Press Releases

Press Release, 11/16/2017

Violence in history, cultural preservation in Nepal and Iran before and after the revolution

Gerda Henkel Foundation supports 45 new projects and provides funding of 3.4 million euros

The Gerda Henkel Foundation is adding 45 research projects to its funding programme worldwide. The projects range from studies on the history of violence to the restoration of historically significant palaces in Mustang, Nepal. Eleven academic projects will be supported in the framework of the special programme “Islam, the Modern Nation State and Transnational Movements”, including three projects on the history of Iran. At its autumn meeting the Foundation’s committees granted funds amounting to a total of 3.4 million euros. 

Project example I: Violence in history
In 2013 and 2014 Dr. Nicolaus Seefeld (Bonn) discovered the mass grave of Uxul with the remains of 27 individuals in the Mexican state of Campeche. The find from the time of the Maya culture during the Classic period (250-900 CE) garnered great interest among researchers and the public. The way the bodies were laid out and the traces of physical violence combine to suggest that these people were victims of ritual violence. Nicolaus Seefeld is to use a Gerda Henkel Foundation research grant to compare the knowledge of the grave of Uxul with that of other mass graves. In this way, he wishes to systematize the function of ritual violence in Mayan society in the Classic period. 

Historian and university lecturer Dr. Gregor Rohmann (Göttingen) focusses on maritime violence in northern Europe in the late Middle Ages. The “Vitalienbrüder” crop up in sources between 1389 and 1466. Traditionally researchers have considered them buccaneers who initially fought from 1390/91 for the dukes of Mecklenburg in the war against Denmark. They subsequently became “pirates”, with some of them becoming adversaries of a number of Hanseatic cities. Gregor Rohmann questions this portrayal. If we take a closer look at the contemporary perception of violence, he claims, a different notion of the Vitalienbrüder emerges. 

Project example II: Cultural heritage in Mustang
Lo Manthang, the capital of the former kingdom of Mustang in present-day Nepal, has been on the tentative UNESCO World Heritage List since 2008. In terms of cultural history, the palaces of the kings of Mustang in the region constitute an important architectural group and are impressive examples of 15th-century architecture. Not least owing to the earthquake in 2015, several of the region’s palace complexes are severely damaged. A research project headed by Prof. Ulrike Wulf-Rheidt (German Archaeological Institute Berlin) and Dr. Susanne von der Heide (HimalAsia Foundation Kathmandu, Nepal) aims to document and repair three especially threatened palaces, namely those in Gemi, Dhagmar and Thingkar. The Gerda Henkel Foundation is supporting the project in the context of its funding initiative “Patrimonies”, in which it seeks to make a contribution to preserving cultural heritage above all in crisis regions. Following the 2015 earthquake, the Foundation announced a Nepal initiative together with the German Federal Foreign Office. Since then, in addition to humanitarian aid for the population, measures have been implemented to reconstruct significant buildings. 

Project example III: Iran before and after the Revolution
State Islam in pre-revolutionary Iran is the focus of a research project headed by Iran scholar Dr. Bianca Devos (Marburg). The project centres on the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah (1941-1979). His Western and anti-religious stance characterize the idea of Iran during those years to the present day, not least against the backdrop of the Revolution of 1979. Yet is this picture correct? The project sets out to provide an in-depth study of the Shah’s religious policy and to this end also analyse previously unpublished archive material. 

Dr. Simon Wolfgang Fuchs (Freiburg) focusses on the period after the 1979 Revolution. He addresses the question of how the Revolution was discussed in the Muslim world in the weeks, months and years following the events. For whereas they are well researched for Iran itself, the perspectives of Shi'i actors, Sunni thinkers and politicians in the Middle East and South Asia as well as leftist groups have received little attention to date. The project takes this as its starting point, with the goal of drawing important conclusions as to why the Revolution remained geographically restricted to Iran. 

Dr. Sahar Aurore Saeidnia (Paris) covers a period of time spanning over 100 years. Her research is based on the observation that beneficence is becoming increasingly widespread on a global scale, independently of democratic or authoritarian, religious or secular contexts. In the framework of her research, the sociologist is to consider beneficence in Iran between 1906 and 2016. Her particular focus is on the question of how, in this context, religion and politics are entangled in daily life. The study compares the political centre of Tehran with the holy (provincial) city of Qom. 

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