Decolonizing Religion and Heritage in Postcolonial Settings

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Course Open to: 
Students on-site
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Course Description: 

The course focuses on the dynamics of knowledge production and religion in the world through the lens of heritage. We begin with some seminal readings on colonialism, imperialism and orientalism in social sciences. Moving away from institutional and top-down approaches to the study of knowledge production on Asia (Orientalism) and Africa, we aim to gain insight into how and why scholarly and religious knowledge take shape, transform, and influence each other at local level. We do so by starting from the sites of heritage formation and religious learning, and explore histories of their makings. We try to understand the impact of decolonization on the study and heritage formation of religion, and on identifications with religion. What is the impact of knowledge production on mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion? What is colonial about colonial knowledge production and what are the legacies in postcolonial times? To what extent, how and why does knowledge decolonize or not? And what does ‘decolonization’ mean when we look at histories of scholarly and religious knowledge production and heritage formation at local and global level?

Through case studies, we examine the role of local institutions, such as museums, in processes of decolonization.  Visits to local museums in Vienna and and a follow-up discussion are an integral part of the course.

Learning Outcomes: 

·       The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

·       The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

·       The ability to participate in current debates in Heritage studies and Postcolonial studies;

·       The ability to interpret institutional/museological representations and the ability to engage in a scholarly discussion about the museum experience,

·       The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it.


-       Attendance on each session of the course is a requirement.

-       Active participation is strongly advised, also reading the assigned texts for each session is a requirement.

-       For each session, one or two students will prepare a short, 10-minute ‘debate proposal’, an introduction for the readings with their comments, questions on the text(s) to generate a classroom debate.

-       During the last two sessions, student will be presenting 1-1 case study linked to the broader issues of ‘decolonizing heritage’ (a public debate, a museological practice, an institutional change of procedures, a protests movement linked to contested heritage interpretations).

-       A final paper of 2000-2500 words discussing the same case.




-       Active participation    40%

-       Debate Proposal          20%    

-       Case presentation        20%

-       Final paper                  20%