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Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies URPP Asia and Europe (2006–2017)

Pictorial ethnography of religion in European publications on Asia

Responsible for the postdoc project: Dr. Paola von Wyss-Giacosa
Funded by: URPP Asia and Europe
Project duration: March 2007 – June 2010
Research Field: Concepts and Taxonomies

Pierre Sonnerat: Fête du Feu, Kupferstich, in: Pierre Sonnerat, Voyages aux Indes orientales et à la Chine, Paris 1782


The project centers on the analysis of book illustrations in European publications on Asia. The topic they have in common is the pictorial representation of aspects of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese religion. The study describes how, in an era that marked the beginning of anthropological studies and the science of comparative religion, a visual tradition was established whose iconographical influence lasted far beyond the age of Enlightenment. Content, status, function, as well as the contextualization of the images in the editions examined underwent significant changes, first in the 17th and then at the end of the 18th century, as I intend to show. A main focus of my study is the investigation of the «scientific attention» (L. Daston) manifest in these book illustrations, to which is closely linked an exploration of the changing comprehension and use of printed images as media for the transmission and propagation of knowledge in the historical discourse of ethnography of religion.

Detailed project description (PDF, 126 KB)