Department of religious diversity


Directed by Peter van der Veer, the Department of Religious Diversity has been built up since 2009 to include currently 18 social scientists, 7 Ph.D. students and two non-scientific staff. Having had positions in the institute, four social scientists have moved on to other positions in universities and research organizations in Germany, USA, and Thailand. Disciplines represented among the staff include anthropology, sociology, and urban planning (while collaborative projects include urban geography).

Religious diversity is a regular feature of modern, complex society. A problematic developed in this department is how religious diversity is accommodated and governed within secular arrangements. Since these arrangements, which are primarily those of the nation-state and concern the location of reli­gion in national culture, are increasingly globalized – like religion itself – the question is how globalization (today and in the recent past) has affected both secular governance and religious movements and networks. Globalization has to be understood in economic terms (flows of capital and labor), political terms (regional and global integration), as well as cultural terms (media flows, fashion and consumption patterns, youth culture). This problematic is addressed in a comparative manner between societies and cities (primarily Asian) as well as religions (primarily Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism).

The research program of the department is developed within the ideographic tradition of anthropology and religious studies and thus allows for quite a variety of individual projects that try to answer questions that are not predetermined by theoretical models but developed in ethnographic or micro-sociological fieldwork. To contain this variety, a regional focus on South, South-East and East Asia has been chosen because of the importance of this region in terms of its share in the world’s population and with the assumption that comparisons can be fruitfully made across this region. This is because common civi­lizational histories as well as common histories of imperialism and cold war politics have transformed the religious traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Islam, and Christianity into ‘modern religions’ in the Western sense. From the start, concerted efforts have been made to create collaborations with research institutions and researchers in the societies in which fieldwork projects are carried out.