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Perception of Eastern Religions in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GINGER (Perception of Eastern Religions in Europe)

Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-09-30

The aim of the project is to investigate the interrelation between the European worldview and the worldview inherent in Eastern religions (Daoism, Buddhism, Hinduism) on the example of three countries, Bulgaria, Germany and Ireland that have very different religious backgrounds, different history of religion and different history of the attitude to otherness and otherness-identity relation.

Taking into account the fact that there is a great interest towards Eastern teachings and practices based on Eastern religions such as yoga, meditation, martial arts and some kinds of art, e.g. haiku, it is important to understand the reason for this interest regarding both the contemporary European situation and the peculiarities of the Eastern religions. The interconnection of these two aspects concerns two issues that are significant for today’s Europe: 1) the problem of self-identity of contemporary Europeans and 2) the problem of acceptance of otherness. Both problems are interconnected and interdependent.

The project has three types of interconnected objectives: 1) research objective, 2) educational dissemination objective, and (3) qualification improvement and career advancement objective.

The research objective was to study both theoretically and empirically the hidden ways of penetrating of Eastern religions in Europe and their influence on the self-identity of their European followers.

The educational dissemination objective aimed at raising the awareness about the relativity of any differentiation and contributing to the development of a tolerant attitude to “otherness”.

The qualification improvement and career advancement objective includes enriching and extending my research, teaching, organisation, presentation and communication skills and knowledge.

The aims and objectives were successfully achieved. I analysed the regarded processes in terms of the issue of self-identity comparing attitude to the self, otherness, Ultimate reality and nature in Christianity, Hinduism. Buddhism and Daoism and analysing the possible answers of Eastern religions to the contemporary European situation. The results of the theoretical consideration and fieldwork were summarised in a book “East meets West: in search of self-identity”.

I contributed to the discussion on the issue of the attitude to otherness organising scientific and cultural events, giving lectures and talks, participating in conferences, writing academic and popular papers. My objective for qualification improvement was fulfilled throughout the whole project due to the possibility to participate in the work of Leipzig University (LU) and University College Cork (UCC) – two institutions with advanced achievements in the field of Asian and religions studies.
The work performed during the project could be divided in several parts:

1. Theoretical research work.

It includes study of relevant literature in the field of philosophy and sociology of religion, comparative philosophy and comparative religions as well as some key books of the analysed religions and teachings; discussions with my colleagues in Germany and Ireland.

2. Fieldwork

In order to understand why people in Europe are involved in practices with Eastern origin and what is their impact on European’s self-identity, I conducted fieldwork in Germany, Ireland and Bulgaria with groups and individuals who practice yoga, Buddhism, marshal arts and different types of meditation, as well as authors of haiku. The total number of collected and processed questionnaires and interviews is 408 and 44, respectively.

3. Organisation of events for discussing relevant issues and dissemination of the ideas and results of the work:

- Round table “Are Eastern and Western Spiritualities Compatible?”, SWU, 3 May 2018.

- Interdisciplinary international workshop “East-West Dialogue: religious and cultural aspects”, 26 October 2018, LU (see image 2)

- International Haiku Conference „Haiku: Western Perception of Eastern Spirituality”, 8 June 2019, Sofia University (see image 3)

4. Organisation of interactive events for students and lay audience:

- Interactive workshop “Art and Eastern teachings”, 27 September 2018, UCC, Cork, Ireland. (see image 1)

- “Days of Eastern Arts and Spirituality”, 7-9 June, 2019, Centre for Eastern Languages and Cultures at Sofia University (see image 3)

5. Lectures, talks and seminars for colleagues and PhD students at the hosting organisations:

I gave two expert seminars in LU, one talk and one open lecture in UCC as well as a short lecture course “Eastern Religions in European Context” for PhD students in philosophy, philosophy of religion, and East Asian studies in Leipzig University (see image 4).

6. I published 12 academic papers in peer-reviewed journals and proceedings of conferences as well as one book chapter.

7. I took part in 13 international conferences, interdisciplinary workshops and a philosophical congress.

8. I wrote the book “East meets West: in search of self-identity” (348 pages).

9. I popularised my work writing 5 popular articles, giving 2 radio interviews and launching a website.

10. I prepared and edited 3 special issues (issues 39, 44 and 46) of the e-journal NotaBene dedicated to the topic of the research:

11. I acquired new knowledge and skills trough attending 7 workshops organised by Competence School ELSYS of the Research Academy Leipzig and the Staff Wellbeing & Development Team, UCC, Cork.
The main achievements beyond the state of the art:

1. Philosophical analysis of the possible modes of East-West dialog.

2. Analysis of the meaning of self-identity combining Western and Eastern approaches and justification of the thesis for its four-aspect structure: attitude to the self, attitude to others, attitude to the sacred and attitude to nature.

3. Approaching the question about the reasons for the interest towards Eastern teachings in Europe from the point of view of seeking of self-identity of the contemporary Europeans.

4. Comparison of the peculiarities of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Daoism in terms of the four-aspect structure of self-identity.

5. Presentation of the peculiarities of Eastern teachings as possible answers to some issues in the contemporary European situation with its opposed processes of (i) globalisation and particularisation, (ii) technological development and ecological crisis; (iii) secularisation and/or de-secularisation.

6. Analysis of the identity-otherness dual in terms of Westernisation of Eastern spirituality and Easternisation of the Western one.

7. Analysis of the effects of Eastern teachings on the worldview and the attitude to otherness among their European followers.

8. Analysis and comparison of the peculiarities of all these issues in the three different European countries of interest (Ireland, Germany and Bulgaria).

The expected impact of my research is in:

1. the better understanding of otherness and self-identity;

2. shedding new light on some not fully recognised aspects of the processes of globalisation and particularisation;

3. the contribution to the discussion about the place of religion and/or spirituality in the modern world;

4. widening the tolerance and acceptance of otherness in the European society.
Course “Eastern Religions in European Context”, 10 May 2019, LU, Leipzig, Germany
"“Art and Eastern teachings"", 27th of September 2018, UCC, Cork, Ireland"
“Haiku: Western Perception of Eastern Spirituality”, 8 June 2019, Sofia University, Sofia, Bulgaria
Workshop “East-West Dialogue: religious and cultural aspects”, October 26 2018, LU, Leipzig, Germany