Conference “Putative Purities: Transcultural Dimensions of Master Narratives in Religion”, 16th – 18th of December, 2013

In a few days, I will attend a conference at Heidelberg with an excitingly trans-/intercultural focus, with many papers on Asian religion. On more familiar ground, it notably includes Alexandra Walsham (Cambridge), one of my favorite Early Modern Historians. Her keen eye for the problems inherent in theoretical frameworks in the history of religion should make for an interesting paper1. Also, of course, the indefatigable Antje Flüchter will be there, visiting from her new position at the University of Oslo. Here’s the programme….

Date: 16-18 December 2013
Venue: Internationales Wissenschaftsforum Heidelberg (IWH), Hauptstraße 242, D-69117 Heidelberg


Master narratives provide collectivities with a coherent vision of their history and a sense of homogeneity. They are continually reiterated and stabilized constructions which tend to mask particularity and bias behind universalized representations of objective truth. Especially in postmodern and postcolonial critique, master narratives have been problema-tized in view of their homogenizing as well as exclusionary potential.

But beyond such critique, master narratives also offer a fruitful avenue to investigate dynamics involved in, and issuing from, intense cultural contact, and the possibilities of representing, performing and materializing cultural alterity in their framework.

With a view towards transcultural dimensions involved in establishing, supporting and subverting master narratives, this conference places a special focus on religion: on narratives which support, challenge or displace religious identities, on their own or possibly also in synergy with other forms of collective identity (culture, race, nation).

The conference “Putative Purities” is conceptualized and organized by the research group “Negotiating Religion in a Transcultural Framework” (MC3) of the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context – the Dynamics of Transculturality” of the University of Heidelberg.”


Monday, December 16th

13:30  Welcome address
Session 1: Inventing Orthodoxy and Homogeneity
14:00-14:45  Nicholas Vogt:  “Sloughing Off the Shang: The Conflicted Zhou Legacy and Narratives of Early Chinese  Ritual”.
14:45-15:30  Giulia Gebke: “The Ideology of Purity-of-Blood. A Master Narrative in Early Modern Spain”.

Session 2: Buddhist Narratives and Identity
16:00-16:45 Sven Bretfeld: “The Buddha’s Treasure Houses: Sri Lanka and Tibet as Subjects of Religious Master Narratives”
16:45-17:30 Ranjana Mukhopadhyaya: “Transculturalism in the Peace Narratives of Japanese Buddhism”

Tuesday, December 17th

Session 3: A Taxonomy of Difference
10:00-10:45 Federico Squarcini: “In the Beginning was Purity. Shaping and Sharing Master Narratives on Origins in Sanskrit Metrical Dharmaśāstra”.
10:45-11:30 Sita Steckel: “Contrasting, Comparing, Connecting. Thirteenth-century Christian Polemics and their Contributions to a Discourse of Religious Diversity”.

Session 4: Ordering the Past
12:00-12:45 Alexandra Walsham: “Making a Master Narrative: Memory, The Reformation and Modern Academic Writing”
12:45-13:30 Erik Schicketanz: “The Formation of Modern Chinese Buddhist Historical Narratives Under Japanese Influence”

Session 5: Translating Narratives
14:30-15:15 Stuart Lachs: “Public Expectations Meet A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy: A Contemporary Zen Autobiography”
15:15-16:00 Antje Flüchter/Giulia Nardini: “Christianity between Orthodoxy and Ambiguity. The Jesuit Roberto de Nobili (1577-1656) Translating between the Worlds“

Session 6: Nation and the City
16:30-17:15 Benjamin Zachariah:  “The Invention of Hinduism for National Use”
17:15-18:00 Sadaf Ahmad: “Al-Huda and the Making of an Authoritative Master Narrative in Urban Pakistan”

Wednesday, December 18th

Session 7: Travelling Words
10:00-10:45 Andrew Quintman: “Geographical Narratives, Narrative Geographies: Transformations of Lives and Landscapes on the Himalayan Borderlands”
10:45-11:30 Davide Torri: “From Geographical Periphery to Conceptual Centre: the Travels of Ngagchang Shakya Zangpo and the Discovery of Yolmo Identity”.

Session 8: From Myth to Stone
12:00-12:45 Stefano Beggiora: “Migration, Cultural Adaptation Strategies, Negotiation of Space in the Mythical Narrative of Apatanis of Arunachal Pradesh”
12:45-13:30 Hasan Ali Khan: “How the Architecture of a Secret Belief System Affected the Larger Religious Milieu: the Case of the Suhrawardi Building Archetype in Medieval Multan and Uch”

A programme folder with abstracts is available for download from:

The conference is open to the public and can be attended free of charge.



Dr Anna Andreeva

Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”
Karl Jaspers Centre
Voßstraße 2, Building 4400
69115 Heidelberg


Cite this blog post
Sita Steckel (2013, December 4). Conference “Putative Purities: Transcultural Dimensions of Master Narratives in Religion”, 16th – 18th of December, 2013. Diversitas Religionum. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from

  1. See especially Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation and ‘The Disenchantment of the World’ Reassessed’, The Historical Journal, 51, 2 (2008), pp. 497–528. doi:10.1017/S0018246X08006808; an article entitled ‘Migrations of the Holy’ is forthcoming in the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. []

Sita Steckel

Professor of Medieval history, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.

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