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‘Groningen has a most exciting academic life’

The experiences of first Gerardus van der Leeuw Fellow Frank Heidemann
26 September 2014

For the past six weeks, Prof. Frank Heidemann has been in Groningen as a Fellow based at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. During this period he taught several classes, including a masterclass, and gave a lecture on the anthropological approach to ‘atmosphere’. Did he enjoy his time in Groningen and how did the Gerardus van der Leeuw Fellowship contribute to his research?

Religious atmosphere

‘I have been working on social aesthetics in the last years, but recently, my interest has shifted to the study of atmosphere. Religious atmosphere is a central aspect in the practice of religion, and I was glad to have a chance to develop my ideas here as a Fellow among my colleagues at this faculty,’ Heidemann explains. ‘One of the challenging aspects of atmosphere is its unsolved ontological status. We plan and create atmosphere and it has an impact on us. It is considered to be a thing, but it has no material form. Moreover, it often remains unclear where the atmosphere comes from, where it is located, but we can sense it. The ontological status of atmosphere is like a chameleon; it modifies its appearance according to context.’


‘In my lectures and in my masterclasses I use my concept of atmosphere to discuss the practice of religion in South India, where I did fieldwork for a long period of time.’ Heidemann's first visit to India did not seek to explore anthropological questions, but his travels brought him to this field of study: ‘I came to anthropology because I had travelled and worked in a development project in Sri Lanka and in India. My stay in South Asia raised questions and I tried to find answers through the study of anthropology. Later I realized that I had been asking the wrong questions, and while studying I learned to pose better questions. Seeking answers proved to be an open-ended process.’


Heidemann was invited over to Groningen for a lecture in 2008, and discoverd that he and his colleagues at the Faculty shared common academic backgrounds and interests. In Munich he met Peter Berger, who was visiting for a conference and lectures. They have been working together for several years now. Both have a strong interest in the religions of India and they co-edited the volume T he Modern Anthropology of India. Professor Heidemann is looking forward to further cooperation with his colleagues from Groningen: ‘In the last weeks I have had many intense conversations with my colleagues about our current projects and the prospects of our disciplines. I can say without hesitation that the academic life in Groningen is very exciting and the projects I heard about are ground-breaking. Many new possibilities for further inter-connected research have become apparent. While I was here, my colleague Peter Berger received an invitation to the Centre for Advanced Studies in Munich, where we can continue our research.’



‘Atmosphere expert’ Heidemann is very enthusiastic about the atmosphere in Groningen: ‘I really enjoyed my stay in Groningen, both academically and personally. I experienced a warm welcome and was introduced to a most enriching academic environment housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in have ever worked in. The university is part of a city and not tucked away on a campus, and you can feel the liveliness of the city in the floors and seminar rooms. And the students in Groningen are amazing; they are eager to learn, well prepared, and really critical in their questions. I hope that we can establish a lively Erasmus Exchange between Groningen and Munich.’

Prof.dr. Frank Heidemann

Frank Heidemann is Professor of Anthropology at the Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Germany. He is a well-known scholar in the fields of Visual Anthropology, Social Aesthetics, Anthropology of the Senses, Postcolonial Studies, Political Anthropology, as well as Anthropological Theory. He worked in Groningen as an Associate Fellow of Religion, Culture and Society of Indian 'Tribal' (Adivasi) Communities and Associate Fellow of History and Theory of the Anthropology of India.

Gerardus van der Leeuw Fellowship

The Faculty introduced the Gerardus van der Leeuw Fellowship in order to be able to invite renowned foreign researchers in the field of Religion and Culture to come to Groningen for a period of at least six weeks. In this period, Fellows actively contribute to the Faculty's teaching and research, for example by giving lectures and Masterclasses to students. The Fellowship was named after the most internationally renowned religious studies expert the Netherlands has ever had, Gerardus van der Leeuw (1890-1950). Van der Leeuw was Professor of History of Religions at the University of Groningen (1918-1946) and Minister of Education, Arts and Sciences in the first Dutch cabinet after the Second World War.

Last modified:01 October 2014 09.21 a.m.
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