The Delhi University South Campus is boring

Democracy is understood very differently in Asia

By Heribert Vogt

The Heidelberg indologist Axel Michaels will retire on September 30, 2016, which promises to be a retirement. Because Michaels will continue to hold numerous functions in the future. And he has just been appointed Senior Professor at Heidelberg University by Rector Bernhard Eitel on October 1, 2016. Therefore, this is more of a preliminary balance sheet discussion.

Prof. Michaels, religious studies and the continent of Asia played important roles in your professional career. How did the two topics relate to each other?

I first studied Indology and concentrated on South Asia - on India and soon on Nepal. Then I had a professorship for religious studies in Bern, which helped to put Hinduism and Buddhism into a larger framework. I continued to seek and endure this tension.

What were the most important stations before you came to Heidelberg in 1996?

After graduating, I worked at the Völkerkundemuseum in Hamburg, then I became an assistant in Kiel and went to Oxford for a year. Then I became the local director of the Nepal Research Center in Kathmandu for two years. Kiel followed again, and after my habilitation I had a Heisenberg scholarship before I decided on Bern.


The "Senior professor"is an honorary designation that has been awarded to a professor at Heidelberg University in retirement or after his discharge since 2007. The Rectorate decides on the award. The" senior professorship "and the" senior professorship distinctus "are awarded.

At the request of a faculty, the rectorate can assign an exempt or im

The "Senior professor"is an honorary designation that has been given to a professor at Heidelberg University in retirement or after he has been released since 2007. The Rectorate decides on the award. The" senior professorship "and the" senior professorship distinctus "are awarded.

At the request of a faculty, the rectorate can assign the title of "senior professor" to a professor who has been relieved of his duties or who is retired for the duration of his subsequent activity at the university. A contract is concluded with the senior professor that includes rights and obligations.

Furthermore, the Rectorate can award professors who have made a special contribution to the university with the designation "Seniorprofessor distinctus", an honorary designation for life that is not linked to further activity. There are now more than 20 senior professors in Heidelberg.

In Heidelberg you took on a professorship for Classical Indology at the South Asia Institute. How do you see your twenty-year phase there?

It was an exciting and fruitful time. I was able to work with colleagues who also specialized in South Asia.

From 2002 you were spokesman for the Collaborative Research Center "Ritual Dynamics" at Heidelberg University for a good eleven years. What is your conclusion here?

In this Collaborative Research Center, we were able to make it clear that rituals are by no means rigid, stereotypical and boring, but dynamic. That is why the SFB was also called "Ritual Dynamics". We have made Heidelberg a center for ritual research. The culmination was a specialist congress, perhaps the largest humanities congress that has ever taken place in Heidelberg.

In 2007 you became director of the Heidelberg Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context" in the Excellence Initiative. What was the significance of this cluster for you?

We have a board of three there and take turns every six months. Along with the sinologist Rudolf Wagner and the historian Madeleine Herren-Oesch, I was one of the founding directors. The cluster was a big step because there were only a few clusters in the humanities and social sciences in Germany. It brought new forms of cooperation into the university and beyond the disciplines, structures that have remained to this day, such as the five sustainably created cluster professorships that cross the existing disciplines. Something like this was only possible because we are a full university and have the strong support of the rectorate and the faculties involved.

What research on Asia and Europe was important?

They do not only concern the territorial area of ​​these continents, but also the interdependencies and the intermediate worlds, which have to be explored in a variety of ways. This has become a new paradigm under the heading of "transculturality".

How is the relationship between Europe and Asia developing at the moment?

For example, primeval European values ​​such as democracy were also implemented in Asia, but they are understood very differently there - think of Turkey, China or even India, the largest democracy in the world. The intense debates about democracy are being conducted there, no longer in Europe. And conflicts arise because here in Europe we claim "copyright" and want to make regulations for the world. The current migrations are also part of these in-between worlds. This whole area is under-explored because it falls between the disciplines.

You are also co-founder and director of the "Heidelberg Center for Transcultural Studies", which continues the structures of the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe". How do you see the HCTS?

The sinologist Barbara Mittler, the prehistoric and early historian Joseph Maran and I also form a threesome here. I see the development of the HCTS, which was founded in the presence of Science Minister Theresa Bauer, very positively. Sustainability has been promised. However, we are still waiting for the basic structure of the HCTS to become financially stable, which will in any case remain as a central institution of the university and conduct research from a global perspective, with Asian studies continuing to be a focus.

You will also have leading positions at the emerging "Center for Asian and Transcultural Studies" (CATS), which will bring together Heidelberg's Asian studies. WHen does it come?

It should be ready for occupancy in mid-2018. The CATS is a mainly spatial association of Asian Studies, the South Asia Institute, East Asian Studies and Ethnology together with the HCTS. It forms a small campus with a library in the center that goes four floors deep into the ground. The content-related work is closely linked to the HCTS, here in Vossstraße 2.

What does the growing Asian focus mean for the university?

The CATS will be the largest Asian science institute in continental Europe. We then have around 25 professorships that focus on Asia.

Nepal played a role in your professional life from an early age. You are now head of the research project "Religious and legal historical sources in premodern Nepal" at the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences.

This country has been particularly important to me from the start, since my first trip to India. And I am happy that I can continue to research there in the long-term academy project that has a branch in Nepal with three employees. This fascinating project opens up a corpus of documents from the 18th and 19th centuries, in which one finds the flourishing life of society with all its conflicts reflected - a counterpoint to the spiritual, spiritual and religious in South Asia.

This is what India in particular stands for. What role did this country play for you?

India and Nepal form a unity in terms of culture, religion, society and history. I enjoy doing research in Nepal because cultural phenomena have been preserved there that no longer exist in India. Of course India - one in seven people is Indian - is a very different political and economic factor than Nepal.

If you now retire on September 30, 2016 - will you have a fresh start into unrest?

I will continue to work in a number of functions: I will initially remain co-director of the cluster, founding director of the CATS, rectorate representative for South Asia and the Heidelberg Center South Asia as well as head of my academy project. But I will no longer teach normal teaching programs, I will belong to fewer committees and I will no longer be the head of the Classical Indology department at the South Asia Institute. I would like to complete the tasks and help us get into the third round of the Excellence Initiative. After all, the CATS should also look good. In addition, I have just been elected Secretary of the Philosophical-Historical Class of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences. I won't get bored.

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