The esoteric traditions are a very important aspect of Western culture whereas their roots can be traced back to the ancient Gnostic conceptions. As such, they have always constituted an alternative current in the history of the Western spirituality that generally opposed the "mainstream" Christian beliefs. The issue of esoteric ideas is addressed by Izabela Trzcińska and Karolina M. Kotkowska-Hess.
The academic interests of Izabela Trzcińska include the esoteric traditions as manifested in modern and post-modern European culture. Getting to grips with these issues helps to reconstruct the Western cultural image of man and the world and to approach it from a fresh perspective.
The main interest of Karolina M. Kotkowska-Hess is the specificity of esoteric circles in the XIX and XX centuries, the activity of the Theosophical Society in Poland and the methodology of studying Western esoterism. Her analyses include the history of ideas (intellectual history), esoteric studies, the symbolical anthropology of V. Turner, the interpretative anthropology of C. Geertz and the categories worked out by B. Latour. She also conducts comparative studies.
The Mediterranean Cultures and North-Eastern Africa
In 2008 a Hellenistic-Roman dig site was established in Marina El-Alamein, where these Roman baths have been found and secured. The site is attended by the Polish-Egyptian Conservation Mission including Grażyna Bąkowska-Czerner. These baths are one of the few so well preserved remnants of this type in Egypt. The baths were discovered in the city centre and the preliminary examination proved that they had been rebuilt several times. Their prolonged usage is furthermore corroborated by the numerous layers of murals. The baths were not particularly large, but elegant nevertheless: the floors were covered with mosaics or marble slabs whereas the place itself is full of architectural details and fragments of polychromy being the remnants of once rich decorations. Additional artefacts such as ceramics, glass and coins found in situ have helped to estimate the accurate age of the baths.
The main purpose of the ongoing research is to uncover the whole complex of baths, determine the functional system and estimate the date of origin. The preliminary conclusions have been presented at various conferences (including international ones) and academic journals.
Grażyna Bąkowska-Czerner has been studying the Meroitic ceramics found at Gebel Barkal/Napata (Sudan) since 2004. This research is a part of the Italian Archaeological Mission of Ca'Foscari University in Venice. During the last several years, two palaces (Natkamani and B2400) and a structure known as B2200 have been partially uncovered. The ceramics originating from this period are of high quality; many vessels were painted and decorated. The imagery is influenced by the religion of Egypt as well as by the Hellenistic culture and local traditions. These vessels were utilised for various purposes, mainly for storing food and cooking, while some served as tableware and others played ritualistic roles. These bear the marks of various manufacturing techniques and as such help to establish the dates of other artefacts.
The main purpose of this research is to construe a database, a typology and iconography of the vessels. Not much is known about the Meroitic layer of Gebel Barkal/Napata and the present study will be helpful in estimating the age of the excavated buildings while the interpretation of the iconography will give insight into the syncretic culture and religion of the period. The subsequent discoveries are presented during various conferences and in numerous academic journals. The whole enterprise will be summarised in a forthcoming monograph.
The years 1998-2000 witnessed an expansion of the fieldwork conducted by the Centre for Comparative Studies of Civilisations (department of the Institute of Sociology) in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Iran and Israel. The purpose of the research was to create a comprehensive documentation of the Syrian historical sites and communities that inhabit these regions. According to tradition, the Syrian Christian groups were established by the apostles: Peter, Paul, Jacob and Thomas. These communities struggle with their neighbours' hostility and lack of schools and cultural institutions yet still preserve and cherish the ancient traditions, faith as well as the Aramaic language – similar to that in which Jesus Christ presented his teachings to the world. Discrimination, repression and the lack of prospects are the reasons for the subsequent waves of emigrations to Europe and United States. Each successive month sees the gradual depopulation of these villages that have been Christian since times immemorial. The cultural heritage of the Syrian churches is perishing at an alarmingly fast pace.
The research was carried out in 4 stages:
- July-September 1998 in Turkey, Syria and Lebanon
- March-April 1999 in Iran
- June-August 1999 in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq
- December 1999-January 2000 in Israel
The product of these studies is the book: A. Flis, B. Kowalska, The Forgotten Brothers. Dying World of the Near Eastern Christians (Krakow 2003, Polish title: Zapomniani Bracia. Ginący świat chrześcijan Bliskiego Wschodu). It contains 164 colour photographs and exemplifies the methodological principles of visual sociology.
In 2008 Paulina Niechciał conducted some fieldwork in Iran devoted to studying the modern Zarathustrian (Zoroastrian) religious minority with an emphasis on the community of Teheran. The original conceptions of Iranian religion have influenced the religious thought of the Near and Middle East as far as India: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Gnosticism and Buddhism. Zoroastrianism of pre-Muslim Iran was the cradle of the Persian tradition and identity until the 7th century. During Islamic expansion and conquest in the Near East, the Zoroastrian community drastically decreased in number and was relegated to the margins of the Muslim-dominated society.
The research project was a part of a research internship funded by the Bureau for Academic Recognition and International Cooperation. Its main purpose was to answer the so far neglected question of how the Zoroastrians construe their identity and preserve their own religion and culture while residing in a Shiite religious state such as the Islamic Republic of Iran. The research spawned several academic papers and a book: The Zoroastrian Minority in Contemporary Iran. The Collective Identity in the Context of the Shiite Domination (Krakow 2013, Polish title: Mniejszość zaratusztriańska we współczesnym Teheranie. O tożsamości zbiorowej w kontekście dominacji szyickiej).
Among the constitutive sources of the Rabbinic Judaism there are two Talmuds (Babylonian and Palestinian) and the medieval collections of midrashes - for example, Rabbah, Tanhuma and Pirqey de-rabbi Eliezer. The lion's share of these texts is devoted to halakhah – the traditional norms of conduct regulating the life of the Jews in the changing cultural and historical conditions. Although the main point of reference for these texts is the Hebrew Bible, they contain a plethora of materials originating from completely different sources. This is the case with the numerous stories of varied nature known as aggadot. These comprise reiterations and expansions of the biblical motives, adventurous accounts of the rabbis and mythical legends as an effect of the fusion between Jewish, Greek, Persian and Babylonian traditions.
This is Wojciech Kosior's main field of study. He is mainly interested in the issue of rabbinic angelology and demonology and the role these creatures have played in the formation of the Jewish monotheism. A derivative of these issues is the question of the apotropaic meaning of the few basic Jewish mitzvot: circumcision, mezuzah and tefillin. Wojciech Kosior also deals with the issue of the Talmudic dissident sages such as Elisha ben Avuya, Eliezer ben Hurqanos and Eleazar ben Dordia – figures hovering at the border of the Rabbinic Judaism and simultaneously marking the framework of this phenomenon.
Arabic sociolinguistics is usually concerned with the issue of diglossia – a dichotomy of the high and low varieties or Standard and Colloquial Arabic. Meanwhile, the last decades have witnessed socio-political transformations that have significantly affected the linguistic situation. One of the most important changes is the emergence of the intermediate variety (usually referred to as Educated Spoken Arabic) – the linguistic continuum incorporating the elements of both Standard and Colloquial Arabic that is currently the only natural medium of verbal communication. Due to its broad range of application (also in the written form), its universal affirmation as the communicative and somewhat prestigious norm in social relations, the intermediate variety is not only the tool of communication but also an important shaper of culture.
On the other hand, it is the European languages, particularly English and French, that gain more and more ground. For educated Arabs, these languages constitute the main means of functioning on an educational, economic, professional and personal level while their role far exceeds that of Standard Arabic. As a consequence, the phenomenon of code-switching between Arabic and English/French becomes more and more popular. These issues are the focus of Dr. Małgorzata Kniaź, the author of the first Polish publication that deals with the intermediate variety: The Intermediate Variety of Arabic in Egypt. The Structure and Culture-forming Role (Krakow 2013, the Polish title: Odmiana pośrednia języka arabskiego w Egipcie. Struktura i rola kulturotwórcza).
The five centuries of the Abbasid dynasty (750–1258) is generally considered to be the classical period in the history of the Arab-Muslim world. This era witnessed the cultural and civilisational development that extensively utilised the heritage of the conquered nations. The Arabic language and the ideology of Islam allowed for the transformation of this mosaic of the foreign elements into one relatively coherent system. Despite the very unstable political situation, the classical world of Islam remained to a large extent culturally and socially homogeneous. The apex is considered to be the 10th century – the period when practically all domains of material, spiritual, individual and social life reached a high level of maturity.
Selected areas of the classical world of Islam are in Bożena Prochwicz-Studnicka's field of interest. She is particularly fascinated by the social history of cities and the organisation of urban communities. Her mostly source-text oriented research has resulted in some publications dealing with the functional and spatial structure of traditional Arab-Muslim cities, municipal services, physician circles, quacks and groups on the social margins.
The classical period of the Arab-Muslim culture and civilisation also witnessed the full formation of Islamic law (shari'a). Joseph Schacht, one of the pioneering researchers dealing with classical legal thought, emphasised that it is impossible to understand the Muslim domains of knowledge or Islam in total without attaining prior understanding of the law with the latter being the most typical manifestation of the Muslim way of life and the essence of Islam. There are still many regions in legal Islamic thought that have not been adequately researched or have been approached only superficially. Bożena Prochwicz-Studnicka, together with Dariusz Michta, a lawyer, conducts comparative research. One project's aim was to compare two legal institutions which rely on the idea of equity: the Roman aequitas and the Islamic istishsan (juristic preference). The endeavour also aimed at determining the possible influence of the Roman institution on the Islamic one. Another project was concerned with the issue of the suftaja – one of the basic law (and financial) instruments used in non-cash transactions and its influence on the formation of a promissory note in medieval Europe. The purpose of the final project was to approach the classical juristic thought from the perspective of usul al-fiqh – the discipline that is usually translated as legal theory and interpreted as based on the elements nowadays classified as theory and philosophy of law, logic, epistemology, theology and linguistics.
The point of reference for Bożena Prochwicz-Studnicka's current research is Arabic culture in the context of orality/literacy theory (the theory conceived in the 60s of the 20th century as the result of independently conducted studies on the communication systems from the perspective of their influence on culture). According to this theory, writing is responsible for introducing significant changes in culture. The changes in the oral culture that take place after the incorporation and interiorisation of writing affect both the institutional and psychological dimensions. The way the orality and literacy coexist can be presented by means of the bipolar model with the continuum between the extremities containing the variety of intermediate, oral-literary solutions which are applied in different ways depending on the culture (according to Grzegorz Godlewski). This model was utilised in the research (i.e. the historical research of literacy and writing) that aims at answering the question about the degree of transition from orality to literacy in Arab-Muslim culture beginning with 12th century, when the text ceased to be simply the support for speech and to a large extent turned into an autonomic means of communication.
In 2009 Marek Moroń together with his students (Piotr Radwański and Mateusz Skoronek) went on a field trip to Tajikistan which was a part of a project entitled Pamiris of the Mountain Badakhshan: Geopolitics of the Region versus Individual Identities. Due to their interest in the subject of identity in the selected regions of Central Asia, the participants visited the Gorno-Badakhshan Province – a Pamirian autonomous region inhabited mostly by Ismaili Muslims. This trip resulted in the international research seminary "Tajikistan–Badakshan: Historical and Contemporary Issues of Nation and State" that took place in 2009 at the Centre for the Comparative Studies of Civilisations.
In 2012 Paulina Niechciał held a research internship in Tajikistan during which she studied the collective identity of the contemporary Tajik social leaders. The internship was a part of Paulina Niechciał's broader project revolving around the issues of identity and religion in the world of Iranian culture. Paulina Niechciał was hosted by the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tajikistan in Dushanbe.
As part of the research project "The Cultural Strategies of War and Reconciliation: Analysis on the Example of the Civil War in the Republic of Tajikistan (1992-1997)", funded by the Polish National Science Center (NCN) within the Sonata 5 grant, an electronic archive of the Tajik press from 1990-2000 has been established. The archive contains the following materials:
1). Tajik-language newspapers and magazines – the majority of issues from the following years:
"Junbish" (1997-1999), "Orion" (1992) "Haftganj" (1992) "Sadoi Mardum" (1991-1993), "Sukhan" (1991) "Somon" (1991-1992), "Tojikistoni Soweti", later as "Tojikistoni Shurawi"and "Jumhuriyat" (1990-2000).
2). Russian-language newspapers and magazines – the majority of issues of the following years:
"Kommunist Tadzhistana", later as "Narodnaya Gazeta" (1990-2000), "Biznes i Politika" (1992).
An electronic version of the archives is located in the Centre for Comparative Studies of Civilisations of the Jagiellonian University, and is available upon request by e-mail:
- Dr. Paulina Niechciał firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Dr. Elizabeth Olzacka email@example.com.
Marta Kudelska's academic interests focus on the culture of ancient India, particularly on Indian philosophy. For years Marta Kudelska has been studying the seminal Indian philosophical texts: Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and minor philosophical tractates. Her studies have produced translations of the classical sources along with commentaries and elaborations of the philosophical issues contained therein.
In her work, Marta Kudelska analyses various Upanishadian motives relying mainly on the philosophical school of Advaita Vedanta. According to this interpretation, only the Absolute Being (sat) actually exists whereas the empirical reality as its representation is considered to be of an inferior ontological status. The sat-dimension is extra-empirical and ungraspable by any categories. When it comes to denoting the absolute being in the Indian philosophical language, the most often applied technical terms are atman (from the subjective perspective) and brahman (when assuming the stance of the total description of reality). According to Advaita Vedanta school there is total identity between atman and brahman that fits the category of radical monism. This also means that the ontological or metaphysical difference between the absolute and empirical dimension is absent. In its stead we have a case of epistemic valuation. The Indian thinkers attributed the ontological status only to the personal reality whereas empirical reality was considered to active not in itself but because of the existence of the experiencing subject. In turn, this subject, whose reality is according to Advaita Vedanta extra-empirical, can be treated as a sufficient reason to explain the experience as well as the existence of the representational reality. The empirical reality is perceived in the nature of things in its personal dimension – and this has to assume the existence of the perceiving subject.
While translating and interpreting the classical texts of the Indian tradition Marta Kudelska strives to render the metaphoric and symbolic language of the ancient sources in the clear technical parlance that has been developed by Western philosophy. Due to her studies a new research motif has emerged concerned primarily with the translation of the crucial concepts and terms of particular cultures. This issue has been approached from the perspective of comparative philosophy and resulted in very interesting and insightful outcomes. Many cultures give raise to essentially identical questions and answers, yet these are formulated in a variety of ways. It is only through scrupulous analysis and comparison of the vocabulary and its cultural context that these dilemmas may turn out to be universal in nature, without being undermined by superficial simplifications. This refers not only to the clearly defined views but also to the tools and methodologies of their description. This facilitates dialogue on the pre-phenomenological method of ontological studies, found in Upanishads 2000 years before Husserl.
Renata Iwicka's main area of study are the countries of East Asia – particularly the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Her other sphere of interest is demonology. For the last several years she has been working on the issues of demonology in the context of the comparative studies involving anthropological and cultural perspectives. Such an approach, heavily influenced by the tradition of J. Campbell, allows to perceive demonologies as a dynamically evolving cycle of motives and symbols. These in turn could be metaphorised as a swift stream in which various motives and symbols connect and disconnect. The research of Renata Iwicka covers also the motives present in the most recent mythologies: pop-cultural, urban and synthetic.
In the case of Korea, her main field of interest is its history and traditional culture with an emphasis on music, religion and dance. These countries of East Asia (including Taiwan) represent the complementary system of the third sphere of Renata Iwicka's research, which revolves around the nationalisms present in the modern history of the Pacific region. This problem is supplemented by the anthropological perspective of these countries' pop-culture.
Renata Iwicka has authored the first Polish translation of the 27th book of Konjaku Monogatari – a collection of anecdotes originating in 12th century Japan. Her work has been published as The Japanese Book of Ghosts and Demons. The Konjaku Monogatari Collection of Ancient and Modern Stories (Polish: Japońska księga duchów i demonów. Zbiór historii dawnych i obecnych Konjaku monogatari, Toruń 2013) The most recent result of Renata Iwicka's studies in the sphere of Asian nationalisms in pop-culture is the paper Nationalisms of East Asia in Popular Culture (2014).
Wioletta Laskowska-Smoczyńska is philologist who graduated from the Jagiellonian and Tokyo Universities. Ever since her own studies, her main field of interest has been the culture of Japan – particularly literature and visual arts. Apart from conducting classes in Japanese in the Department, she works in the Manggha Museum in Krakow which allows her to connect her hobby with her research interests and find practical solutions. For many years she has worked on popularising the Japanese culture in Poland; she has coordinated some performances given by Japanese theatrical groups (nō, kyōgen, rakugo, nihon buyō etc.) and some cinematographic exhibitions such as: Akira Kurosawa. One Hundred Years Jubilee (2011); The Japanese Cinema in the Polish Movie-Posters (2011). She has also directed photographic exhibitions: 100 Years of Tokyo (2011), Holy Mount of Fiji (2012). She has authored numerous publications concerning the culture of Japan, the translations of various literary works and exhibition catalogues.
A separate sphere of Wioletta Laskowska-Smoczyńska's interests is the issue of teaching the Japanese language. She has years of experience as a lecturer and translator supported by additional workshops conducted by the Japan Foundation. Her expertise is supplemented by the systematic exchange of materials and experiences with a network of other Japanese language lecturers.
Monika Kołodziej studies the contemporary trends and directions of transformations that are manifest in the generation of the young adults (18-34 y.o.) known as Chinese Hui Muslims. The main research issue concerns the personal identity and the collective identity (both Muslim and Chinese) against the backdrop of the broadly understood Western pop-culture, with the latter being particularly visible in larger cities.
Emphasis is on the contemporary young Hui dilemmas concerned with the confrontation of opposite cultural paradigms and the ambivalence of the government's policy towards religious minorities. The Chinese government supports the ideology of modernity that treats religion as unfit for the vision of a contemporary cosmopolitan country. On the other hand, it postulates a policy of tolerance towards the ethnic minorities, for whom religion is one of the most significant modes of identification.
The Comparative Research
Katarzyna Bajka is a post-graduate student researching the forms of myth and ritual in contemporary times and popular culture. With regards to myth, she is particularly interested in the contents of contemporary and classic narration and their evolution, including fairy tales analysis, super-hero narrations; books, movies and serials containing supernatural and fantasy motifs. She is also interested in so-called fandoms, i.e. the life of the myth in human gatherings, creation and interpenetration of the canonical and apocryphal contents, recurrent motives and subjects. Katarzyna Bajka relies on methodology based on structural anthropology (C. Levi-Strauss) and psychoanalysis (J. Campbell) – both of which allow the extraction of the mythical pattern present in a particular story and the establishment of their cultural senses. She also works with the theory of communication and new media, which allows her to extend her research on the world of the social media and broadly understood cyberspace (McLuhan, Ong). She is also interested in the theories of myth, which could be utilised in researching oral, literal and audio-visual content. Her current field of research is the subject of heroism and the figure of the hero in urban societies in the contemporary, post-communistic Poland.
Regarding the ritual, Katarzyna Bajka is particularly interested in the anthropology of the body and eating, subjects of power and control over the body as well as the theory of habitus and connections between the body and religious symbolism. She has studied national and religious stereotypes in the multicultural rural societies in the region of Przemyśl (south-eastern Poland on the border with Ukraine). Her other research concerned the meaning of food preparation, understood as a special kind of nourishment, distributed accordingly to the mechanics of a gift. She conducts courses "Body – Religion – Anthropology" and "Blood Symbolism".
Karolina Maria Kotkowska studies the cultural consequences of the collision between Eastern and Western thought in Poland from the perspective of the source-texts conceived in the esoteric framework. Eastern philosophy was disseminated here by means of esoteric organisations which were focused on the issue of initiation. The increased interest in esotericism was initiated by Helena P. Bławatska and others engaged in the area of theosophical considerations.
Western esotericism, which has become the medium for the reception of these contents, has definitely expanded our understanding and presented new interpretative options on these subjects. The main research issue is to establish the meaning of the category of the East from the perspective of the reception of esotericism at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and to note any differences against the background of the original sources.
War and culture are deeply and inherently connected by a network of bonds. Culture which permeates all aspects of human life also shapes the phenomenon of war, which has never in the history of human conflicts been a simple discharge of animal and aggressive impulses.
Nevertheless, war is seldom analysed from the cultural perspective – as both the cultural outcome and cultural factor of the conflicted societies. Even less popular are the attempts at considering war as a cultural phenomenon per se. These topics are the field of interest of Elżbieta Olzacka, who deals with the theoretical aspects of the bonds connecting war and culture as well as modern historical war cultures. She is also interested in the comparative aspect that allows for the emphasis of the significance of the cultural context in the creation of various models of victory and accordingly, various ways of conducting wars. So far the main product of her work is her Ph.D. thesis (War and Culture. The Role of the Cultural Factors in the Modern Military Revolution) and several papers on this subject. Elżbieta Olzacka is currently applying her methodology (involving sociology, culture studies and war studies) to research on the cultural aspects of war in Tajikistan.
The research is carried out by Artur Przybysławski. He is interested in several subjects:
- The issue of tathagatagarbha in the texts of Tibetan philosophers, particularly the representatives of the gzhan stong notion along with the discussions with the opposite stance of rang stong.
- The Tibetan Buddhist epistemology, particularly the idealistic interpretations of Dignagi and Dharmakirti in the traditions of Sakja, Kagyu and Njingma.
- The philosophical contents in the songs of accomplishment and biographical literature of the great masters of Tibetan Buddhism.
- The translations of the important philosophical works of Tibet and the sources of Indian mahajana preserved exclusively in the Tibetan texts.
Jacek Trzebuniak studies the cultures and religions of Tibet. Among his academic interests are:
- The development of Buddhism in the Western world.
- Beliefs and practices of the autochthonous tradition of Tibet – Yungdrung Bon.
- The Tibetan doctrine of the great perfection – dzogchen (Tib. rdzogs chen).
Szymon Bogacz is particularly interested in the epistemological theories developed in the philosophical schools of Indian Buddhism. These theories concern not only the knowledge-generating processes but also their metaphysical basis - that is, the nature of mind and the objects it recognises. His research on the epistemological theories of the Buddhist India includes:
- Translation of the Sanskrit texts, inter alia: the main verses of Nagarjuna's Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā) and fragments of the Tibetan texts.
- The historical development of the key epistemological terms in various schools and traditions of Buddhist and Brahmin traditions with an emphasis on the Middle Way (madhyamaka).
- The conceptual analysis of the most important issues of cognition in Buddhist India, inter alia the nature of mind, the discussion between realism and antirealism, logical grounds of argumentation, the theory of justification and the theory of truth.