A conference in India on the topic urban research marked the founding of the South Asia Institute (SAI) of Heidelberg University 50 years ago. The SAI was founded as a central academic institution of Ruperto Carola in May of 1962 with a branch office in New Delhi. The event, entitled “Between Global Aspirations and Local Realities. India’s Cities in Interdisciplinary Perspective” was part of this year’s SAI anniversary programme and was held March 26-28, 2012 at Jawaharlal Nehru University. The representatives of the Heidelberg delegation were meeting with Indian experts from various universities and research institutions.
Prof. Dr. Bernhard Eitel, Rector of Heidelberg University, led the delegation from Heidelberg. Along with representatives of the German Embassy and the office of the German Research Foundation in India, Prof. Eitel delivered the welcoming address to the conference participants in India. All the professors of the South Asia Institute and three members of the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” were among the representatives from Heidelberg at the conference. To celebrate the anniversary of SAI and its branch office in New Delhi, the Acting German Ambassador hosted a reception for the researchers from Heidelberg and their Indian colleagues, as well as the major partners of the SAI in Delhi.
As for the main topic of the conference, Prof. Dr. Marcus Nüsser, Executive Director of the SAI, explained: “The rapid expansion of India’s urban population has had an increasingly palpable effect on the environment, which in turn has a cultural, economic and political impact. Most urban research is concentrated on problems of infrastructure, city planning and resource utilisation, but remains largely compartmentalised.“ Prof. Nüsser underscored that the conference was aimed at new, integrated approaches to urban research. The conference was organised in a series of six panels, each with a different focus. Cities and their “hinterlands” were addressed, for example, as well as the impact of globalising urban cultures on contemporary Indian cities. The anniversary conference was jointly organised with the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and supported by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research as well as the German Research Foundation and was part of the Science Programme of the Year of Germany in India 2011-2012.
The 50-year-old South Asia Institute – the oldest of its kind in Germany – was conceived as an interdisciplinary centre for research and teaching. It currently has seven professorships in the fields of development economics, anthropology, geography, history, cultural and religious history of South Asia (classical Indology), modern South Asian languages and literatures and political science. “Unique in Germany”, explained Prof. Nüsser, “the South Asia Institute thus ties together the social and economic sciences as well as geography with the cultural sciences embracing history and philology.” In addition to the branch office in New Delhi another office was set up in Kathmandu (Nepal). Intensive scientific exchanges also exist with Pakistan and Sri Lanka – the SAI had branch offices in both countries over a long time – and more recently Bangladesh became the focus of increasing research activities. As part of the SAI anniversary celebrations, a conference was held in Sri Lanka in early March 2012, heralding new possibilities for intensifying research contact after the end of the civil war.
The SAI maintains close contact with leading research centres in Europe, Asia and America. It is conducting numerous projects in and on South Asia, primarily in cooperation with researchers in country. Visiting researchers and fellows from South Asia work regularly in the SAI. In November 2009, Heidelberg University opened the Heidelberg Center South Asia in New Delhi. The centre expands and strengthens the activities of the SAI branch office, which also represents the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”. During his stay in India the Rector of Heidelberg University met the Vice Chancellors of the University of Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru University. The University of Delhi has been a partner university of Heidelberg since the year 2000. JNU has been closely cooperating with the South Asia Institute for many years.
The institute’s anniversary events bear the motto “The South Asia Institute: 50 Years of Looking Ahead”. Most of the celebrations will take place in the summer of 2012. The rich programme in Heidelberg includes a week of festivities in May as well as a series of lectures.