Heidelberg, Germany: Last Stop and Zone of Transition


Eight days have gone by since arriving in Germany, and not a word written or a report filed to recount events, people, lectures, concerts, meals, and adventures. I did spend time on several postings to round out my time in Greece but that was mostly to clear the decks for what would happen next.

When I say “Germany” I really mean one place only: Heidelberg. It is a lovely city beside the Neckar river whose university was founded in 1386, Germany’s first. The Roman Empire had established a small outpost here in 468 and defended it against frequent attacks by local tribes. Germans are persistent people, so eventually the empire had to close up shop and give the area back to its original inhabitants.

Heidelberg is home to one of the premier research universities in not only Germany but all of Europe, and is the academic home of my colleague, Inken Prohl, a professor of religious studies. Back in 2006 when I last came through at Inken’s invitation to show my documentary film on Yasukuni Shrine, the visit was just one stop among several during my winter break. That was when, over a tall glass of tasty German beer, Inken asked me to co-edit a volume on contemporary Japanese religions, a project for which she already had a contract. Well sure, what the heck, why not?


But that was the beer speaking. I had my own project on contemporary Buddhist temples in Japan and had recently returned from six-months of research followed by another half-year at the Centre for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of British Columbia in Victoria.  I really didn’t need a project editing other people’s contributions, which turned out to be some 21 chapters that ended up being a 561 page tome costing an outrageous $265. As the only native-speaker of English on the “team,” I had to jump-start the project a couple times, and finally pushed it to completion because we were approaching five years of compromised deadlines.

Back in October of 2013, I let Inken know I would be coming through Europe en route to the U.S. and offered to give a talk if time and circumstances permitted. Mostly, I wanted Heidelberg to serve as a zone of transition between the intensities of Greece and Turkey and the slower, even mundane pace/dimensions of life that awaited back in the Bay Area. She obliged by scheduling a talk even though the spring term had not started officially.

Another contact I had was a China historian, Ana Hosne, in a “cluster of excellence” promoting the study of “Asia and Europe in a Global Context.” The cluster concept brings together people from diverse academic backgrounds on particular topics, puts these (mostly-junior) scholars in dialogue with each other, and sponsors research and publications that is directed by a full-time faculty member at Heidelberg. Incredibly, the funding comes entirely from the German government and lasts for several years. There is a pressure to produce quality work in a short period of time if the funding is to be renewed for another cycle. Ana’s speciality is Chinese Jesuit history, which drew her to USF to use the archives at the Ricci Institute, and that’s where we met. She very kindly contacted people in the Japanese-studies group and so another lecture was scheduled: the only option being April 7, the day before my final departure back to California.

She also helped to arrange an apartment for me to stay in after two days in a hotel (the always reliable and quiet Regina close to Bismarkplatz) provided by Religious Studies. Just steps from the main theater and Hauptstrasse, the pedestrian-only shopping street (for tourists and locals), Pablo’s place was available because he and his wife and small child (who live in Paris where she works) were off to attend a conference and visit relatives in the U.S. Pablo is Ana’s colleague at the Cluster, and works on Chinese intellectual history.

Thus I was accommodated, and thus scheduled for two talks: one on “experimental religion” and the other on my book. Here’s the nicely done poster Ana prepared for the final talk:

image And so that is the beginning of and the context for my time in Heidelberg.


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