Focus Area 2: Intangible Heritage/ Religion/ Identity/ Diversity

Research in this focus area will center on the formation and development of intangible heritage. The concept of intangible heritage in this regard will include not only intangible cultural expressions and practices, but also the knowledge and “memory” that is handed down from generation to generation (cultural memory). The goal is to expand on the conventional scientific constructs of heritage and identity in the context of the UNESCO Conventions, and to initiate new research for the identification and safeguarding of intangible heritage, as defined by the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This is a new research field, in which the International Graduate School will do pioneering work.

Studies in this thematic area could for instance examine traditional religious and ceremonial activities or musical expressions and dances in the context of dynamic concepts of culture, or they could focus on the concern that safeguarding efforts may potentially lead to static expressions. At the same time, the authenticity of cultural expressions needs to be studied, in particular where cultural expressions are in danger of degenerating into mere folkloristic elements in the form of products or performances. Much like efforts to safeguard intangible heritage, the boom of “cultural tourism” has ambivalent consequences for the intangible heritage of peoples. Therefore, fundamental theoretical studies on the possibilities and limits of protecting intangible cultural heritage through UNESCO Conventions will form an important part of the research in this focus area. The topic of protecting cultural diversity also touches on questions related to the development of so-called “crossover cultures” in metropolitan areas. Important questions to be analyzed in this regard are whether a global cultural mainstream is developing and whether global dynamics are resulting in new cultural practices that should be considered for protection. These phenomena have been studied only marginally as of yet, and represent an innovative research field in the context of the UNESCO Conventions.

Last but not least, an important goal is to focus attention on the interrelationship between tangible and intangible heritage. The separation of these two types of heritage on the basis of definitions shall be critically questioned, and their mutual interdependence shall be discussed. In this context it will be important to define cross-cutting issues that overlap with focus area 1.

Thematic Focus Areas

  • Threats to and preservation of intangible heritage, and the significance of these dynamics for the development of cultural identities.
  • Authenticity and sustainability: research on the transformation of intangible heritage in the process of protection and use.
  • Shared Heritage: research on the development of criteria for the definition of tangible and intangible heritage, and the interdependence of tangible and intangible heritage.
  • Crossover versus authenticity. Is a global cultural mainstream emerging or do global dynamics generate new cultural practices that should be considered for protection?
  • On the interdependence of natural and cultural heritage in the context of the renaissance / the suppression of the sacred. 
  • Protection of religious practice as a cultural expression?
  • Persecution of divergent religious practices and the destruction of cultural goods as a result of religious intolerance.
  • Dynamic protection against musealization and exotization.
  • Living heritage: possibilities and limits of preserving cultural diversity; research on the impulses of intangible heritage protection for regional development processes.