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KHK Fellow Interview: "Inspiring range of subjects"

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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 fourth interview is with the renowned Dutch scholar of ancient religions Jan Bremmer. He was frequently guest in institutions of advanced studies around the world. In his interview he gives insights into what makes the KHK Bochum special.

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

I first heard about the KHK and the fellowship from Andreas Bendlin and Mareille Haase. They arranged a lecture for me at the KHK, where I met again Volkhard Krech, with whom I had earlier contacts around 2000! Then I saw Volkhard again at the annual meeting of the International Association for the History of Religion (IAHR) in Erfurt 2015, and from there everything continued. I had seen and heard that the KHK is a very inspiring environment so that it seemed a nice place to work and meet new colleagues.

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

My wife and I enjoyed living in Bochum, which gradually grows on you. At first it seems just a newish city, but in the course of the year we discovered many nice places. As always, I enjoyed the seminars and the informal contacts, but given my many obligations I worked on a number of things. Important for me was the completion of the first volume of my Collected Essays. I had less time for my proposed project on immanence and transcendence in antiquity, but the importance of the distinction increasingly gave me food for thought.

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

In the study of ancient religion the gods have long been neglected. My focus on the problems connected with their transcendence and immanence and the great difference between pagan and Christian religion in this respect helps to see the dynamics of religious developments in the first centuries of our era.

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

The difference with other excellent research institutes, such as the Max-Weber-Kolleg in Erfurt is the range of subjects, from ancient China to today, at the inspiring seminars on Mondays. I was especially interested in the focus on media and contemporary religion.

What impact did your affiliation with the KHK Bochum have on your own research process?

I credit the KHK Bochum with helping me think about the problem of transcendence and immanence as well as acquainting me better with the fascinating worlds of ancient China and Israel.

A short 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?

Difficult to say, but I would agree with Ulf Plessentin, when he says: “ … thinking about religion across regions, traditions, race, ethnicity, historical periods, etc. in order to see how contact both highlights and forces religious traditions to change. They must be dynamic”.  At the same time, I think there will be increasing attention to the material and emotional aspects of religion, as these prove to be increasingly important in our own times.