is "Quantitative Analysis of Molecular and Cellular Bio-Systems".

The magazine rounds off with its regular sections. "News from the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation" outlines the work being done by the laureates of the Ruprecht-Karl Prize. In "Young Scientists and Scholars Report", the topic is the ozone layer and its future. In "News and Views", Jochen Tröger and Brigitte Tag discuss the implications for research of a recent court ruling on the use of external funding resources. The magazine closes with a rundown on the best-endowed new externally funded research projects.

"Ruperto Carola" is published by Universitätsverlag C. Winter Heidelberg. Single copies cost 5 euros plus postage. Like the special support subscription (€ 30 for four issues), they can be ordered from Pressestelle der Universität Heidelberg, Postfach 10 57 60, D-69047 Heidelberg. Gratis copies of earlier issues are available in the foyer of the Old University (Grabengasse 1). For more information and the complete articles of earlier issues of "Ruperto Carola" (in German), go to http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse/publikat.html

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317
michael.schwarz@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de
http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse/index.html


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Updated: 01.01.2003

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