Semantic and Social Network Analysis as a Means to Study Religious Contact (SeNeReKo)
SeNeReKo is 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 will be developed. This “digital humanities” project builds on previous efforts of digitization and encoding of historical corpora. The project aims to enable the utilization of digital resources and new methodological approaches currently available for use in religious studies.
The starting point for this are questions concerning religious contacts: Building upon works of the KHK in Bochum and the concept of “relational religion”, transfer of religious ideas as well as lines of religious conflict will be analyzed. Religion is 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 look for semantic and social hints for interactions between religious traditions. For this purpose, we analyse two exemplary corpora: the Buddhist Pali canon and ancient Egyptian texts. In the case of the Pali canon, interreligious relations can be 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 deal with religious contacts to western Asia, the Mediterranean and the Kushite south.
In order to answer these research questions we apply and enhance existing network analysis methods. Techniques of social network analysis, which are used in the social sciences, are supplemented by methods of semantic network analysis. Through these means, social relations and semantic structures can be analyzed in order to answer questions concerning knowledge transfer within and between religious communities.
The required technological methods will be developed by the Trier Center for Digital Humanities (TCDH). The TCDH will provide a virtual research environment adapted to suite the project’s requirements. It will support 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 can be processed than through manual analysis. All procedures will be 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 exist as of yet, so their development will an integral part of the project.