Universiteit Leiden

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NWO funding for history research into Siva Religion in Asia

Professor Peter Bisschop, lecturer in Sanskrit and Ancient Cultures of South Asia, has been awarded a grant by the NWO Free Competition to fund his research into the rapid growth of Saivism in the sixth and seventh centuries in South and Southeast Asia. The research project, entitled ‘From Universe of Visnu to Universe of Siva’, will begin in January 2016 and will continue for five years. We talked to Bisschop about his upcoming project.

Exactly what are you going to research?

Peter Bisschop: "Around the sixth and seventh centuries, South and Southeast Asia saw a great religious change: Saivism largely took over from Vaisnavism. We’re going to look at the way in which Saivism, the religion of the god Siva, presented itself with respect to Vaisnavism. In particular we’ll investigate the role of myths and rituals. The central question is: how could Saivism have developed in such a short time to become the state religion of large swathes of South and Southeast Asia?"

Why do you think the NWO selected this research?

"The research project doesn’t stand alone, but rather forms part of a broader network. The research follows directly on from our long-term work on the critical edition of the Skandapurana, a central text in the history of Saivism. What is crucial for the Free Competition Humanities is the intrinsic relationship between the various partner projects. That undoubtedly applies to this project."

What went through your mind when you heard that you had been awarded the funding?

"I’m pleasantly surprised that the importance of fundamental philological research is being recognised in this way. There was a time when you would almost have to hide the fact that you were studying textual criticism, but in my application I consciously presented myself as a Sanskrit philologist, and emphasised the interwoven nature of textual criticism and research into cultural history."

What do you hope to achieve with the research?

"Our research is concerned in large part with humanity; just think of the modern political debate in India about the identity of Hinduism. With this investigation I hope to contribute towards a better understanding of the beginnings of Hinduism. It’s fantastic that Indology in Leiden is getting a boost at last, and of course I hope that this will also have an effect in the longer term. I look forward to being able to put together a team – you can’t do this sort of research on your own."

Photo © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

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