Winter semester 2021/2022

October 18, 2021 I Opening event of the lecture series - From medieval memoria research to universal-historical foundation comparison

The lecture outlines the course of recent medieval foundation research with reference to the author's own work. As stepstones, he identifies the departure to social-historical foundation research in the 1980s and the transition to universal foundation history since the turn of the millennium. Finally, the speaker addresses the ever-virulent criticism of foundations and more recent theses on foundation theory.


Michael Borgolte is a professor emeritus at Humboldt University in Berlin. He is the author of numerous books and articles on foundations and the history of foundations. He has also worked on medieval ecclesiastical and global history, the history of German medieval studies after 1945, and the comparative history of Europe in the Middle Ages. He founded the publication series "StiftungsGeschichten" and received the European Research Award for his project FOUNDMED. Foundations in medieval societies. Cross-cultural comparisons. Michael Borgolte studied and received his doctorate in Münster before moving to Freiburg, where he completed his habilitation. From 1991 to 2016 he taught medieval history at Humboldt University. In 2017, he became the founding commissioner of the Institute for Islamic Theology at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, of which he was director from 2018-2021.

November 22, 2021 I Perspectives on Giving and Endowments from Buddhist Studies

In this talk, I will sketch various bodies of thought and evidence bearing upon the topics of giving (charity, donation, etc.; Skt dāna, Chn/Jpn 布施 etc.) and endowment in the Buddhist Tradition, and in Buddhist Studies as a field of scholarship. I will touch upon relevant background in various domains of Buddhist doctrine and thought, practice, and history. My aim will be to suggest various avenues of research into these questions which might be fruitful and interesting from a comparative and theory-building perspective.


Michael Radich taught at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, from 2005-2017, and is now Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Heidelberg. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 2007 for a dissertation entitled “The Somatics of Liberation: Ideas about Embodiment in Buddhism from Its Origins to the Fifth Century C.E.”. He has authored two monographs: “How Ajātaśatru Was Reformed: The Domestication of ‘Ajase’ and Stories in Buddhist History” (Tokyo 2011), and “The Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra and the Emergence of Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine” (Hamburg 2015). He was also an editor of Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Vol II: Lives (2019), and has built and maintained a major online bibliographic reference resource for the study of canonical Chinese Buddhist texts ( He spent 2015 at the Numata Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of Hamburg, with the support of an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellowship for Experienced Researchers, and in 2019, spent a semester at Stanford as Shinnyo-en Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies.

December 06, 2021 I Foundations in Byzantium in a socio-historical perspective

Whether foundations in Byzantium can also be described as a "total social phenomenon" that affected all areas of society, whether in politics, religion, economics or in the family sphere, as Michael Borgolte has postulated for the Western Middle Ages and as seems to be true for the Islamic world as well, has not yet been sufficiently investigated. In the lecture, however, it will be shown that also in Byzantium foundations served very different religious, political, economic and social purposes. The focus will be on the social significance of foundations, especially in the Middle Byzantine period (8th-12th century), and on the ways in which foundations contributed to the establishment or consolidation of social relations in Byzantium.


Johannes Pahlitzsch has been Professor of Byzantine Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz since 2009. His research focuses on the relations of Byzantium with the Islamic world and in particular on the history of the Melkites, the Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians, in Syria and Egypt in the Middle Ages. He is speaker of the Research Training Group 2304 "Byzantium and the Euromediterranean Warring Cultures" and deputy speaker of the Leibniz ScienceCampus "Byzantium between Orient and Occident" Mainz/Frankfurt.

January 10,  2022 I The Pyramid Complex of Sahura: New perspective on the Old Kingdom Economy

Unfortunately, the lecture had to be cancelled.

Ancient Egypt is one of the most intriguing and archetypal cultures of Ancient history. The main reason for its outstanding achievements was a very efficient, capable economy, able to deal with the production and distribution of huge amounts of goods, which had to be procured according to the needs of a complex culture. The early ancient Egyptian state can be described as a strongly centralized, complex, political and cultural organism operating on a number of levels, with the king at the top and his closest officials as his assistants. The state was responsible (in the name of the king) for collecting the resources in order to support the royal court and its projects. Large-scale constructions were the major output of the state administration, including not only the agricultural activities but also some "non-profitable" ideologically determined projects such as building the monumental royal tombs. The so-called Royal funerary domains represented special types of state establishments, which played an important role in the economic system of the Old Kingdom. These domains were originally founded by kings in order to provide, among others, for the construction workers of his pyramids and other royal construction projects, as well as priests and servants conducting the cult of the deceased ruler. The royal funerary domains foundations played also an important part in the integration of the country, the development of its infrastructure and the consolidation of its central government. They became an important instrument of what is known as the internal establishment of still only sporadically inhabited and economically unexploited land. The term “funerary domains” is used to designate their personification by female offering bearers carrying different commodities and leading various types of animals. Appearing in front of each figure was its name combined with the name of the king who found it.  Originally, these scenes have been attested in Old Kingdom royal funerary complexes, at the latest from the beginning of the Fourth Dynasty (2613-2494 BC), contained long sequences of personified processions of the royal funerary domains of the complex’s owner. These scenes played a very important role in the decorative program of royal tombs. Long processions of royal funerary domains also decorate the walls of Old Kingdom private tombs. They provide us, among other information, with valuable evidence concerning the period of time during which the domains were in use. A major addition to the evidence are the funerary domains from the causeway of Sahura the second king of the Fifth dynasty of the Old Kingdom in Abusir (2487–2475 BC). The reliefs came to light during the excavation in the pyramid complex of king Sahura which started in 1994 and continued from 2002 till 2020 .The exploration by the team has so far staged  scene listing a large number of Sahura’s funerary domains which helped us to initiate new debates about their meaning, function, as well as their position within the system of the Old Kingdom economy.


Dr. Mohamed Ismail Khaled has been a research associate at the University of Würzburg since 2018 and Director General of the Department of Permanent Committee Affairs and Foreign Missions at the Ministry of Antiquities (MA) in Egypt since 2009. Since 2013, he has also been the head of the excavation at Abusir. His time as excavator includes the discovery of the Abusir blocks on the Sahura Dam. Since 2018, Mohamed Khaled has also been head of the DFG project "Archaeology of the Egyptian State and its Economy in the 3rd Millennium BC: A New Investigation of the Sahurê Way at Abusir." His research focuses on the administration, economy, geography, and kingship of the Old Kingdom, as well as the archaeology, history, and art history of Pharaonic Egypt. He obtained his Ph.D. dealing with "The Royal Funerary Domains in the Old Kingdom, New Evidence from the Causeway of the Pyramid Complex of Sahura" from Charles University in Prague, and in 2014-2016 he was awarded the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Würzburg. From 2016 to 2018 Dr. Khaled was the coordinator of the project on the development and management of the pyramids on the Giza Plateau. He has received several awards for his work.

January 17, 2022 I Cult Foundations: Beneficence or shackle? 

Ancient cities generally did not have a large budget available to them from the taxes and duties of citizens and non-citizen residents. Accordingly, the financial capacity and economic potency of individual citizens were central to the functioning of communities. They were also the ones who were mostly responsible for cult foundations by permanently financing priesthoods, setting up festivals, providing sacrificial animals, and ensuring the maintenance of temples. Foundations only lasted longer if they were financed by regular income - leasing land or granting loans against interest were a good basis for this. Whatever the details of the endowment, it tied up city resources in the long run, in that all the individual specifications of funding and endowment details of purpose had to be implemented by city magistrates. Numerous sanctions in Hellenistic and Roman texts indicate various kinds of negligence, if not unwillingness, in the implementation of the endowment by those in charge in the cities.


Marietta Horster is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Mainz. Her research focuses on the administration and organization of the Roman Empire, transformation processes and social interaction in the Roman provinces, cult organization and cult economy of Greek sanctuaries, as well as Greek and Latin literary education and the dissemination and transmission of knowledge. Horster studied ancient history, Latin and political science at the universities of Lausanne, Bonn and Cologne. She received her doctorate from the University of Cologne in 1995 and her habilitation from the University of Rostock in 2003. In the winter of 1998/99, she was the Sterling Dow Fellow at the Center for Epigraphic and Paleographical Studies at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. After further positions at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Humboldt University of Berlin, and the University of Hamburg, she followed Leonhard Schumacher as Professor of Ancient History at the University of Mainz in 2010. Horster has written monographs on building inscriptions and building activities of Roman emperors, as well as on the land ownership of Greek sanctuaries in the Archaic and Classical periods. She is editor of numerous books and author of essays on, for example, Augustus, Roman literature, ancient roles. Since 2016, she has also been a Senior Fellow at the Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies in Hamburg.

February 07, 2022 I Foundations and cooperatives in the Ottoman World

In the second half of the 19th century, debates in the Ottoman world converged on two legal forms associated with ideas that they could shape society. These are, on the one hand, foundations according to Islamic law and, on the other hand, the newly emerging idea of cooperatives, which is strongly influenced by European models. In my presentation, I would like to discuss the question of why and in what forms the cooperative is becoming attractive in this period, while foundations are becoming more and more controversial. Therefore, I will look at the fundamental differences between the legal institutions and make a first attempt to relate the debates that are sparked by them.


Astrid Meier is Professor of Islamic Studies at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. From 2013 to 2018, she was Deputy Director of the Orient Institute Beirut. Her current research projects focus on the history of rural spaces and groups in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire and the environmental and social history of the Middle East. Another focus is the history of foundations in law and society, on which numerous publications have also appeared, among others with Mathieu Eychenne and Elodie Vigouroux, "Le waqf de la mosquée des Omeyyades de Damas: Le manuscrit ottoman d'un inventaire mamelouk établi en 816/1413 (Beirut/Damascus: Ifpo, 2018, PIFD 292); "Waqf as a Political Weapon: A legal confrontation between two Christian institutions in eighteenth-century Ottoman Damascus," Endowment Studies 4. 1-2, 2020, 92-124; and "Endowments for the Blind in Ottoman Damascus: Self-Interest and Altruism in Islamic Endowments," Historical Journal, Supplement 66, 2015, 95-122.

February 14, 2022 I A Strange Kindness: Largesse and Learning in the Age of Colonial Capital

Educational philanthropy has surged in India in recent years, rivaling other popular areas of charitable giving. In this presentation, I trace the roots of this consequential development to the colonial period when “English education” was widely touted as a preeminent “gift” of the British to their vast empire. Yet, remarkably and from the start, the so-called British gift was critically supplemented by “native” monetary contributions, despite the growing colonial stranglehold on power and capital. Indeed, British India’s most important educational institutions would surely not have emerged but for Indian capital and initiative. British India thus saw the precocious development of what would become the global phenomenon of “public-private partnership” in educational philanthropy. At the same time, I argue that giving for secular education amongst wealthy Indians was itself the practice of a “strange kindness.” Until the arrival of colonial modernity, learning in India was largely confined to elite men of certain castes and communities, and it was rarely disconnected from sacral and theological ends. Such learning was also the focus of elite giving, itself seen as a religious obligation, hence also a means of accruing otherworldly merit. Yet as “public education” is debated as a necessary good under the pressures of capitalist colonial modernity and anti-colonial politics, a corresponding shift in philanthropic practice ensues with secular learning progressively capturing the imagination of donors who directed their benevolence towards the teaching of total strangers. Today, education is frequently cited as the number one focus of giving for wealthy Indians. To donors and their recipients over the course of India’s colonial centuries, this would have seemed like a very strange proposition indeed. Yet such a shift does happen with critical consequences that are still unfolding in the world’s largest democracy.


Sumathi Ramaswamy is James B. Duke Professor of History and International Comparative Studies, and Chair of the Department of History, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA. She has published extensively on language politics, gender studies, spatial studies and the history of cartography, visual studies and the modern history of art, and more recently, digital humanities and the history of philanthropy. She is a co-founder (along with Christiane Brosius of Heidelberg University) of Tasveerghar: A Digital Network of South Asian Popular Visual Culture ( As a recipient of an Anneliese Maier Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2016-2021), she has published Gandhi in the Gallery: The Art of Disobedience (New Delhi: Roli Books) and the digital project B is for Bapu: Gandhi in the Art of the Child in Modern India ( ), and is co-editor with Monica Juneja of Heidelberg University of Motherland: Pushpamala N.’s Woman and Nation (New Delhi: Roli Books, forthcoming in 2021). She is currently working on a new project on educational philanthropy in British India.