On 19 January the Great Hall of the Old University was the venue for a New Year's reception for visiting scholars, scientists and grant recipients, attended by some 150 participants. After the opening music played by a string quartet from the University orchestra Collegium Musicum, one thing became abundantly clear: more than ever before, the University of Heidelberg attracts the finest minds from all over the world. Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff made no bones about the University's ambitions in this connection: "Since April last year, the International Relations Office has registered some 280 visiting scholars and scientists from 55 different countries. The huge demand for our guest-houses has prompted us to embark on an enlargement of the facilities. Soon we will have more accommodation potential at our disposal."
The largest contingent of visiting academics comes from North America. The 30 researchers from the United States in Heidelberg at present is clearly the largest group. Hommelhoff interpreted this as an important pointer, indicating that political differences had done nothing to impair academic exchange and that the University of Heidelberg enjoys an excellent reputation in the United States. "But unlike some politicians in the field of higher education," he added, "the University is not geared solely to the West." The next largest group of researchers (23) comes from the Russian Federation, closely followed by China (22), Japan (17) and Poland (13). This excellent tally is due not least to the major non-university research institutions in the area, such as the German Cancer Research Centre, the European Molecular Biology Lab and the local Max Planck institutes, all of which work closely with the University.
Vice-Rector Prof. Dr. Angelos Chaniotis himself hails from a far-away country. The Greek-born professor of ancient history gave an account of his most recent research findings, entitled "Crossing Religious Boundaries: Pagans, Jews and Christians in an Ancient City".
For several years now, Professor Chaniotis has been looking closely at religious movements in the ancient world. The main focus of his attention centres on events in the city of Aphrodisias in Asia minor. The city took its name from the Anatolian/Greek fertility goddess Aphrodite, worshipped as Venus by the Romans. It was a thriving trading centre and notably in the 4th and 5th centuries AD hosted a number of different cultures. Interestingly, the rival religions not only competed with one another for supremacy but displayed many instances of peaceful mutual influence. "While this rivalry was informed by the conviction that one's own religion was the best, it by no means invariably led to violent clashes," said Chaniotis. Such disputes did however take place, occasionally within one and the same family. Incidents like the destruction of statues of Buddha by fanatic Taliban warriors in the year 2001 were by no means without precedent in antiquity. In an inscription by the Christian Demeas, we find him boasting of his success in inflicting severe damage on a statue of the goddess Artemis.
But a modern university where, as in an ancient city, many people of different origins and views come together must be a place of tolerance, Chaniotis insisted. "Here we have room enough for everyone. The university battens on mutual respect and peaceful cooperation!"
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