Current Projects

Legal Pluralism and the Accommodation of Religion in State Law

The project involves a comparative discussion of the enhancement of legal pluralism through the accommodation of religion in state law from an anthropology of law perspective. The project will result in the publication of a contribution to a book edited by Silvio Ferrari.

The Cultural Translation of Shaolin Chan-Buddhism and its Practices into "World Heritage" - Secularization or Re-Enchantment?

Since over a decade Abbot Shi Yongxin of the Songshan Shaolin Monastery in Dengfeng, Peoples Republic of China, has endeavored to get Shaolin gongfu, which is very much rooted in the Chan meditation tradition of the monastery, recognized as intangible world heritage by the UNESCO. Shi Yongxin averred in interviews that he has been driven to do so  by the increasing competition of private martial arts schools selling Shaolin-style gongfu to Chinese and international martial arts practitioners without authorization from the monastery. The recognition of Shaolin gongfu as "world heritage" would ensure some protection of the intellectual property right of the monastery and the continuation of the "pure" Shaolin tradition. In order to gain international support for his idea, the abbot has authorized the establishment of Shaolin branch temples and Shaolin Culture Centers all around the world, including Berlin and Vienna, where Chan-Buddhist meditation, Shaolin martial arts and Shaolin medicine are taught by delegate monks from the Songshan Shaolin monastery. Besides, Shi Yongxin has secured a number of trademarks in various categories, ranging from tea to T-shirts,  for his monastery in order to fend off the competition by private entrepreneurs both in China and abroad who have registered their own businesses under the name of "Shaolin". Shi Yongxin's economic zest has furthermore been stimulated by the fact that the Chinese government did not return the former landholdings of Buddhist monasteries and temples, when it again started to grant some degree of religious freedom after the Cultural Revolution, i.e., from 1979 onwards, thus forcing all religious institutions in the country to take care of their funding.

Shi Yongxin's efforts were graced with some success, when the Songshan Shaolin monastery was recognized as a world heritage monument in 2010, albeit as part of a larger complex encompassing both sacred and secular historical sites. Smaller copies of the Songshan Shaolin monastery have been planned in Australia and Berlin. Yet, these plans have met with local grassroots opposition that have forced the respective Shaolin leadership to adapt the promotion of their tradition to local conditions. 

The project investigates the increasing entanglement of religious and secular normativities occasioned by the commodification of important aspects of the Shaolin tradition and their translation into "world heritage".

On the Cultural Translation of International Legal Concepts, Norms, Procedures, and Institutional Frameworks: "Indigeneity" and "Indigenous Rights" in Bali

When legal concepts, norms, procedures, and institutional frameworks travel across legal systems and cultures, they need to be appropriated and translated into local worldviews, normativities, practices, and institutions in order to take effect on the ground. However, they invariably undergo significant transformations in the process. 

If we want to capture the intricacies of processes of translation with regard to traveling law, we therefore need to take into account both the different dimensions of law (i.e., the symbolic, performative, and organizational dimension of law) and the norm-generating institutions in other social fields than law, which can boost, obfuscate, or even counter the deontic power of the international legal norm, procedure, and/or institutional framework in question. That said, the fault-lines between different social fields, such as "law", "business", "religion", etc., are culturally contingent and often contested by different actors in different arenas.

This project substantiates all this, by zooming in on the cultural translation of "indigenous rights" into Indonesian and Balinese arenas and contacts.

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