About the department
Directed by Peter van der Veer, the Department of Religious Diversity has been built up since 2009. From 2014 till 2017 the department had 44 social scientists, 13 Ph.D. students and 2 non-scientific staff. 4 Ph.D. students have finished in this period. The Ph.D. students all have the Director as their advisor. Having had positions in the institute, fellows have moved on to other positions in universities and research organizations in Germany, France, Britain, China and the USA. One received a Humboldt Fellowship; one an ERC Starting Grant. Disciplines represented among the staff include anthropology, religious studies, and history.
Religious diversity is a regular feature of modern, complex society. The focus is therefore not on diversity per se, but on the project of the nation-state to create a national, integrated culture. 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 secular governance on the one hand and religious movements and networks on the other. This problematic is addressed in a comparative manner between societies and cities (primarily Asian) as well as religions (primarily Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Daoism).
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. Work on Asia also allows us to challenge some of the ethnocentrism that is behind much of social theory that pretends to be universal. 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. The collaborations that stand out in the period under review are those with the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and with the Central Nationalities University (Minzu Daxue) in Beijing.
Prof. Dr. Peter van der Veer
MAX PLANCK VIDEOPORTRAIT