The relationship between religious texts and lived religion is central to Ute Hüsken's research. In her next planned project, she will open up new opportunities for research in this intersection.

Ute Hüsken

  • Professor and Head of the Department of Cultural and Religious History of South Asia at the University of Heidelberg.
  • MF CASR Global Fellow for 2021
  • She is the first to be selected for MF CASR's Global Fellows program.

Ute Hüsken is a trained philologist in Sanskrit and other Middle Indian languages and is one of the world's leading researchers in the field. Starting with studies of older texts in Sanskrit and Pali, her research has evolved to examine the relationship between lived religion and religious texts in recent years.

Temple legends and rituals become available digitally

During her stay at MF, Hüsken presented her planned research project, "Hindu Temple Legends in South India". This project shall produce open-access digital editions with English translations of the corpus of pre-modern temple legends of the South Indian temple city of Kanchipuram. The editions will be interlinked with a dataset that documents oral, performative, and material versions of some of the narratives, for instance images of visual representations, video recordings of rituals, and recordings of oral retellings. The interlinking of the different types of data will serve as both a tool and a methodology, opening up new ways of preserving, accessing, and understanding tangible and intangible cultural heritage as it is transmitted and lived.

When philology meets anthropology

- In some context, the living tradition is extremely helpful to understand the textual tradition. I am also educated as an anthropologist, so this situation led me to integrate some material gained through anthropological research into my research regarding the texts. I find that it is a very interesting and fruitful approach to combine the study of texts with the study of people - of course only in settings where this makes sense. These settings are for example when people refer to the text as their authority and interact with the text in their daily lives. This style of doing Indian Studies has been labelled Ethno-Indology. This is a way of looking at cultural and religious settings that has been specially developed and practiced at Heidelberg University.

The need for interdisciplinary collaboration

Hüsken points out that combining different disciplines is becoming increasingly demanding since it requires knowledge and skills in several disciplines, which are difficult to master for a single individual.   

- That means that such an approach is also always dependent on interdisciplinary collaboration. 

Hüsken's goal is that the project she is now working on, which she presented at MF CASR's lunch, will enable interdisciplinary work also in other fields, within the digital environment her research group will develop.

- It is then not only in the brains of a number of people, but their knowledge will be systematically connected. This would allow individual researchers to see connections that might not have been visible before. 

Different representations of the temple myths

The database will include various versions of the temple myths in Sanskrit and Tamil, where Tamil is the local language in Kanchipuram, while the religious elite, the Brahmins, uses Sanskrit. Different religious traditions also have their versions of the myths, and these are depicted in different ways in the temples. The rituals of the various traditions will also vary, and all this will be collected and made available through the research project "Hindu Temple Legends in South India".

The role of women in conservative religious circles

Hüsken has also studied the roles of women in conservative religious circles, specifically within Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

She gave a lecture at MF CASR in November 2020 on the topic. 

A fruitful stay as Global Fellow

Ute Hüsken has spent the weeks at MF well, and she has appreciated being back in Norway.

- Since I was at IKOS for ten years, [Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages at UiO Ed.] so there are, of course, many colleagues and friends that I could revisit and also cook up new projects and common research ideas that we can pursue. 

- It's a really, very fruitful time. And as always, you know, it's always very good if you're away from your own academic setting, because then all this administrative stuff, that we all have to do, is gone for a while. That is a great relief. This gave me freedom and more room to think. I would recommend it, Ute Hüsken sums up with a smile. 

Read more about MF CASR's Global Fellows program. 

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