History of Religion; Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion, University of Gothenburg

Postal address: Box 200, SE 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden
Visiting address: Humanisten, Renströmsgatan 6, Göteborg
Web page: http://www.lir.gu.se/amnen/relvet-och-teologi/religionshistoria/

Åke SanderContact person: Professor Åke Sander, phone: +46(0) 31 786 1561

The study of South Asian religions was one of the focuses of interest at the Department of Religious Studies since its beginning in the early 1970s, with several of its staff and students doing field work in various parts of the continent. From the mid 1980s, however, the focus of our research shifted towards Islam, Muslims and the Muslim world. Beginning in the early part of the new millennium the tide has, however, turned again and South Asia and its religious traditions has increasingly been coming back in focus.

Go:India project

UGIn November 2010, University of Gothenburg launched a new project entited Go:India. new
It is one of a number of new international projects at University of Gothenburg. They are part of a long-term ambition to create a profile such as ‘The Global University’ at University of Gothenburg (GU). This notion is based on the university’s action plan for internationalisation 2008-2012. This plan focuses on the development of exchange, at all levels, with universities in other countries where special attention should also be given to developing a long-term and sustainable strategic collaboration with partners in for example South Asia. The cooperation efforts should be clearly linked to values of international solidarity and global responsibility, and must be of a different character than traditional student mobility. More information on The Global University.

Kickoff meeting
Key persons involved in the go:India project: Emma Corkhill representing the Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts, Clemens Cavallin, assistant project director, and Sigridur Beck, project coordinator, at the kickoff meeting in Gothenburg.

Go:India will be a three year project (2011 – 2013), intended to build a platform for co-operation within the areas of research, teaching and education between its Swedish partners, also involving researchers at the Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts (School of Photography, and the School of Design and Crafts); Sahlgrenska Academy (Global Health, Institute of Biomedicine); and the Faculty of Social Sciences (Dept. of Social Work), and their collaboration partner institutions in India.
These are Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in Varanasi; Sarai/Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in Delhi; Gandhian Institute of Studies in Varanasi; Jadavpur University in Kolkata; Punjabi University in Patiala; Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan; Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai; Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore; and Union Biblical Seminary in Pune.
More information on the Go:India project web site. new
On 7–9 June 2011 the Go:India project arranged its first joint event in Gothenburg, a Kick-off conference where representatives from all the partner institutions met to discuss and plan the details of the planned activities for the coming three years, including, among other things, joint conferences, writing of joint research projects, teacher and student exchange. Lars Eklund, Anna Lindberg and Julia Velkova represented SASNET at the three-day meeting.
See the programme for the meeting. new
See Lars Eklund’s photos from the first day. new

Collaboration with Lund university

On 11 February 2010, the Vice Chancellors at Lund University (LU) and the University of Gothenburg (GU) decided to give grants to a number of joint projects in order to strenghten the collaboration between the two universities. More information (only in Swedish).
One of the projects relates to the establishment of a strong national platform for the study of South Asian religions at LU and GU. An application for this project came from the Dept. of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion (LIR), University of Gothenburg (through Prof. Åke Sander, Dr. Daniel Andersson and Dr. Clemens Cavallin), and the Dept. of History and Anthropology of Religion (including Judaism and Indic Religions), Centre for Theology and Religious Studies (CTR) Lund University (through Prof. Olle Qvarnström and Dr. Kristina Myrvold).
The grant /SEK 150 000) has been used to develop cooperation in education, course work and research, and to formalise and make common their already existing exchange programmes with three North Indian universities, Punjabi University in Patiala, Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in Varanasi, and Jadavpur University in Kolkata.
During 2010, researchers and students at both universities held planning meetings to discuss the continued work. The ambition is to build on strong profile areas that have been developed at the respective universities. In Gothenburg, LIR is for example involved in a major interdisciplinary project on Myth and Narrative, whereas in Lund, research in Sikh and Punjabi studies has become strongly established, not the least through a Nordic collaboration project on Sikh Identity Formation. The important networking role of SASNET, based at Lund University, was also pointed out in the successful application.
Web page on the department’s India collaboration projects: http://www.lir.gu.se/english/cooperation/lir-in-india/ new

India courseFrom the spring semester 2011, Lund University and Gothenburg University jointly introduce a new and exciting 15 ECTS field course in Religious Studies.
The course is organized in cooperation between the Dept. of History and Anthropology of Religion (including Judaism and Indic Religions) at Lund University, and the Dept. of Literature, History of Ideas and Religion at Gothenburg University. The course is divided into two parts: firstly the students explore different methods and theories of conducting fieldwork in Religious studies and prepare minor research projects. Secondly the students carry out their projects in the field and write research reports. The field work can be conducted anywhere, but the two departments at Lund University and Gothenburg University provide supervision for those who travel to India. Students can attend the course at either of the two universities.
The course has been launched during the spring 2011.
More information in the course folder (only in Swedish) new

Research related to South Asia:

• Associate Professor Clemens Cavallin defended his doctoral dissertation at the department titled The Efficacy of Sacrifice — Correspondences in the Rigvedic Brahmanas on 31 May 2002. Faculty opponent was Erik Reenberg Sand, Copenhagen University. Read the abstract (as a pdf-file). The thesis focuses upon the conceptualisations of ritual efficacy in the Aitareya Brahmana, and the basic work of the thesis is made up by the inventory of all correspondences in Aitareya Brahmana pancika 1–5, and a subsequent comparison with Kausitaki Brahmana. The correspondences were non-obvious relations between different entities, mostly between ritual objects and gods, parts of the cosmos or the human body, and they were believed to be the efficacious links, which enabled the sacrificial acts to bring about effects outside the ritual enclosure.
After the dissertation, Clemens Cavallin pursued post-doc studies at the Department of the History of Religions, at the Institute of Classics, Russian and the History of Religions (IKRR), University of Bergen, Norway. From 2007 he is however back in Göteborg.
His primary research interests are within the field of Vedic and ritual studies. He is planning for a research project called ”Breaths of the Sacrificer”, related to his dissertation project.

Ferdinando Sardella• Dr. Ferdinando Sardella defended his doctoral dissertation entitled ”Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. The Context and Significance of a Modern Hindu Personalist” on Saturday 6 February 2010 (photo to the right).
The faculty opponent was Julius Lipner, Professor in Hinduism och Comparative Religion at the Divinity Faculty, University of Cambridge, UK. The thesis is based on field work in West Bengal, India, where he spent a total of one year during the period 2004–08.
Abstract: This study explores the life and work of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati (1874-1937), a Vaishnava guru of the school of Chaitanya (1486-1534), who, at a time that Hindu non-dualism was most prominent, manag ed to establish a pan-Indian movement for the modern revival of traditional personalist bhakti that today encompasses both Indian and non-Indian populations throughout the world.
Dissertation To most historians, the period between 1815 and 1914 is known as Britain’s Imperial Century, when the power of British cultural influence was at its height, most especially in Calcutta, India, the jewel of the British crown. Here the profound admixture of Western and Indic social structures, values and ideas gave rise to a new indigenous middle-class known as the bhadraloka: the class responsible for what has come to be known as the Bengali Renaissance, and for producing such transformative figures as Rammohun Roy and Swami Vivekananda, both of whom believed non-dualism to be the fundamental ex-pression of Indic thought. As a result of their efforts (especially those of Vivekananda), modern Hinduism gradually came to be identified with Vedantic non-dualism (advaita) in both India and the West – an outcome that has historically obscured personalist bhakti strands.
To redress this imbalance, the thesis explores Bhaktisiddhanta’s background, motivation and thought, especially as it relates to his forging of a modern traditionalist institution for the successful revival of Chaitanya Vaishnava bhakti. That institution, originally known as the Gaudiya Math, has a number of contemporary global offshoots, the best known of which is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The missing piece has been the scholarly study of the little known individual whose vision and thought provided the original impetus for these more recent movements, and who during his lifetime established centres in both London and Berlin. Bhaktisiddhanta pursued a modern traditionalist approach within the context of the multiple trajectories of Hinduism. While remaining faithful to a traditional reading of religious texts, he was nonetheless able to adjust core principles so as to make them fitting for modern times. The results of this study carry implications for the understanding of modern Hinduism and its development from pre-colonial to post-modern forms, which occurred during a time of global modernisation.
On Wednesday 16 June 2010, Dr. Sardella was given the 2010 Donner Institute Award for Eminent Research in Religious and Cultural History. The Donner Institute is a private research institute under the auspices of the Foundation for Åbo Akademi University in Finland, and the award is given for Dr. Sardella’s doctoral thesis. The award ceremony took place in Åbo (Turku) during an international conference entitled ”Religion and the Body”, organised by the Donner Institute (more information).

Dr. Sardella is also affiliated to the Department of Sociology at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, under the supervision of Professor Ruby Sain. (The contact with Jadavpur University was mediated through the services of Lars Eklund and Staffan Lindberg of SASNET during their academic tour of South Asia in December 2005. Read their report from meetings at Jadavpur University).
He has also spent four months in spring 2008 at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies through a scholarship by the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education.

From the Fall 2010, Dr. Sardella is working as a post-doc at History of Religions, Faculty of Theology; Uppsala University, where he is working on a project entitled ”Hinduism and Globalisation: A Return Journey”. More information. new

Jadavpur conference 2009
IFSSR board, members och students, at the Jadavpur seminar, June 2009.

A few years ago, Åke Sander and Ferdinando Sardella have launched with other European partners at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, the IFSSR (the International Forum for the Study of Society and Religion).new
The IFSSR has been formed to facilitate three immediate goals. The first is to investigate the social and political role of religion in the historical and contemporary context and in the interaction between India and Europe. The second is educational and aims at establishing the foundation for the first academic centre for the sociology of religion in India at Jadavpur University. The third is to develop and interdisciplinary network for exploring viable tools for addressing issues of religious tension and conflict as well as positive cooperation and interreligious understanding. The IFSSR is expected to facilitate Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Jadavpur University, Kolkata, the Faculty of Arts at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, and the consolidation of a proposed interdisciplinary and international forum for the study of religion. As the first step of a process intended to formalize the IFSSR, leading to further close cooperation in terms of possibly signing of MoUs between the involved partners’ institutions (Jadavpur University, Kolkata, Oxford Center for Hindu Studies, Faculty of Arts at University of Gothenburg, University of Århus, Denmark), a seminar was held at Jadavpur University in June 2009.
The aim with the seminar was to initiate inter-disciplinary meetings and cooperation both locally in India and internationally for fruitful and creative discussion between sociologists, philosophers, political scientists and educationalists from different departments in India as well as in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the UK.

Jadavpur seminar
Seminar participants: Ferdinando Sardella, University of Gothenburg, Gavin Flodd, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, and Ruby Sain, Jadavpur University.

The seminar had the title “Interface between East and West, Multiculturalism and Identity: What Can Sociology and Religious Studies Contribute to the Making of a Better Society?”. It took place at Jadavpur University in Kolkata on 10–12 June 2009. It was a three days conference with ample time to develop the educational objectives and to consolidate the forum. Read the conference programme, plus a report from the conference (as a pdf-file). new


Religion has for at least 200 years since the time of Rommohan Roy and the Brahmo Samaj, played important roles in the development of Indian society, both on the social (macro) and individual (micro) levels. These roles can be said to have been both positive and negative. Examples of the negative ones are communal riots during the independence struggle and partition, up to late conflicts between Hindus and Sikhs in the Punjub, and Hindu and Muslim clashes in relation to the Ayodhya episode. These includes also the strengthening of radical Hindu nationalist movements. Positive ones have emerged from the attempts to overcome cultural and social disparity and tensions among religious groups by universalists like Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, and Tagore, by the broad religious views of Gandhi, and early Hindu-Muslim syncretists like the poet Kabir. Christian missions and reformers during the Hindu Renaissance in the 19th century and early 20th century contributed to social reform, mass education and better treatment of women. The overall importance of religion is no less important today, as for example in West Bengal’s relation with Bangladesh.

On the global level—which of course also affects the development in India—religion as a political as well as religious factor has received increased attention in media as well as in the academic world after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1998, for example with Huntington’s publication of the Clash of Civilizations theory, the terror attacks in 9/11, the global war on terrorism, and bomb attacks in Bali, Madrid, and London, as well as the crises after the publication of the caricatures of Mohammed in Denmark.

One of the aims of the forum is to try to work out theoretical as well as practical tools to prevent a negative escalation of these tendencies, and hopefully turn the situation in a positive direction. The forum is now organizing its first seminar at Jadavpur University in Kolkata. Kolkata is a very suitable location for this event considering its intellectual and political history of universalist thinking during the 19th and 20th century in the field of religion, as exemplified by the Ramakrishna Mission and Math. Kolkata as the earlier capital of the British Raj in India, has for centuries provided a forum where ideas from Europe and the West have interacted and fructified creating not only a flow from the colonial centre of London to India but also a counter-flow from India to Europe in terms of for example diaspora Hindus and Muslims. Hindu ideas have influenced European society since the 18th century and institutions like the Ramakrishna Mission and later movements like ISKCON, both with roots in Kolkata, have established centres of South Asian religious practice and diffusion in European society.


Regarding the education goal, the IFSSR aims at consolidating an already started cooperation with the aim of establishing a centre for the study of the sociology of religion and religious studies in the broad sense at Jadavpur University (JU), Kolkata. This would be the first center for the study of the sociology of religion of its kind in India and is planned to be based on a study of living traditions and their ideas. The seed to this project has been sown by the academic staff of JU during visits of persons behind this application to Sweden and by academic staff from the University of Gothenburg visiting JU during the course of the last three years, facilitated by SASNET. These contacts have resulted in a constitution of a preliminary forum structure consisting of a president, Prof. Jens Holger Schjoerring, two vice-presidents, Prof. Asoke Bhattacharya and Prof. Åke Sander, a secretary, Dr. Ruby Sain, a treasurer, Prof. Piyali Palit, and members, Dr. Michael Dusche and Dr. Anandita Balslev, Ph.D. student Ferdinando Sardella.

Key specific objectives:

1. Study various religious traditions with the intention to find out how they can foster universal values, coexistence and cooperation.
2. Study living religions in their natural environment
3. Study the life-worlds of different religious communities and their mutual interactions.
4. Study the relations between folk religion and culture
5. Study human beings as social, religious and historical actors and their historical development in relation to societal changes.

Hockersmith• Dr. Eva Rosén-Hockersmith (photo to the right) defended her doctoral dissertation on Buddhism in Bangladesh, at the Dept. of History of Religion, Uppsala University in 1985. The thesis was titled ”Buddhismen i Bangladesh: en studie av en minoritetsreligion” and was published as a book in the publicatuion series Studies in History of Religions at the Faculty of Arts, Uppsala University, No. 3.
Later she has worked on a project on Divination – sacred order, problem solving, and Gender, a joint project with Prof Britt-Mari Näsström and PhD Gerd Pettersson at the same department. Näsström and Pettersson have however now turned into other fields of research. The project was comparative and with special regard to gender issues, various forms of divinations in Ancient Greek, Old Norse, Early/Medieval Celtic, and South Asian traditions. Within the area of South Asian divination-traditions, Rosén-Hockersmith has focused on divinatory practices in contemporary urban West Bengal (for example astrological divinations, divinations by devotion and possession, and the readings of signs or omens).
Eva Rosén-Hockersmith presented her ongoing research in a paper at the 17th European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies, held in Heidelberg in 2002. The paper was titled ”They cut your luck: on astrology and the construction of gender in urban North India”. The study was based on data collected through fieldwork in Kolkata during 2000-2001 and comprised exegetical material, interviews with astrologers and their clients, observations of advisory sessions and of the remedial measures, sometimes involving ritual worship of planetary gods, taken as a consequence thereof. It focused on the sexual policies of Indian astrology – its representations of gender, its role in the (re)production of gender patterns and gendered valuesystems, its significance for gender-identities and gender relations – as it is practiced and 'lived' in the context of contemporary urban North India.
Recently Rosén-Hockersmith has written a chapter on the history, ritual life, and development of diaspora Hinduism in Sweden in an a recent publication called ”Det mångreligiösa Sverige – ett landskap i förändring” (Multi-religious Sweden, a Changing Landscape), Lund: Studentlitteratur (2005).

In the Fall 2007, Eva Rosén-Hockersmith taught a 15 credits course titled ”Tales of Objects: between traditions and modernities in India and China”, organised by Museion at Göteborg University. The course aimed at providing tools for understanding visual culture and its role. The work material consisted of objects from the collections of the Museum of World Culture, combined with modern ethnographic material, through which aspects of ancient and contemporary Indian and Chinese culture and society were studied. The course was led in collaboration with the Sinologist Marie Carlsson.
It was again held in the Fall 2008, but now renamed ”China and India: Visualisations of Nations” (Kina och Indien: visualiseringar av nationer).

• Professor Dick A R Haglund has been working on a project called The Problem of Theodicy in Current South Indian Hinduism. This is a project funded by the Swedish Research Council. It is an effort to make an analysis of the phenomenon from a perspective of ethno-methodology, conceptual analysis, and religio-philosophy. The project is performed in collaboration with researchers at the Dept of Theology, Lund University, and at Chennai, India. Haglund is mostly engaged in issues related to Theory of Science and Research, and Methodology.
Dick Haglund is also doing research on the Language of Religion, and the Nature of Religious Knowledge. Besides he has written articles on Philosophy of Religion, Non-Western Philosophy, and Metaphysics, for the Swedish Encyclopedia.

• PhD candidate Fredrik Sjösten Björn, with a main research field in Ancient Egyptian religion, during a three years stay in Bhutan (ending in August 2002) worked on a project called Field studies in the religious life of ordinary Bhutanese in a time of transition. While in Bhutan he conducted a large variety of field studies at different places in the country and visited a number of important holy sites in Bhutan, and he also studied a number of public religious festivals such as the Thimphu and Paro Tsechu, and religious private family events such as weddings, and the impact which the modern world, especially from IT in the form of TV and Internet, has had in recent years. These new inputs are changing the religious life of ordinary Bhutanese (especially in the urban areas) in a drastic way and this process has also been a subject for field studies.

Study tours to India, and book project

India on my mindSince 2007, the department organises field study trips to India, particularly to the Varanasi area due to an agreement of cooperation with the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and good contacts with members of its staff. The India tours have been planned for by Åke Sander and Assistant Professor Daniel Andersson.
Students on C- and D-level are invited to participate in the tours, and each student has been required to do a project work on Varanasi and/or Indian religions, a work that was equivalent to a 5 credits course in their studies. More information (as a pdf-file) .
A concrete result of the field study tours to India is the edited volume India on my mind published in 2010. The book is based on experiences gained during the first such field study trip, which took place from December 2007 to January 2008. It contains articles by six of the participating students and three of the accompanying teachers. For many of the students this was their first encounter with India. For some of them it was, despite their academic preparations, initially a chaotic, bewildering, and frustrating experience. To give the experience that the “real India”, with its lived, crowded, smelly and noisy religious traditions is something different from India and Indian religions in most academic textbooks is part of or reason to organize these field trips. With the help of lecturers, guided, visits at weddings, cremation ghats, dinners and pujas as well as through the students’ own interviews and structured observations they were, as their texts indicate, able to turn the initial chaos into some sort of understandable cosmos, into some sort of understanding of at least one aspect of the “real India”.
The chapters give a variety of accounts of, on the one hand, the students’ impressions of being and traveling in India, ranging from skepticism to love, and, on the other, the results of their work and studies, including chapters on the river Ganga, Jains and Jainism, Christianity in India, and the situation of Indian women. The five chapters by staff members also include personal experiences of India as well as more structured discussions of India and Hindu traditions.
The primary purpose of this book, richly illustrated by our own photos from the trip, is not to be a textbook on India and Indian religious traditions, but to inspire teachers and students to chose to study India and its cultures and religious traditions “in person” on location, as well as to try to show some of all that can be learned, on a personal as well as academic level, from taking part in such field studies. 
The book, which is in Swedish, can either be bought from the department, or be loaded down as Open Access at: http://gupea.ub.gu.se/handle/2077/22149

Indian Guest lecturers at the department

Rana P B SinghUnder the process of a bilateral exchange programme, Prof. Rana P.B. Singh (photo to the right), a cultural geographer at Banaras Hindu University, India, a long friend and associate of SASNET, and an associate of Indo-Swedish Programme of Karlstad University, was a visiting faculty at the Dept. of Religious Studies and Theology in Göteborg during the period 13–31 October 2008. He gave five lectures at Göteborg University, and also gave invited lectures at the universities of Karlstad, Dalarna, Lund and Copenhagen. The topics covered include Sacred Geography of Hindus' City Banaras, Gandhi on Development and Religious Ethics, System and Tradition in Indian Village, Hindu Goddess and Sacredscape, Hinduism as a way of Life, Muslim Landscape of Hindus' Holy city of Banaras, and Planning the Heritage City of India, Banaras.

In August 2008, SASNET awarded two guest lecture programme grants to the Dept. of Religious Studies and Theology in Göteborg. – Ferdinando Sardella was given SEK 20 000 in order to invite Dr. Ruby Sain from the Dept. of Sociology, Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India. She has been co-invited by Vårdal Institute at Lund University, to give lectures there as well. Dr. Sain will spend September 2009 touring Sweden.
– Daniel Andersson and Åke Sander was given SEK 20 000 in order to invite Dr. Dipak Malik from the Gandhian Institute of Studies, Jamui Campus, Bihar, India. He was co-invited by Religious Studies, Högskolan Dalarna; and the Dept. of Sociology, Lund University, to give lectures at these places as well. Prof. Malik came to Sweden in May 2009.
More information about the SASNET planning grants 2008.

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SASNET - Swedish South Asian Studies Network/Lund University
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Phone: +46 46 222 73 40
Webmaster: Lars Eklund
Last updated 2011-06-10