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Rupturing Epistemes, Shifting Paradigms

Turning Points in Japanese Intellectual, Aesthetic and Political History

April 11, 2012
A workshop hosted by the Förderkolleg der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften

Any attempt to understand cultural behavior—including, but not limited to the fields of politics, literature, religion, philosophy, art, as well as the fuzzy margins in between—cannot content itself with merely describing practices at a phenomenological level. Rather, it must aim at unearthing the implicit paradigms that condition explicit forms of culture, i.e. the epistemological frameworks that govern the way in which we perceive, relate to, interact with, and shape our respective worlds.

On the one hand, epistemological frameworks by definition are not limited by the boundaries between social practices. They function on a meta-level and form continuities that allow for the description and evaluation of phenomena from complementary perspectives. On the other hand, since these parameters come in all shapes and sizes, with specific focuses, and are shared by countless individuals through prolonged periods of time, it is important to locate fractures within these fundamental attitudes.

In Japanese history ruling paradigms shifted, to single out some of the more notorious examples, in the 11th and 12th centuries when the world view that dominated the classical Heian court culture gave way to the Buddhist explanatory models that thoroughly informed Japan’s middle ages. Similar ruptures seem to have occurred during the periods when Japan met and assimilated massive outside influences such as Sinocentric forms of culture (repeatedly between the 3rd and 7th centuries) or European/American models of thinking (19th and 20th century).

An analysis of how such shifts and ruptures relate to epistemical continuities, in turn, allows us to formulate the lines along which ideas, art, and politics developed during certain periods and/or in certain regions. Also, they enable us to study how these fields of cultural behavior relate to each other. And while thinking in terms of epistemes and paradigms is well-established, this workshop also aims at questioning these concepts on a methodological level: In what way does this terminology still serve to enrich and broaden our perspectives on East Asian cultural history? What are its boundaries beyond which new methodologies and more radical conceptualizations might prove more fruitful to the discourse of cultural studies? What are, last but not least, the possibilities to speculate on the general nature of epistemes and paradigms also from an interdisciplinary and intercultural perspective?


  • Dr. phil. Marc Nürnberger (Munich): "Cutting edge. A crude inquiry into some 'new' paradigms"
  • Prof. Dr. Ivo Smits (Leiden): "The anecdotal mode of literary discourse in early medieval Japan"
  • Dr. phil. Steffen Döll (Munich): "Paradigms of poetics: revisiting the relation between Chinese and Japanese poetry"
  • Julia Klein, M.A. (Munich): "Some thoughts on the concept of democracy in Maruyama Masao"
  • Prof. Dr. Matthias Zachmann (Edinburgh): "The eternal promiscuity of the Japanese mind"

cf. also the official workshop flyer

The paper by Dr. des. Paulus Kaufmann (Zurich/Munich): "Change of mind or change of discourse: models of different levels of persuasion" unfortunately had to be cancelled.