Exploring the future
BMBF grants almost 10 million euros in funding for International Consortium for Research in the Humanities
What does the future hold? This question has preoccupied people all over the world throughout history. People in Europe and Asia have developed various techniques over the centuries in their search for answers. The International Consortium for Research in the Humanities ‘Fate, Freedom and Prognostication. Strategies for Coping with the Future in East Asia and Europe’ (IKGF) at FAU carries out research on the significance of these techniques for making individual and collective predictions – and is the only research centre in the world that focuses on this topic. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has now approved a second round of funding for IKGF amounting to 9.6 million euros.
Nowadays, the commonly held belief in the Western world is that it is not possible to predict the future. Forecasts based on observed trends are all that are considered. In East Asia, on the other hand, prediction plays a key role in the lives of the general population: it contributes to each individual’s psychological well-being. The international group of researchers at IKGF conduct research into different prediction techniques and how people have dealt with the concept of the future in different centuries. Their research projects focus on topics such as the Chinese rishu, known as daybooks in English. These books – which used to be made of up to 500 strips of bamboo joined together – are used in China to determine, for example, the best date for a wedding.
One recently completed project looked at oracle bones. These animal bones contain the earliest known examples of Chinese writing and were used in divination. A comprehensive database has been created as part of the research being carried out in Erlangen, making findings available for researchers across the world. Furthermore, the project produced a textbook that provides an introduction to literature on oracle bones. However, the Erlangen-based researchers are not only interested in Asia. Another project is looking at fate, freedom and manticism – the art of divination and prophecy. It has resulted in a publication in which philosophers, historians and philologists examine various practices in manticism in the Middle Ages.
New research area established
IKGF is one of ten Käte Hamburger research consortia in Germany funded by the BMBF as part of an initiative to strengthen research in the humanities and international networking in this area. Having received 11 million euros in funding for the first stage of the project and now been granted almost 10 million euros for the second stage, it is the largest third party funded project at the Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Theology.
This investment is clearly paying off, as IKGF’s research is receiving a great deal of attention in the academic world. With numerous publications and conferences, the Erlangen-based researchers have established fate and prognostication as a recognised field of research, attracting interest from previously unrelated subjects. In doing so it has proven that it is by no means a niche subject. The level of interest in the field is also reflected in the growing demand for fellowships from researchers at other universities – including the Ivy League universities of Princeton, Harvard and Berkeley. These fellowships allow up to ten researchers at a time to come to FAU for a maximum of a year to work on the topics being investigated by the Consortium.
IKGF’s success lies in the interdisciplinary nature of the Consortium, which includes researchers specialising in Chinese studies, history, philology, religious studies, philosophy, ethnology, political science, sociology and other subjects. In addition to the internal interdisciplinary collaboration, IKGF has established a large international network and collaborates with Shandong University in China and the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York.
During the second funding period the Erlangen-based researchers want to expand the range of subjects and regions covered in their research. In the future, in addition to China and medieval Europe, they intend to focus more closely on prediction techniques used in Tibet and India, having already held the world’s first workshop on divination in Tibet and Mongolia in Erlangen in December 2014. However, the main element of the research at IKGF during the second period of funding will be dedicated to developing two new handbooks on ‘Prognostication and Prediction in East Asian Society’ and ‘Prognostics in Premodern Western Societies’. An exhibition on prognostication in East Asia and Europe is also planned for 2017.
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