VISCOM combines careful disciplinary source studies with comparative model building and awareness for problems of methodology. Instead of mining texts for factual information about ethnic groups, it will seek to understand our sources as elements in the process of identity formation. Thus, it will challenge received paradigms by creating a constant epistemological movement between textual studies and interpretations of long-term social change. The project will thus contribute to an improved understanding of the complexity of (past) societies, while simultaneously engaging with the debates about ethnicity and identity in anthropology and the social sciences.
VISCOM connects case studies of three religions and five regions to learn more about the way in which pre-modern societies work. Under the supervision of the two speakers, Walter Pohl and Andre Gingrich, and supported by Coordination Team, the three projects centered on Europe
- Christian Discourse and Political Identities in Early Medieval Europe (Project Leader: Walter Pohl),
- Social and Cultural Communities in Late Medieval Central Europe (Project Leader: Christina Lutter), and
- Society, Statehood, and Religion in Late Medieval Dalmatia (Project Leader: Oliver Schmitt)
– will work closely together with
South Arabia between Late Antiquity and Early Modernity (Project Leader: Andre Gingrich), and
The Tibetan Empire and the Formation of Buddhist Civilisation in the Highlands (Project Leader: Birgit Kellner),
in order to effect a comparative analysis of historical change in key areas such as 'religion', 'tribe', 'empire', and 'people'.
The three research projects dealing mainly with European history operate under the flag of the University of Vienna, whereas the other two are affiliated with the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Part of the function of the Coordination Team is to act as a bridge between these two institutions. Additionally, within both the AAS and the University, different departments and institutes are involved in VISCOM. For the AAS, these are the Institute for Medieval Research (IMF), the Institute for Social Anthropology (ISA) the Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia (IKGA), and the Commission for Paleography and Codicology of Medieval Manuscripts in Austria. The University is represented by the Institute for Austrian Historical Research (IÖG) and the Department of Art History.
The entire project is financed in part as a Sonderforschungsbereich (SFB) of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), and in part by the participating Institutes themselves.