KHK Fellow Interview: "Coherence arising from Thematic Focus"


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 fifth interview is with the renowned historian and scholar of Islam Aziz Al-Ahmeh. As several of his co-fellows he was frequently guest in institutions of advanced studies around the world, as in the US, Sweden, France and Hungary.


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

I joined KHK by invitiation.

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

In all respects the stay was excellent. Good working conditions, and reasonable accommodation, with competent library services. Professor Krech is an extraordinary director and animator. While in Bochum I completed my book “The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity” since published by Cambridge University Press, and continued research towards the parallel project, still in process, on the history of freethinking and of criticism of religion.

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

I think this will be pretty obvious. What I would add is that, when approaching freethinking in the Abbasid era, one would need to note how the Orient and oriental religions, Hinduism and Buddhism especially, were used as symbolical supports and sources of inspiration, involving ideas, still abundantly available, about and ubiquitous and perennial oriental wisdom. When working on early modern Europa, one would need to be particularly attentive to the pathways of criticism of religion during the Abbasid period and the impulse and symbolism of Averroism.

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

It has a special coherence arising from its thematic focus.

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?

One of the most important things that stayed with me was a greater acquaintance, leading later to greater familiarity, to the history of religion in East Asia.

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?

Conceive similar institutions independent of disciplinary loyalties.