Spiritual Visions of Community: Texts, Sites and Interactions

VISCOM sets out to comparatively address how Buddhism, Islam and Christianity affected particular communities and political structures. The main focus of this Transversal Work Group lies on ideas about the religious or spiritual aspects of the formation of communities, and the interactions between these ideas and other forms of community-building, such as those based on ethnic, urban, legal, or kin-related discourses. Two sub-topics of research as developed in this SFB serve this purpose, based on shared terminological and methodological tools: Cosmological Visions of Community, and Religious Communities as Sites of Learning and Tradition.

Cosmological Visions of Community investigates a broad repertoire of eschatological narratives and imagery that give meaning to religious and political processes of identification. As a key element of both Islamic and Christian theology, eschatology introduced a specific linear understanding of temporality that culminates at the end of the world. Likewise, based on a vision of cyclical time, concepts of the end of time in Tibetan Buddhism (derived from Indian precursors) entailed highly pessimistic descriptions of each cosmic period’s ending. The foray of “barbarian” versions of Islam in Central Asia also is clearly reflected in one of the central Tibetan eschatological texts. This transversal working group will concentrate on the question how programmatic religious texts made use of cosmological arguments to explain contemporary political events and make sense of their social setting. This focus will shed light on both the interrelations of religious or ethnic identities and the interdependence of local/regional polities with imperial visions of community. It is in this way especially that it will provide an interface with the second topic within this TWG.

Religious Communities as Sites of Learning and Tradition conceives of religious communities as places from where ideals and spiritual practices are communicated to their surroundings – a particular social space that is both separated from its wider environment and simultaneously interacting within it in a variety of ways. Key religious texts, providing their audiences with spiritual visions of community, are continuously produced, negotiated, transmitted and invoked in specific historical contexts. To analyze these interactions, the results of the Enclaves of Learning working group and its conceptual tools elaborated in the first VISCOM phase, will be further pursued here. Among the many defining elements of the medieval religious communities under investigation, "learning" was chosen as a common, central feature allowing for comparative analyses of transmitting ideals and practices to subsequent. Through this focus, it will continue to explore similarities and differences between religious communities across Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity and particularly concentrate on the close relations between institutions, elites, and the way (textual) knowledge is embedded in the social order.

Last Update: 06.07.16