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KHK Fellow Interview: "Amazing growth"

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End of March 2020, the second funding phase of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg "Dynamics in the History of Religions between Asia and Europe" will come to an end. This research project undoubtlessly has have an impact on the Center for Religious Studies (CERES) for almost ten years since it has been the biggest project with an international reach. It is time to look both back- and forward and to give word to the visiting fellows of the Kolleg. The third interview is with the Spanish historian of religion Ana María Echevarría. She was several times fellow at the KHK both in the first and second period of funding. Given this, she can draw the development of the institution.

How did the KHK Bochum draw your attention for the first time? How did you apply for it?

I was invited as a Visiting Fellow during year 2011-2012 as part of the Research Field "Expansion" of religious traditions under the leadership of Profs. Nikolas Jaspert and Reinhold Glei. While I was there I joined the discussion groups about Missions and Exchanges between the Mediterranean and Central Asia. I also joined the meetings of the Focus Groups on "Inclusion and Demarcation" and "Transfer and Resistance". Since then, my contact with the KHK has been continuous: I have travelled to RUB for several research stays and workshops organized by the consortium members, I organized a conference for the research field in Spain in 2013, and worked together with some former fellows in joint research projects. When I learnt about the possibility to visit Bochum for short periods in order to contribute to Entangled Religions, I applied for another visit (too short this time due to family calendars).

How was your research stay in Bochum? And what was your research project here?

As I have been a fellow twice, I have submitted two different projects, related to my focus on religious minorities in Medieval Iberia. The first, “Muslims as Heretics in Spanish Medieval Sources”, focused on the reception of Islam and the explanation of the religious encounter with a new faith in the Iberian Peninsula from the earliest times of the Muslim conquest to the 11th century. It addressed the acculturation of Iberian Christians after the Islamic conquest, processes of demarcation from Muslims and Jews, and theological debates across the Mediterranean. The second project (2018), entitled “Dhimma: The Status of Protection in a Mediterranean and Asian Context”, analyses a particular process of inter-religious contact that took place in the broad lands of Islam, from the Mediterranean basin through Africa to Asia, and involved a number of religious groups described as “people of the Book” (ahl al-kitab), who later became known as the “protected people” (ahl al-dhimma). This led to a number of adaptations in Islamic law in order to reorder the place of these alien communities in the social and religious order of their world, following Byzantine and Zoroastrian views. Likewise, the statute of dhimma was transferred to other cultural contexts and transformed into new forms of religious interaction, which I am studying at the moment.

Why are your research topic for an understanding of religious dynamics and religious contacts?

My topics belong to the different fields of research conducted at the KHK in several ways, as they address religious interaction in contexts of multi-religious and multicultural medieval societies. I also try to relate the Western Mediterranean to exchanges happening in the Middle East and Central Asia, and tracing the different chronologies in distinct geographical areas.

Compared to other institutions of advanced research, what characterizes the KHK Bochum?

Work at the KHK involves Fellows from different disciplines, countries, chronological periods and cultures but with a very determined hermeneutical agenda –as opposed to other fellowships, that leave the researcher to his/her own topic-, therefore providing new research tools for our disciplines. Involvement in all the activities proposed was almost impossible, but the atmosphere created at KHK-RUB was full of inputs, interesting discussions and flows of ideas, and the relative freedom to attend conferences and workshops there and elsewhere has contributed greatly to creating huge networks of scholars across the world, that other German institutions fail to create, being more national or European-based.

What impact had your affiliation with the KHK Bochum on your own research process? Did the research and theoretical work conducted on the KHK influenced your research? And if so how?

Absolutely. It changed my way of reading my sources and interpreting them, it provided intellectual exchanges I would never have dreamed of in Spain, it developed my skills as lecturer and discussant of papers in a foreign language. Looking at problems in a global way has changed my understanding of particular histories. Anthropological, semantic and religious dimensions have increased in my methodology. I have also learnt German so that now I can read a whole new world of academic tradition, and participate in thesis, Erasmus and other exchanges in Germany –which I have already done.

Why did you visit the KHK several times as researcher?
The atmosphere is just inspiring, all the time. Time to read, colleagues to exchange with, ideas for new research groups, books and exhibitions being produced… always energy and new challenges.

How did the KHK change in the meantime of your stays over the years?

Structurally there have been a number of changes; participants come and go, which makes it a bit difficult to follow sometimes, too many new people each time. The changes of buildings and the development of CERES as a research and teaching endeavor… everything was much smaller when I first arrived in Bochum, but the growth of the whole project is amazing. I think the biggest challenge is still to get the researchers into the German system and the KHK way of working, which are difficult to grasp in a short time for overseas academics.

A look into the future: Given the fact that the KHK Bochum is temporary, what and how should scholars deal with the history of religions in about ten years?

Fortunately, the need of big consortiums for multidisciplinary research has been acknowledged by other funding bodies, so my hope will be that efforts such as the KHK will continue, and the networks established there will survive in the next years, involving younger scholars.
The topic of the History of religions is huge, and the topics will vary very much depending on the world political and social agenda. The comparative perspective should be enhanced: Greece and Rome should be more contrasted with India and China, and Mesopotamia should come into the discussion as a background also for Judaism and Christianity. Islam needs to be approached in comparative ways that were not contemplated during my stays.

I think Africa and America should also be introduced at some point, because the developments of several faiths cannot be understood without them. We have addressed the topic of religious minorities in a subsequent year at the Konstanz Institute for Advanced Study, where more meetings, discussions and collective articles have developed work already started in Bochum. The topic of violence and religious interaction is being dealt with by some of the Former Fellows and may give important results… the list would be too long.