Young Scholars Presenting and Exchanging Ideas

The 7th conference for junior researchers in Swiss Asian and Oriental Studies “Asian Studies: Debates und Perspectives,” organized by the Swiss Asia Society (SAG), the Swiss Society for the Middle East and Islamic Cultures (SGMOIK) and the URPP Asia and Europe, was held April 17–20, 2013 in Appenberg bei Zäziwil. The conference provided young scholars from various disciplines with the opportunity to present and discuss their research with established researchers and peers.

Till Mostowlansky

The academic field of Asian and Oriental studies is diverse and embraces a broad range of disciplines as well as methodological and theoretical approaches. Taking this diversity into account, the organizers of the conference “Asian Studies: Debates und Perspectives” conceptualized the event in a way that was meant to stimulate interaction between scholars of Central Asian studies, Indian studies, Islamic studies, Japanese studies, and Chinese studies. The basis of this interaction lay in the classification of papers according to their methodological and theoretical background, rather than following the presenters’ disciplinary origins. In addition, the disciplinary, thematic, methodological, and theoretical diversity of the conference’s contributions was framed by the presence of two distinguished scholars.

Philosophy and feminism

The conference opened with a keynote lecture by the historian Gottfried Liedl (Vienna) on the “Pre-Modern World System and the Role of the Méditeranée.” The following morning, two panels were conducted simultaneously. The panel “Philosophy/Study of Religions” included papers on Islamic and Chinese philosophy, the adoption of Martin Heidegger’s work by Arab philosophers, the representation of spiritual authority in an Indian religious community, the Bishnoi Sampradaya, and the link between mining and mountain cult in contemporary Mongolia. At the same time, papers on the Japanese feminist writer Takamure Itsue, the masculinity of eunuchs in the Middle East, as well as the entangled history of women’s organizations at the end of the Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish Republic were presented in the panel “Gender Studies.” Questions of the trajectories of knowledge, trans-regional interconnections, as well as the use of emic and etic terms in data analysis were among the most frequently discussed topics subsequent to the panels.

From Hong Kong to Berlin

Later on, the discussion of these questions also re-emerged in the context of the panels “History” and “Literary Studies.” For instance, the usefulness of applying the term ‘Bildungsroman’ to 1950s literature from Hong Kong (Virginia Yee-Yarn Leung, Zurich) was debated. Further papers in “Literary Studies” covered the image of youth in modern Chinese literature as well as the concepts of place-writing and telling places in contemporary Hong Kong cinema and literature. Two papers on India dealt with authority and narrative structure in the Sanskrit Puranas as well as with an analysis of the songs of the medieval poet Purandaradasa. In addition, the panel “History” included papers on historical modes of domination in Korea and Japan, the role of Islam in Xinjiang during the Qing dynasty and on the narrative of an alleged inclination of Japanese society toward Islamization at the beginning of the 20th century.

The panel “Political Science/Social Anthropology/Sociology” was constituted by contributions on technology and nomadic space in Tibet, media and new life-styles in post-Fukushima Japan, the role of trees in urban China and the Young Turkish expatriates in Berlin after World War I. The panel “Geography” included two papers on socio-economic rights and mobilizing in urban India. “Art and Film Studies” comprised papers on the relation between text and image in the “Tarikh-i Nigaristan” (a Persian Safavid manuscript), transcultural links between Japan and India in early 20th century painting, the role of woodblock prints in Maoist propaganda and the cinema d’auteur in China.

Building bridges to be continued

In the framework of two “Panels of Experts,” Prof. Dr. Janine Dahinden (Neuchatel) and Prof. Dr. Harald Fischer-Tiné (Zurich) offered critical responses to the presented papers with remarks on epistemology, methodology, and theory. While Fischer-Tiné suggested rethinking potentially Eurocentric terms such as authorship, theology and good governance, Dahinden pointed to the fact that a number of papers had addressed questions of domination and hierarchy without explicitly mentioning power. In reverse, Fischer-Tiné and Dahinden emphazised that the conference had shown the vast potential of Asian and Oriental studies when firmly grounded between global history and regional studies. The 7th conference for junior researchers was dedicated to this vision in many respects and the 8th conference (scheduled for 2016) will provide the opportunity to keep building bridges between the disciplines of Swiss Asian and Oriental studies and beyond.

(Asia & Europe Bulletin, 3/2014, p. 14)