General Outline of the Research Project


Fate, Freedom and Prognostication in East Asia and Europe

Prognostication and prediction are a pervasive anthropological phenomenon found in all cultures, but with different characteristics. It remains omnipresent in contemporary western societies, even though it may seem that the issue of collective and individual "fate" or "destiny" and the quest for strategies to cope with them is no longer a current topic in the Humanities in the West. Terms such as "trust" or "risk" have replaced traditional reflections on fate, and prediction – in the sense of "forecast" – is only accepted within the bounds of acknowledged "scientific" parameters. Western civilizations are interpreted as "societies of contingency" (Greven 2000) and the structures of contemporary worldviews are seen to operate along the lines of a "logic of uncertainty" (Gamm 1994), with forms of life determined by ambivalence. However, these diagnostic theories often tend to ignore the existence of entire civilizations that have dealt with the European Enlightenment in their own modern ways by preserving and modifying their views of individual and collective destiny. The common notion that describes East Asians as people responding in a more "equanimious" and "composed" way to the vicissitudes of life has not been thoroughly investigated in terms of their ideas of destiny and fate; it seems that in East Asia, methods of prognostication and prediction possess a more distinctive psycho-hygienic function than in Western societies.

The International Research Consortium "Fate, Freedom, and Prognostication in East Asia and Europe" presents an antidote to the Eurocentrism of Western Humanities: the participation of a large number of researchers from East Asia ensures the systematic confrontation with different cultures of knowledge; a topic that has emerged from within a specific area of study will be embedded in a transdisciplinary and comparative research network. In contrast to most of the current European research networks, Chinese Studies will act as the guiding discipline. The comparative approach encompassing related European phenomena is all the more imperative for locating the concept of freedom with its – possibly – different representations in East Asia (Kaelble 1999; Rothermund 2003). Rather than referring to European Antiquity, the comparison will focus on medieval and early modern periods. The inquiry into the history of the intersections of various cultures and religions (e.g. Southern Italy, Spain) will enable us to contour the developments that led to modernity in a more precise way.

The International Research Consortium will make a contribution to uncover the historical foundations of prognostication with their impact on our immediate present and our way of "coping with the future" (Maul 1994). This approach will enable us to find new answers to the question of whether different views on fate and strategies of coping with destiny in Chinese (or indeed East Asian) modernity constitute a characteristic difference to Western modernity.

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