The Cooperation Between UT and the University of Oslo
The Department of Asian Studies develops educational exchange abroad
Posted: January 14, 2011
In the fall of 2008 a conversation was initiated between the Department of Asian Studies at UT (DAS) and the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages (IKOS) at the University of Oslo, Norway. The main objective was to explore possible forms of exchange in both research and teaching. The two departments have a strikingly similar structure, in that research, teaching, and language training are related to a variety of geographical areas (and time periods) of Asia. Just like DAS, IKOS houses a number of renowned scholars in several fields of Asian Studies, especially for South and East Asia. In early 2009 Dr. Ute Hüsken, professor of Sanskrit at IKOS, received a grant from the University of Oslo for organizing explorative talks. A delegation from Oslo visited Austin in April 2009, and a group from UT paid a counter visit to Oslo in August 2009.
The formal and informal conversations that took place during these visits were extremely productive. It became obvious that in some fields, members of the two departments have a number of common research interests. In other fields the specializations complement each other. It was concluded that collaborations on concrete research projects could be extremely fruitful and that teaching exchanges could fill the respective ‘blind spots’ for the benefit of students. These explorative talks resulted in finalizing an ‘Academic and Scientific Cooperation and Exchange Agreement’ between UT and the University of Oslo, which has facilitated further exchange efforts.
A number of concrete cooperative research initiatives are being planned. The first teaching exchange took place in the spring semester of 2010. Dr. Ute Hüsken taught a short course on South Indian Temple Culture, drawing on her findings in ten years of fieldwork in the temple town of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. In six separate meetings the course addressed the history of temple organization (economy, politics) and the role of temples in South Indian social life; myth and temple ritual; the role of temple priests; sectarian and inter-religious relations; temple festivals and ritual space; and non-Brahmanical temples. She used numerous images and videos to illustrate her fascinating analysis of the complex types, roles, and organization of temples in contemporary India. The course was open to (and attended by) both graduate students and faculty. The consensus among participants at the end of the course was that this topic complemented the research and teaching done at UT in important ways. We do have great expertise in pre-modern Hinduism, but the study of contemporary Hinduism is underrepresented at UT. Dr. Hüsken’s course addressed this lacuna and therefore was a highly welcome addition for all graduate students and faculty interested in South Asian religions.
In addition to this short course, Dr. Hüsken gave a well-attended public lecture on contemporary, global debates about the ordination of women in the Buddhist monastic order and presented some of her research in an undergraduate course, which was received with great enthusiasm as well. During the time of her stay in Austin, two members of the administrative staff from the University Oslo, Hanne Skramstad and Bjarne Skov, visited as well, in order to discuss logistics of faculty and student exchange with the administration at UT and the possibilities of its development. Among other things they discussed the establishment of an undergraduate study-abroad exchange between UT and the University of Oslo. With this effort, the relationship between UT and Oslo is developing beyond that between Asian Studies at UT and Oslo. While they were here, Ms. Skramstad and Mr. Skov also met with faculty from Middle Eastern and Germanic Studies with an eye to promoting similar sorts of exchanges in those fields. And they met with Dean Randy Diehl, who also encouraged the development of this relationship.
In March 2010, Dr. Christoph Anderl (Oslo) spent a week in Austin to exchange ideas in his field of expertise, ancient China, and presenting his research to faculty and students. In May 2010, Dr. Joel Brereton (UT) taught a course on Vedic Sanskrit in Oslo. Dr. Kathryn Hansen and Dr. Carla Petievich (UT) visited Oslo in September 2010 to teach a course on Theatre and Performance in India and to give a series of talks about female education and contemporary Pakistan, respectively. Also in the fall of 2010 two doctoral students from UT, Emilia Bachrach and Matthew Milligan, spent some time in Oslo, presenting and discussing their research.
In February 2011, Dr. Claus Peter Zoller (Oslo) will teach a short course on Indo-Aryan Linguistics at UT. He will bring along three graduate students who will present their research at the Texas Asia Conference, a large graduate conference organized by UT’s graduate students. In May 2011, Dr. Oliver Freiberger (UT) will teach a course on Norms and Practices in Indian Buddhism in Oslo.
The development has been very promising so far. We are hopeful that more faculty members interested in either teaching a short course in Oslo or in hosting an Oslovian faculty member at UT will come forward. We are also encouraging graduate students to consider the possibility of studying in Oslo and working with some of the excellent scholars there.