About the Project

SeNeReKo was a joint research project of the Center for Religious Studies (CERES) at Ruhr University Bochum and the Trier Center for Digital Humanities (TCDH). Through collaboration of humanities, social sciences and computer science, new methods for analyzing historical religious resources were developed. This “digital humanities” project built on previous efforts of digitization and encoding of historical corpora. The project aimed to enable the utilization of digital resources and new methodological approaches currently available for use in religious studies.

The starting point were questions concerning religious contacts: Building upon works of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg in Bochum and the concept of “relational religion”, transfer of religious ideas as well as lines of religious conflict were analyzed. Religion was understood as a network of numerous links: Religious traditions are constituted by internal links between its components, as well as through links to different religious traditions; A religious field is constituted internally by links between different religious traditions, and externally through relations to its environment. In the context of this project, we looked for semantic and social hints for interactions between religious traditions. For this purpose, we analysed two exemplary corpora: the Buddhist Pali canon and ancient Egyptian texts. In the case of the Pali canon, interreligious relations were analysed as references to religious competitors like Brahmin priests, among others. In the Egyptian texts, which go back as far as the third millennium B.C.E., we focussed on religious contacts to western Asia, the Mediterranean and the Kushite south.

In order to answer these research questions we appled and enhanced existing network analysis methods. Techniques of social network analysis, which are used in the social sciences, were supplemented by methods of semantic network analysis. Through these means, social relations and semantic structures could be analyzed in order to answer questions concerning knowledge transfer within and between religious communities.

The required technological methods were developed by the Trier Center for Digital Humanities (TCDH). The TCDH provided a virtual research environment adapted to suite the project’s requirements. It supported the complete process of storing and analyzing text as well as visualizing research results. Using tools for automated relation extraction from texts, greater amounts of data could be processed than through manual analysis. All procedures were developed as tools for general use, so they can be easily adapted for similar questions and other text corpora in the future. For the languages at hand, ancient Egyptian and Pali, no such tools existed before, so their development was an integral part of the project.