Key Research Priorities

Key Research Priorities

The research profile of the Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Theology (PhilFak) is a product of the collaboration of nearly the entire humanities, social sciences, and disciplines focusing on religion. The faculty’s key research priorities reflect this interdisciplinary configuration.

The research network „Work, Organization and Learning“ focuses on this thematic connex from an economic, educational, psychological, and sociological perspective. It pursues the overriding questions how societal change affects the organization of labor, and how organizations as worlds of work, life, and learning cause societal change. The research network is concerned with the working world at large, and organizations of all three sectors (state, market, civil society) in particular. Thus, its scope encompasses for-profit as well as non-profit organizations.

The research focus “education as transformation” (BiTra) constitutes the shared emphasis of the departments of pedagogy and didactics, as well as other intra- and inter-faculty collaboration partners.

BiTra deals with research topics related to issues of education from pedagogic, didactic, cultural studies, psychologic, as well as social sciences perspectives.

The challenges of societal transformation also influence contemporary and future understandings of education.

Therefore, working in interdisciplinary networks, this research emphasis targets the meaning, goals, contents, processes, and conditions for the success of formal, non-formal, and informal types of education regarding an entire lifespan.

Research encompasses five subfields that are multilaterally connected among each other, to other departments at the FAU (for instance via ZiLL and IZÄB), and to other national and international institutions.

This research focus is concerned with diversity under the conditions of pre-modern, transcontinental connectivity (globalization).

In space and time, it is directed primarily to the Roman empire as it was the first empire that encompassed substantial parts of three continents (Europe, Asia, and Africa). For comparison, the Hellenistic kingdoms and the Achaemenid empire will also be taken into account.

Our aim is to investigate the entire spectrum of cultural diversity in the Ancient World. It follows from this approach, that by setting  a common research agenda we bring together a variety of disciplines (historical, philological, archaeological, and theological) that are separated institutionally, but connected by their focus on the Ancient World.

We pursue the question of how cultural diversity was perceived in the Ancient World and how it was dealt with: which differences were observed, addressed, or tabooed; and which differences were rewarded, tolerated or sanctioned? Moreover, what kind of changes can be identified as arising under the conditions of ancient forms of globalization.

As questions of this sort have not yet been studied systematically with regard to pre-modern cultures, this research focus stakes a claim to be innovative.
The research group “Cultural Difference and Transcontinental Connectivity in Antiquity” connected to the PhilFak provides an institutional framework.

The research network „Health Over the Life Course“ focuses on processes, mechanisms, and conditions of health integrating multiple disciplinary perspectives including the behavioral, cultural, educational, sport, and social sciences as well as medicine and ethics. Health is defined according to the WHO-definition as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and organized around the main focus areas Interactions of Health and Behavior, Physical Activity, Ethical Issues, Educational and Institutional contexts. Members of this research network are internationally active and in leading positions in health research across Europe and world wide.  The network includes more than 14 chairs from different disciplines and has build several collaborative structures such as the Interdisciplinary Center on Aging Research (ICA) among others. The research network is organized around four main areas:

  • Lifespan Psychology of Health
  • Sport and Health over the Life Course
  • Ethics of Health
  • Education and Organisation of Health


This research focus investigates traditional techniques of prediction, attempts at coping with contingency, and processes of decision-making. Setting out from a primarily cultural-historical perspective, the associated researchers specifically address the question in how far the conceptual framework in which such techniques and practices are embedded varies in different cultural contexts, particularly in East Asia and medieval Europe. The related research activities center on the International Consortium for Research in the Humanities  “Fate, Freedom and Prognostication. Strategies for Coping with the Future in East Asia and Europe” (IKGF).

Under the heading of this research emphasis, scholars analyze processes of transformation arising due to current conditions of globalization, migration, and pluriculturality in the context of the societies of Latin America.

Interweaving different disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, investigation focuses on practices and representations which frame and generate such processes.

Questions of sustainability, diversity, and conviviality constitute the main scholarly interest.

At the core of the research emphasis lies the section Ibero-America at the Central Institute of Regional Studies.

Based on the specific expertise at the FAU, this focus of research places the relationality of the spatial categories of “Europe” and “the Orient” at the center of analysis. The goal is to develop innovative Euro-Oriental “double perspectives” “beyond” the dichotomy between “the Orient” and “Europe.”

Analyses examine the relations between different cultures as well as issues of normative collision in interreligious and religious-secular contexts in the Near East and in Europe.

The focus “LexikoGrammar” comprises central aspects of linguistic research at the FAU.

Its subject matter comprises diverse aspects of the analysis of lexical and grammatical phenomena of the languages represented at the faculty.

Description focuses on several key aspects: on the one hand, it deals with the description of different units of language (i.e. word-formation, collocations, connectors) and the further development of methods relating to corpus linguistics which help identify and analyze such units; on the other hand, it includes the description of units of language in grammars, textbooks, and dictionaries with a focus on practical and theoretical lexicography.

The research emphasis is also concerned with the analysis of variation and alteration as well as aspects of cognition, which covers questions of mental and neuronal representation and language acquisition.

Based on philological and cultural historical expertise, research in this context funnels the faculty’s literary studies scholarship in order to examine questions concerning the history of knowledge and ideas, as well as to engage in comparative perspectives. Two key aspects will form the main focus: on the one hand, scholars will investigate the relations between literature and knowledge (for instance regarding the natural sciences, knowledge of the future, medical discourses, or religion); on the other hand, research in this field will also deal with cultures of mediation (i.e. explicit and tacit knowledge, school education, editions, electronical media, etc.). Several questions guide both key aspects: questions regarding the transfer between literatures and cultures of differing languages, different cultural milieus and discourses; and, also, questions concerning contexts within the history of ideas, educational institutions and university disciplines, as well as competing or mutually inspiring forms of art. A particular emphasis is placed on the materiality of literature and its media.

The interdisciplinary focus on human rights/migration deals with foundational, and at the same time current, questions of the theory and practice of human rights.

These questions include the recognition of human dignity as the point of departure of human rights thinking, the claim of universalism, the indivisibility of human rights, the principle of non-discrimination, as well as freedom of religion and worldview.

Having already been supported by previous external funding due to its original approach, this focus channels the research on the medieval and early modern periods at the FAU.

Associated with the faculty’s interdisciplinary center for European Medieval and Renaissance studies (IZEMIR) as well as the Central Institute “Anthropology of Religion(s)” (ZAR), research in this area is decidedly interdisciplinary in focus.

Thematically, the research emphasis is distinguished by its crossing of traditional periodical boundaries and its consideration of a marco-period viewed from the respective methods and angles of the associated disciplines.

Due to its investigation of “pre-modernity,” which in its diversity and heterogeneity also prefigures phenomena of so-called “post-modernity” (i.e. multi-ethnicity, multi-religiosity), the research focus is of great relevance to the current situation.

Particularly significant are questions concerning orders of knowledge, cultures of knowledge, and practices, which are analyzed from a transcultural and transregional angle, and that offer multiple possibilities for the contributions of other non-historical disciplines.

Moreover, the MA program “Medieval and Renaissance studies” (soon to be renamed “Middle Ages and Early Modernity”) promotes a tight interweaving of research and teaching that offers ideal support for young academics and stimulates scholarly synergy.

This research emphasis deals with the potentials, challenges, and consequences of digitalization.

On the one hand, it analyzes the effects of digitalization on parts of society, such as culture, media, politics, education, health, or science. On the other hand, it explores new digital methods and techniques that established themselves within the humanities and social sciences in the wake of the so-called digital turn.

Digitalization refers to the division of information and computer operations into an electronical binary code. Detached from processing and supporting material, this code can be distributed very rapidly and potentially automatically.

Due to these characteristics, digitalization harbors the potential to interfuse all aspects of life: unlike in the wake of the developments of the nineteenth century, technologization and automatization are not restricted to physical processes; they also pertain to non-physical processes, such as the acquisition of knowledge, communication, the maintenance of relationships, access to information, organization of labor, or processes of political decision-making.

In the same stroke, digitalization creates new possibilities and methods of academic research.

Particularly regarding the areas of text (linguistics, philology) and image, digital research tools enable analyses, observations, and knowledge production, which would have been impossible for the traditional techniques of the humanities and social sciences.

In front of this backdrop, research efforts of the faculty dealing with digitalization focus on two broader insights: one the one hand, digitalization has an impact on established institutions, organizations, structures, and social relations as instances of phenomena created by human beings; on the other hand, the new potentials change working techniques in the humanities and social sciences and require additional and extensive methodological expertise.

The research emphasis is dedicated to both approaches to the subject matter and is divided into two fields: digitalization as alteration of phenomena and digitalization as method.

This emphasis channels research on religion(s) in both a diachronic and synchronic perspective. Scholarship in this area focuses on religious practices and the history of religion, as well as discourses within and on religions. The individual fields of research were developed in long-term projects with national and international visibility. Distinguished research centers and colleges (ZAR, IKGF) organize the fields’ interdisciplinary networks and cooperation within the faculty and beyond. Moreover, elite programs such as the successfully established master’s program “Ethics of Text Cultures” and the new degree in “Standards of Decision-Making across Cultures” further support the research emphasis’s interdisciplinary focus. Scholarship in this area is distinguished by research across religious and disciplinary boundaries: approaches in cultural studies, philology, and historiography are aligned to engage in fruitful discussions on diverse practices and discourses in different religions and in various historical and cultural contexts. Although the religious character of practices, objects, spaces, persons, and discourses has been and is being repeatedly attested, it is also possible to attest that religion rarely has been clearly defined. It is necessary to negotiate time and again what can be referred to as “religious.” Therefore, of importance are particularly questions regarding how orders, convictions, and practices attained a religious connotation. This can be researched both transculturally and transregionally. However, the research focus does not merely aim to develop a closed-off systematicity of how the religious is constructed. It promotes and interweaves individual research projects that analyze how that which is understood as “religion” transformed and was negotiated within its concrete historical contexts. To achieve this, the research focus provides a scholarly platform where diverse projects can be interwoven to stimulate interdisciplinary synergy. “Religion as Practice and Discourse” is a product of several joint research projects, such as the Research Unit “Sacrality,” and, since 2011, the Central Institute of the Anthropology of Religion(s) (ZAR). This is accompanied by intense discussion on possibly innovative thematic emphases regarding future joint research projects:

  • Knowledge – Temporality – Cultural Comparison
  • Concepts of Boundaries in the Middle East
  • Cultural Difference and Transcontinental Connectivity in Antiquity