How did universal religions shape the construction of particular communities and identities?
The FWF Special Research Programme (SFB) Visions of Community studies the influence of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism on the conception of religious and political communities in the medieval period. The central research question revolves around the meaning of spiritual and over-arching ideas and discourses about the concept of “communities”, and how these affect the formation and legitimation of particular communities, ranging from empires, territorial polities, tribes and ethnic groups, to more localised urban and agricultural communities as well as monastic and other types of religious communal living.
VISCOM has selected its exemplary case studies in order to cover a fairly wide spectrum of social formations and types of sources: among others, it deals with Christian constructions of community in early medieval exegetical and eschatological texts; with forms of identification regarding tribal and Islamic communities in South Arabia; with spiritual texts written in post-imperial Tibetan monasteries; with the production and the uses of an inclusive collection of saints’ lives in high and late medieval Austria; or with conflicts and their legal documentation in a 15th-century Dalmatian city.
In order to shed light on the dynamics between the ideal and reality of the formation of these communities, researchers from the Academy-affiliated Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia (IKGA), the Institute for Social Anthropology (ISA) and the Institute for Medieval Research (IMaFo) have worked together with researchers from the Institute for History and the Institute for Eastern European History of the University of Vienna for the past four years already
The first results have, among others, been published in a special issue of the prestigious international journal History and Anthropology.
In the second phase of this project, which started on the 1st of March 2015, local and regional case studies will be combined with transversal and trans-regional research themes that will be addressed in interdisciplinary working groups. Cooperation within Visions of Community will revolve around these working groups, which will focus on the themes of Comparative Methodology; Spiritual Visions of Community; Urban Communities; and Tribes and Ethnicity.
“This SFB offers us the exceptional possibility to engage in intensive comparative studies together with members of other academic disciplines – and it is through a comparison between these widely disparate regions that we are enabled to get to the essentials of the questions addressed by us. Now more than ever, a deeper understanding of the different dynamics within each of these three world religions is an important research goal. We are in an excellent position to contribute to this understanding”, says Walter Pohl, director of the IMaFo and speaker of the project together with Andre Gingrich, director of the ISA.
Illustration: “Viscom-Gate II” © by Dagmar Giesriegl