Heidelberg University’s Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe” Officially Opened

20 10 2008
Rector Prof. Dr. Bernhard Eitel: With the success of its proposal for the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” Heidelberg University has proved just how enterprising its humanities departments are
Cultural exchange was the keynote at the official opening of the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe” in the Great Hall of Heidelberg University today. This integrated and interdisciplinary cultural studies project aims to establish a transcultural perspective in research and teaching that is unprecedented in Germany. The new format was exemplified in word and music by the keynote speech delivered by Prof. Dr. Arjun Appadurai (New York) and the European premiere of Three Dada Songs by Lam Bun-ching (Hong Kong, New York)

In his welcoming address to the approx. 200 guests, Heidelberg University rector Prof. Dr. Bernhard Eitel said that the success achieved by the proposal for the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context: Shifting Asymmetries in Cultural Flows” in the framework of the Initiative for Excellence competition (October 2007) indicated just how enterprising Heidelberg University’s humanities departments are, notably the so-called “smaller departments”. By pooling their resources they have proved themselves capable of great things, the rector said. Referring to the South Asia Institute, the Centre for East Asian Studies, the Centre for European History and Cultural Studies, the long-term collaborative research project No. 619 “The Dynamics of Ritual” and the Research Community for the Study of the Asian World, Professor Eitel stated that Heidelberg was a location assembling powerful expertise on all issues relating to Asia.

Exzellenzcluster "Asien und Europa": Direktoriumsmitglied Rudolf Wagner, Professor am Sinologischen Institut; Dr. Brigitte Merz, wissenschaftliche Projektmanagerin; Direktoriumsmitglied Axel Michaels, Professor für klassische Indologie am Südasien-Institut; geschäftsführende Direktorin des Exzellenzclusters, Madeleine Herren-Oesch, Professorin für Geschichte der Neuzeit am Historischen Seminar; keynote speaker Prof. Dr. Arjun Appadurai (New York) and Prof. Dr. Bernhard Eitel, Rector of Heidelberg University. (left to right)
All Photos: Sibylle Zerr
Prof. Dr. Madeleine Herren-Oesch  
Prof. Dr. Madeleine Herren-Oesch
Next, the managing director of the Cluster of Excellence, Madeleine Herren-Oesch, professor of modern history at the Department of History, read out the greetings from Prof. Dr. Peter Frankenberg, Baden-Württemberg’s minister of science, research and art. He reported that no other proposal in the competition had been given such unreserved praise by the adjudicators from the Science Council and the German Research Foundation.

In his message, Professor Frankenberg noted that five clusters of excellence in the humanities and social sciences had been established in the framework of the Initiative for Excellence. He saw at least four major opportunities for the Heidelberg cluster: proof that the humanities can be particularly productive in large-scale collaborative research projects, utmost exploitation of the strengths of Heidelberg University with its wide range of subjects, unique support for young academics and engagement with a subject of supreme political actuality – the shifting asymmetries in the exchange between Asia and Europe. The growing self-confidence of the Asian countries called for a transcontinental research exchange featuring researchers from Asia, Professor Frankenberg asserted, and this kind of exchange was now being supported by collaborative ventures with partner institutions in Asia and the United States.

Axel Michaels, co-director of the Cluster and professor of classical Indology at the South Asia Institute, explained how the resources at the disposal of the Cluster were to be employed. They amount to a total of 35 million euros in the first five-year funding period. Five new professorships are planned, plus several research groups assembling young scientists and scholars, a graduate programme and the infrastructure for about 50 grant recipients and project staff. Under construction at present is a database system designed to assemble research results in two interconnected databases for trans-lingual concepts and trans-cultural images and to make them available to all fields of research.

Prof. Dr. Arjun Appadurai (New York)  
Prof. Dr. Arjun Appadurai (New York)
Rudolf Wagner, co-director of the Cluster and professor at the Institute of Chinese Studies, then introduced the keynote speaker, Prof. Dr. Arjun Appadurai (New York). Professor Appadurai’s speech outlined the developments taking place over the last 30 years and gave an idea of the range of activities covered by the new research format. New media and global markets have produced new forms of identification apparently making acculturation more or less superfluous, he said. At a time when business enterprises, humanitarian and religious organisations and also criminal networks are operating worldwide in the urban centres, the crucial point can no longer be to devise theories on the hybridisation of culture. To square up to the requirements of the future we require theories connecting the exchange of cultural forms with forms of cultural exchange. The thing is to identify the speed and the degree of exchange (e.g. comparing Asian modernity with other definitions of modernity) so as to recognise that historiography and national descriptions of “objective” phenomena can generate sites and sources of inequality of their own.

The European premiere of Three Dada Songs by Lam Bun-ching (Hong Kong, New York) gave an impressive indication of the new vistas that an exchange of cultural forms can open up. Thus, after opening with sounds from Asia and Europe, the opening ceremony finally culminated in a fascinating example of Eurasian harmony.

Please address any inquiries to
Iris Mucha
Public Relations Officer
Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”
phone: 06221/544008

Journalists are also invited to address their inquiries to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Public Information Officer
Heidelberg University
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317
Editor: Email
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