Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

Final Report

Young scholars from various disciplines participated at the Summer School of the Institute of Religious Studies at Heidelberg University. Together, they discussed questions of “reentering the body” through allegedly Asian bodily practices as well as connected theories of embodiment and experience.

participants of the Summer School

Ritual foto-shooting – the participants

Focusing on practices as well as ideas associated with Asian religions and spirituality such as Yoga, Ayurveda, Mindfulness or Martial Arts, this Summer School explored two main questions. On the one hand, the speakers and participants examined transcultural transformations that take place when allegedly Asian notions of conditioning mind and body and allegedly Western trends such as “therapeutic culture” amalgamate. On the other hand they discussed how various forms of medialization in the dissemination and advertisement of these practices and ideas through print media, TV, movies, and the Internet, influence form, content, and the circulation of these practices.

Keynote lecture by Mark Singleton

Keynote lecture – Dr. Mark Singleton

On Monday, August 27, 2012, the Summer School started with the first keynote lecture by Dr. Mark Singleton on "The Body at the Centre: Contexts of Modern Postural Yoga". In reconstructing the contexts in which modern postural yoga originated, the scholar from the St. John´s College, Santa Fe, New Mexico showed how the interpretative frame of postural yoga changed over time, when yoga postures and ideas merged with other physical practices and discourses in specific historical contexts. He concluded with the statement that not only are there many yoga-s in various contexts and settings, but also, that there are many bodies to be entered in yoga practice as the concepts and images of bodies changed over time.

The second day of the Summer School, August 28, 2012, began with the Summer School's first workshop, held by Dr. Singleton. Together with the speaker, the participants discussed theoretical questions related to the investigation of yoga and debated in which ways yoga practices can be regarded as religious practice. After this inquiry into the field of yoga, Dr. Jeff Wilson followed and presented his work on mindfulness. In his lecture he presented the origins of mindful practices in the field of Buddhism and their global dissemination. Through the lens of various case examples such as mindful eating, the assistant professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at the Renison University College, Waterloo showed how these practices that were once related to self-discipline, self-management and body control are now situated in the wider field of spirituality. In this new context they are often stripped of their Buddhist rhetorics and marked as practices without rules and for everyone. In his subsequent workshop Dr. Wilson presented different print media material on the topic of mindful practices as well as advertisements to take a closer look at how these practices are mediated.

The third day of the Summer School, Wednesday, August 29, 2012, was dedicated to the case examples of Ayurveda and Martial Arts. In the morning, Dr. Ananda Samir Chopra began with his lecture and workshop on Ayurveda. He focused on the early sources available for the study of Ayurveda and the process of professionalization of the Ayurveda medicine according to a Euro-American biomedical model in the 19th- and 20th -century. He then continued to present how the following movement of Ayurveda practices to Europe and America has been the result of a conscious translation initiated by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Especially in Europe, Ayurveda practices have thereafter been implemented in the field of “alternative and complementary medical systems”. Newly framed as “spiritual practices of wellbeing and wellness”, Dr. Chopra argued, this notion of Ayurveda has subsequently been reimported to India, where this notion of Ayurveda as Wellness has not been present before. In the evening Sven Wortmann, M.A. gave his talk on martial arts. After mapping the field of martial arts with a special focus on Chinese material arts in the Ming and Qing-Dynasty (1368-1911), he continued to discuss the presentation of various martial arts styles in different movies such as Karate Kid (2010) and Ip Man (2008) with a close look at the embedded religious rhetorics and aesthetics.

On Thursday morning, August 30, 2012, Sven Wortmann's continued with a workshop on martial arts that was mainly dedicated to the question of martial arts as religious practice and the distinctive “genderscapes” that come into play in martial arts movies. After a lunch break Dr. Tulasi Srinivas gave the Summer School's second keynote lecture on “Cultural Translation, Embodied Morality, Religious Pluralism and Globalization”. Through the lens of her work on the Sathya Sai Baba Movement, the assistant professor at the Emerson College in Boston discussed recent approaches to globalization, cosmopolitanism, religious pluralism and embodiment. Her main interest lies in reconstructing the “how” of transcultural translation processes as well discussing the theoretical and methodological implications.

Inken Prohl and Tulasi Srinivas

In conversation: Prof. Inken Prohl and Dr. Tulasi Srinivas.

The Summer School's last day, Friday, August 31, 2012, was reserved for student presentations, and concluding remarks. The Summer School was held from August 27 to 31, 2012 at the Karl Jaspers Centre for Advanced Transcultural Studies. It was organized by Prof. Dr. Inken Prohl , professor at the Institute of Religious Studies at Heidelberg University.