Dr Elena Mucciarelli has been appointed Gonda Lecturer and will be teaching Hinduism in the Sanskrit Tradition as an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen from 1 September 2020. ‘As Gonda Lecturer, I am honoured to continue to develop the long tradition of Indian Studies at the University of Groningen,’ she comments.
Elena Mucciarelli graduated with a cum laude distinction in Classical Literature from the University of Milan in 2007. In 2011, she obtained a double PhD degree in Indological and Tibetan Studies from the University of Turin and in Cultural Studies from the University of Tübingen, with her thesis on the change in language and semantics following the development of the Vedic ritual. As from 2010, she has been engaged in research for the universities of Milan, Cagliari, Tübingen and Jerusalem and the ERC NEEM (New Ecology of Expressive Modes in Early-Modern South India) project. Mucciarelli is delighted to start working at the University of Groningen: ‘Groningen was always well known to me for its long history of Indian Studies – one of the most significant figures being Hans T. Bakker, Jan Gonda Professor of Indology. The Department of the Comparative Study of Religion and the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies struck me for their multidisciplinary and teamwork-oriented characters. Finally, I decided to move to Groningen because it constitutes the perfect environment in which I know I can grow further and contribute to academic life and to its outreach by bringing the experience that I gathered while working at the University of Tübingen, and as a Martin Buber Fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.’
Dr Mucciarelli’s appointment as Gonda Lecturer is funded by the J. Gonda Fund Foundation, which supports the scholarly study of Sanskrit, other classical Indian languages and literatures and Indian cultural history. Since 1992, the foundation has funded projects, fellowships and scholarly publications and re-issues of existing works. Mucciarelli sees this position ‘as a challenge – to make India more visible by devising new academic platforms for the study of South Asian civilization, and to promote the interdisciplinary approach of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies by organizing workshops, conferences and seminars in collaboration with my new colleagues, as well as to enhance its international academic network.’
Mucciarelli tells us that the main focus of her teaching will be on South Asia, its unique history of religious coexistence, its ocean of narratives, discourses and multiple identities, and the globally incomparable cultural heritage of Sanskrit. In collaboration with her colleagues from the Department of Comparative Religion, she will offer students the possibility to engage with the complexity of South Asian religious cultures both at the theoretical and empirical level. ‘I am convinced that the best teaching stems from offering course units that are tightly interwoven with ongoing research. For this reason, I am very enthusiastic about giving course units on fieldwork analysis using my own research. In my work, I always integrate the textual analysis of historical cultural traditions and the ethnographic study of contemporary religious practices, such as possession worship, as well as the temple theatre traditions of South India,’ she says.
Although Mucciarelli arrived in Groningen very recently, she has already had the chance to obtain some impressions of her new living and working environment: ‘I walked out of the beautiful old building – where the main hall was resonating with the voices of students and academic staff preparing for the beginning of the academic year – and the city offered a charming amalgamation of different cultures. I saw a youngster dragging a sofa across the bridge, ready to enjoy the sunny weather, and found an amazing “antiquities” bookstore where I have already bought a study on temples in central India – a rare find!’ This amalgamation of different cultures is exactly what Dr Mucciarelli also finds so interesting in her research field: ‘The South Asian heritage is indeed inhabited by a complex network of Hindus of different sects, Christians of dozens of different denominations, Jews from early waves of migration and, due to the long tradition of contacts with the Arabic peninsula, numerous Muslim communities. This social matrix offers, in my opinion, a unique and relevant perspective on the conceptualization of some of the large world faiths from a profoundly non-canonical viewpoint.’
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