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Dilthey Fellowship for Heidelberg German Studies Scholar Dr. Björn Spiekermann

Press Release No. 99/2010
10 May 2010
Award worth 400,000 Euros – Funding for research work on ”The Free Thinker – a German Enemy Image”
Dr. Björn Spiekermann
Dr. Björn Spiekermann

Heidelberg German studies scholar Dr. Björn Spiekermann has been awarded a Dilthey Fellowship endowed with 400,000 Euros. The Fellowship is one of the most prestigious research grants for young scholars working in the humanities. It is awarded jointly by the Volkswagen Foundation and the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. The funding is designed to cover a period of five years and will enable Dr. Spiekermann to continue with his habilitation project entitled “The Free Thinker – a German Enemy Image”. Dr. Spiekermann works at Heidelberg University’s Department of German Studies. His project focuses on the criticism levelled at radical Enlightenment thinking in the 18th century.

Björn Spiekermann (b. 1976) first studied in Oldenburg, later enrolling at Heidelberg University for German studies and philosophy. He completed his doctoral dissertation on the German poet Richard Dehmel (1863-1920) in 2006. It was awarded the Ruprecht Karl Prize of the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation. The dissertation focuses on a literary flow around the turn of the century that pitted the optimistic programme for a reform of life based on philosophy against the so-called “decadence” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In his capacity as a Research Associate of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Dr. Spiekermann is also involved in the "Europa Humanistica project", where he is responsible for the translation, annotation and critical edition of Latin texts by Palatinate humanists.

The research project funded by the Dilthey Fellowship is interdisciplinary in nature and represents an investigation of the image of the “free thinker” (Freigeist) in literature and public writing between 1700 and 1800. Unlike today, this image was almost completely negative in the 18th century. Frequently regarded as a synonym for “atheist”, it was used polemically to devalue the fundamental critique of religion mounted by “radical” Enlightenment thinkers and later turned into a term of blanket denigration designed to discredit any kind of religious criticism whatsoever. This, says Dr. Spiekermann, casts an interesting and surprising light on the specific nature of the German Enlightenment: “Almost all Enlightenment thinkers were convinced that society cannot exist without religion. Accordingly, all truly fundamental criticism of religion met with fierce opposition.” The aim of his study is to scrutinise diehard assumptions about the unity of the German Enlightenment movement and to foreground the religious complexion of 18th century thinking.

The Dilthey Fellowship is awarded jointly by the Volkswagen Foundation and the Fritz Thyssen Foundation in the framework of the funding initiative “Pro Geisteswissenschaften” (In Support of the Humanities). The award for outstanding young academics is named after the German philosopher and cultural historian Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), who established the concept of „Geisteswissenschaften“ (Humanities) and gave it a theoretical grounding.


Note for newsdesks
A digital photo of Dr. Björn Spiekermann is available from the Public Information Office.

Dr. Björn Spiekermann
Department of Germanic Studies
phone: +49 6221 54-3231

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