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Journal NotaBene Issue 44 (2019) Editor: Antoaneta Nikolova; A special issue based on a workshop in the frame of a project under MSCA, EC, H 2020, Grant No 753561

Topic of the issue: East-West Dialogue: Cultural and Religious Aspects

East and West in Leipzig-A Preface to this Collection

On Friday, October 26, 2019, Prof. Antoaneta Nikolova convened a one-day workshop on "East-West Dialogue: Religious and Cultural Aspects" as part of her EU Horizon 2020 project "Perception of Eastern Religions in Europe," which she is currently conducting as a visiting scholar at Leipzig University's Institute of East Asian Studies. The papers in this special issue of NotaBene are based on the presentations given and discussions conducted in this fruitful setting.

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Premodern Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogues and the Formation of Comparative Concepts. How encounters between European missionaries and Japanese in the 16th and 17th centuries changed the conceptual world (Part I)


The 16th and 17th centuries witnessed a considerable intensification of cultural encounters, which necessitated cross-cultural comparisons and the formation of abstract categories for the sake of comparing heterogeneous phenomena. Although initially such comparisons and the concomitant establishment of categories that functioned as tertia comparationis, were rather unsystematic and implicit, they paved the way for modern science and scholarship, which was in its formative period, chiefly concerned with the classification of both natural and cultural objects, whereat 'religious' phenomena played a paramount role with regard to the latter. Moreover, as unsystematic as cross-cultural comparisons in the early modern period may have been, they obviously presupposed certain cultural universals and classified things on the basis of implicit (perhaps even unconscious) criteria.

Drawing on examples from Japanese and European sources of the 17th century, this paper attempts to reconstruct the respective emic criteria for comparing and classifying socio-cultural formations and related phenomena, which are nowadays habitually categorised as 'religion' or 'religious'. On a theoretical level, it engages the problem of the relationship between emic and etic categories that function as tertia comparationis. The paper further discusses the risks and rewards of a comparative history of comparisons within the study of religion, which may ideally help to overcome the implicit Eurocentrism that has haunted most genealogical approaches in our discipline so far. It aims at pointing a way out of the deadlock between cultural particularism and radical incommensurabilism on the one side and cultural universalism and undue generalisation on the other.

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The European "East" and "West" in a Religious Context: Are There Two Europes?

The paper examined the religious context of the „two Europes" (East - West) thesis as regards: a) comparative analysis of the processes and trends in contemporary religiousness; b) legal dimensions of the relations between State and Church ("onthological primacy" of the State) and the problems of the inter-religious dialog.
Comparative analysis of these tendencies indicate certain general similarities. Analyzed are the causes for both the differences and similarities in these processes, and special attention is devoted to the secularization as a continuing process in "both Europes".

Keywords: contemporary religiosity, two Europes, religious "revival", religion and state, secularization trend.

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"East" and "West": Contradiction or/and Complementarity

Abstract: In this paper, "East" and "West" with their characteristics, especially in the field of thought, are regarded as a pair of two interactive components that have particular relations among themselves. Both Eastern and Western thought have developed different modes interpreting possible relations between the components of such a pair. In my paper, I will present some of these modes: (i) the ideas of opposition as contrary and contradiction developed within the Western thought, (ii) the idea of complementarity developed in the Chinese thought, (iii) the idea of non-duality of Buddhism, (iv) the idea of the three-components interaction presented in the school of Samkhya, and (v) the idea of oneness presented in Indian thought. What consequences for understanding of the dialogue follow from these modes and could there be a real mutual understanding will be the opened questions that the paper will discuss.

Key words: East-West dialogue, opposition, harmony, non-duality, oneness

This research is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme through the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action, grant No 753561.

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"Theoretical anxiety": use and misuse of "Western" concepts and theories in studying the "East"

The current paper explores the uses and abuses of “Western” concepts in studying politics and communication in the “East”. Accepting the premise that the “East” is a construction that might have many possible referents, I analyse several cases of academic research on protests in Eastern Europe, the MENA region and in China and emphasize the problems of “mechanically” applying “Western” theories (again a complex notion I comment on) to these contexts without sensitivity to local history, culture and protest traditions.

The first case deals with my own difficulties in finding the right theories to analyze the Bulgarian 2013 protests and situate them in the wider anti-austerity mobilizations in Europe. The second case analyses in detail the phenomenon of “academic tourists sight-seeing the Arab Spring” discussed first in a highly influential article of Mona Abaza. Beyond commenting on the labour divide in international academic environment, I would like to analyse how techno-deterministic “Western” theories of “Internet and democratization” were not only applied to understand the Arab Spring but also to inspire and influence protesters. Yet, they failed to account for many of the crucial characteristics of these protests and accordingly for alarming future developments. Finally, I address research on protest and communication in contemporary China produced by “Western” authors and comment on the ways in which social movement and communication theories have been influenced by the empirics of European and American experiences and thus neglect Chinese trajectories of historical transformations.

All in all, I claim that the concepts we use in academic research are never “innocent” but are informed by particular historical experiences and debates that might make them unproductive (and occasionally misleading) for analysing other contexts. What is more, the persistent use of “Western” concepts to analyse the “East” as an empirical field reproduces epistemological inequalities - with nationals of some countries being the “subjects” of analysis and others the “objects”. But what would “Eastern” social and political theories look like, and isn’t there a considerable inequality between “Eastern” countries themselves? Thus, instead of renouncing “Western” knowledge, the paper urges for a greater attention to inequalities and for the “provincialization” of theory to include local histories and knowledge traditions that would enrich both “Eastern” and “Western” scholarship with novel approaches and insights.

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Oral Performance of Sanskrit Mantras in the West: A Pragmatic Approach (based on examining the situation in Bulgaria)


In the focus of the current paper is the transnational and transcultural presence of Vedic and Tantric mantras as well as of other sacred Sanskrit texts, whose oral performance has been gradually becoming a global phenomenon. They are widely practiced nowadays outside India and as a whole outside South Asia - their native and natural context, by people of different cultural background, of different intentions and motivations. My observations and conclusions have been made mainly by investigating the Bulgarian version of this phenomenon. Many Bulgarians seeking new religious paths especially after the beginning of the democratic changes in 1989 became adherents of several New Religious Movements, inspired by Hinduism or Buddhism. Significantly increased also the number of the yoga practitioners in the country.

The chanting of Sanskrit mantras and verses and the performance of sacred texts play a constant and important role in their religious and spiritual practice. The foreign practitioners generally don't know or know only incompletely Sanskrit - the original language of the mantras and of the other sacred texts. This means that semantically they aren't entirely accessible to them or to their audience, but still the practitioners or disciples prefer to utter the mantras in their original language and in this way to have and to demonstrate a direct access to the sacred texts.

I am very much challenged to try to interpret this linguistic situation in the perspective of pragmatics, in particular of the speech act theory, generally considered a theory of the language use, widely applied to fields as diverse as philosophy of language, literary criticism, religious studies, performance studies, narratology etc.

I argue that the oral performance of Sanskrit mantars and verses in this outlandish environment could be defined as a kind of "perlocutionary act", according to Austin's terminology, who asserts that "saying something will often, or even normally, produce certain consequential effects upon the feelings, thoughts, or actions of the audience, or of the speaker, or of other persons: and it may be done with the design, intention, or purpose of producing them" (1962: 101).

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The Cultural Transfer of Chinese Health Practices: Qi Gong in a Western Psychiatric Setting

Qi Gong, a Chinese way not only to improve ones health, has arrived in Western psychiatric clinics for a longer time. However, there is still a great lack of knowledge about the goals and methods of this practice among the medical staff as well as the patients. As a teacher of Qi Gong, you are confronted with difficulties arising from Western ignorance and/or prejudices as well as from the cultural implications in its transfer.
In my presentation I discuss some of these problems. Especially, I focus on the relevance and consequences of philosophical concepts underlying the practice of Qi Gong. For instance, there is the concept of Qi which has several levels of meaning, depending on the metaphysical, physiological or psychological context. In all these aspects Qi seems to be a sublime matter or an energetic foundation that constitutes the cosmos, regulates the body function etc. But Western medical science (Biomedicine) is not able to handle such an approach. So, how could a practice like Qi Gong be integrated in a Western medical setting? It seems there are three levels of the transfer of a cultural practice:
First: Transmission of cultural concepts depends on translation. Linguistic transmission is already a difficult task. Beyond this, you have to take the specific contexts and intentions of translation as well as historical and cultural contexts into account.
Second: Philosophical explication of cultural concepts often remains deficient in practical contexts. In Qi Gong Qi will experienced in movements. You will get the meaning of Qi, when you practice. In other words, you have to do
what anthropologists call „participant observation“ or better „participant experience“, as Elisabeth Hsu suggests.
Third: To transfer the meaning of such a culture specific notion you have to integrate this notion into a Western framework, that is, you have to find a language, which can mediate between both traditions.

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Contemporary Physics and Eastern Wisdom

This article presents some general conclusions, which can be drawn from the achievements of contemporary physics and correspond to the ancient Eastern wisdom.
The concepts of particle-wave duality and of the so called "wave function collapse" are considered. Their potential of creating our reality is especially underlined.

The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox, the idea of Holographic Universe, and the possible existence of a deeper "sub-quantum" field as a base and source of "everything that is" are discussed.
A conclusion is made that what we know (percept) as a solid, static, deterministic, and constant reality of isolated entities is, according to the contemporary physics, rather a fluid, dynamic, synchronistic and changeable reality of mutually interconnected processes which are constantly interacting and exchanging energy and information.
It is pointed out at the end that a parallel can be drawn between all these ideas and the ancient Eastern wisdom.

Key words: Eastern philosophy, physics, quantum mechanics, Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) paradox

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Alexander Telalim – LIGHT INSPIRATIONS

The artist Alexander TELALIM is a Bulgarian from the Ukrainian part of Bessarabia. He was born in 1966 in Vladichen. In 1995 he moved to live in Bulgaria, where he graduated "Fresco" at the National Academy of Arts. An artist with an extremely wide artistic range, one of the best Bulgarian watercolor artists, he has presented the art of Bulgaria and Ukraine to the world many times. In a wider context, his art is perceived as a bridge between the cultures of East and West. He created a unique synthesis of Eastern and Western calligraphy. He, however, does not follow strictly the formal Chinese or Japanese rules and feels the principles of Eastern calligraphy as something universal and understandable. The most important for him are not strict forms but lines that express freedom, strength, joy, and energy when "only the gestures remain in the figures - as expressive as the hieroglyph of feeling" (Radio Horizon). "Probably, this is Zen - says he - to find what unites us all, and to make it visible." A small part of the titles of his exhibitions includes: "SPIRITUAL MESSAGES" (Sofia), "TRADITIONS AND INSPIRATIONS FROM EAST" (Sofia), "MESSAGE FROM THE WEST" (Kagawa, Japan), "BRIDGES" ("Cristina de Vicente" gallery, Velva, Spain), "KALIGRAPHY INSPIRED BY HAIKU" (Sofia).

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Georg Chia Chen Wu was born in 1976 in born in Taipei, Taiwan. He graduated Mandarin Department of National Taiwan University and started a freelancer career of short stories writer for the Taiwanese textual media. His works, including poems, prose and short stories were published in China Times, Taiwanese New Born Paper, Taiwan Times, etc. He contributed to Taiwan New Literature, Li Poetry, Taiwanese Literature and Arts. As an amateur actor and playwright, he received an MA in Theatre in 2001 from National Taiwan University. He staged works like Uncle Vanya ( as a director ), Midsummer Night's Dream (as an actor ), American Dream ( as an actor ) and Hamletmachine ( as an actor ) and made research on the French Absurd Theatre genre in 1950s. In 2013 he got a PhD in Philosophy at Sofia University, Bulgaria with a thesis "A Philosophical Reading of Beckett Works". After returning from Balkan district, he worked at Xiamen University for International College bilingually ( Mandarin / English ) and then was invited as a guest lecturer by Istanbul Sehir University ( Uskudarl Istanbul, Turkey ). Now he is a part-time freelancer in Chinese language in Taipai. The following poem is translated in English by himself and is based on wordplay created on the fact that every sign in Chinese language is a meaningful word. Therefore, the Chinese original is given as well.

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