Funding Promotion Areas History, language & culture

History, language & culture

The preservation and further development of the legacy of the classical arts subjects is a prime goal of the „History, Language and Culture“ area of support. In spite of all the new combinations, the classical fields such as philosophy and theology remain important; these too are undergoing a process of change, but at the same time continue to offer orientations which can be of use in all fields of the arts and cultural studies.

  • Project funding: Studies on the genesis and the representational intention of the Ghent Altarpiece


This in turn can lead to the formation of new and different coalitions between academic subjects, and also to the appearance of new fields of study. In recent decades increasing globalization and the spread of the electronic media have not only further speeded up the pace of change but at the same time altered its quality. Cultures are coming into closer contact with each other. With the development of media of universal communication the boundaries between language and culture are becoming increasingly porous, and simultaneity is becoming a determining quality in scholarly exchanges.

More than in earlier ages, individual disciplines react to these processes of change with new terminology and even with new names for their fields of work. This tendency is particularly evident in the arts, not only in Germany, but also wherever the „humanities“ and the „sciences humaines“ exist. In the area of support „History, Language and Culture“ the Fritz Thyssen Foundation attempts to respond to these changes with reasonable openness. Undisputed is the fact that in Germany the classical arts subjects under the influence of Anglo-Saxon research have developed into cultural studies. They have thrown off their eurocentric perspective and have for some time used, to their own advantage, theories and methods stemming from other disciplines. They no longer concentrate on developing theories of knowledge taken over from the natural sciences, but recognize, to name just one example, the advantage of cooperation with the cognitive neuro-sciences.

At the same time the preservation and further development of the legacy of the traditional arts subjects is a prime goal of the „History, Language and Culture“ area of support. In spite of all the new combinations, the traditional fields such as philosophy and theology remain important; these too are undergoing a process of change, but at the same time continue to offer orientations which can be of use in all fields of the arts and cultural studies.

The foundation attempts to respond to these manifold changes with a considerable degree of open-mindedness. On the one hand projects are supported which, under the influence of Anglo-Saxon research, could be called „cultural studies“ and which seek to establish interdisciplinary contact with the social sciences. Special attention is also paid to research projects which are based on cooperation with the natural sciences, particularly with the cognitive neuro-sciences. At the same time the foundation continues to support the research traditions of the „classical“ arts disciplines, particularly philosophy and theology; it furthers research which can act as a stimulus to all subjects in the broad fields of the arts and cultural studies.

  • Philosophy

    Philosophy is not intrinsically confined to certain subjects, methods or basic terms. It has however always made critical contributions to subjects of general cultural and scholarly discourse as well as the methods and basic terms of other disciplines. In view of the importance of this supportive critical reflection, which also includes enhancing historical awareness, the Foundation supports philosophy in its entire breadth. No priority is assigned to certain fields of work or approaches – nor, say, to moral philosophy as opposed to  the philosophy of mind, historical versus systematic works, or problems of a fundamental theoretical nature over applied ones, or to formal versus verbal methods of argumentation. Such categories make good sense. They can however harm the discipline if they lead to schisms in the discourse. The same applies to the borders between philosophy and other disciplines with which it shares subjects and problems. Some borderlines, often even institutionalised ones, are not based on any logical division of academic labour, but are instead the result of terminological estrangement, of mainstream-based publication cultures and the constraints of well-trodden career paths.

    Barriers have recently become more permeable with respect to the cognitive sciences, having an impact on the philosophy of mind in particular, but also beyond. In the field of moral philosophy, there have always been connections with adjoining normative and empirical sciences in certain applied projects. Basic theoretical cleavages, however, persist with a long-term horizon. Contributions continue to be influenced by welfarism and decision theory or  the philosophy-of-law tradition, and by respective terminologies. This reflects deep-rooted difficulties in  reconciling normative thinking in economics and in jurisprudence .

    The Foundation especially welcomes projects which, regardless of their field, work to reduce unjustifiable barriers to discourse within or between disciplines, be it by exploring the roots of these barriers and their consequences, by translating between fields or disciplines, or by correcting sweeping judgements. This is where junior scholars, being less set on a particular perspective, can play a special role as long as their work is based on their own detailed readings. The Fritz Thyssen Foundation leaves it up to applicants to take the initiative in selecting specific topics in the broad field of philosophy. The Foundation’s intention is to preserve and uphold the traditional strengths of this discipline – its openness, its scope on fundamental questions, its critical faculties and the originality of its contributions.

  • Theology and Religious Studies

    In lists of recognized academic fields, theology and religious studies tend to be placed in a category of their own. For a long time, theology stood exclusively for Christian theology including its exegetic-philological, historical, systematic and practically-theological subdisciplines. The field of religious studies, on the other hand, seemed to be mainly responsible for religions other than Christianity. This situation has changed considerably in recent decades as a result of institutional and methodological changes, not only at German research institutions: On the one hand, non-Christian religions are now treating their histories and faith beliefs in theological teaching and research institutions, for instance Judaism and Islam. But religious self-perception and religious interpretations may sometimes suffer breaks in content and method when treated in the context of „religious studies“. Seen in this way, theology and religious studies deal with partly divergent, partly convergent fields when they turn to the history, institutions and the cultural and political effects of religions.

    The Fritz Thyssen Foundation accepts applications from all areas of theology and religious studies. The foundation´s policy of support allows it to include in its programmes a wide range of thematic interests, specialization in the sub-disciplines, and a variety of methodical approaches. Historical projects such as editions and other contributions to basic research are welcome, as well as studies on the current environments in which religions exist. The foundation also encourages projects which, aside from the interdisciplinary structure already inherent in theology and religious studies, aim at synergetic effects with other academic disciplines.

  • Historical Studies

    The spectrum of topics and methods in the field of historical studies has seen an extraordinary surge of interest over the last decades. Political history, intellectual history, economic and social history have been joined by cultural history perspectives, with the history of epochs and nations being joined by the history of regions, cities and individual social groups. New approaches to the study of history include the history of experience and memories while the history of media and law, for instance, has also been receiving renewed attention. The rise of a united Europe has sparked greater interest in commonalities in Europe from a historical perspective as well. Processes of globalisation are challenging Eurocentric views of the world, stimulating a search for alternative methods of relating the history of the world or of mankind. This process of expansion and differentiation, proceeding all the way to the establishment of autonomous disciplines, has been accompanied by a host of new methodological approaches and changing perspectives.

    The Fritz Thyssen Stiftung is open to applications for support from all areas of historical studies. It especially welcomes applications that are conceptually and methodologically innovative, whose projects address changing societies and explore the impact of these changes on various areas of life, ranging from everyday life to social institutions and all the way to the transformation of mentalities and world views.

  • Study of Classical Antiquity; Archaeology

    Research into ancient, mainly prehistoric cultures, has led world-wide to a dramatic expansion of archaeological studies and to a number of new, highly specialized areas of archaeology. The cooperation between archaeologists and natural scientists has played an increasingly important role in this development. Faced with such a wide variety of archaeological research, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation has had to concentrate its support on particular areas. The Mediterranean area has traditionally been at the centre of the foundation´s programmes of support, whereby the Greek and Italian cultures and their relationships to their neighbours have been especially emphasized. In this connection, archaeology is seen as a historical discipline within the framework of classical ancient history.

    All forms of archaeological research, whether theoretical or practical, can be supported. However, the foundation is especially interested in projects which attempt to answer clearly defined historical questions, or which in the fields of excavations and data processing use interesting methodical approaches or new techniques; of lesser interest are projects which focus on the presentation of materials or on cataloguing.

    Preference is given to projects which describe and analyse specific characteristics of and changes in a culture in a concrete historical context. Investigations of antique cities, for instance, involving researchers with different special competencies, are viewed as particularly promising. The traditional „art-history“ approaches can also lead to new insights in the context of such an integrated approach. The world of images – a reflection of the values and ideals of a society – is in a constant state of tension with the everyday world. Recent studies comparing cultures and the phenomena of acculturation and cultural decay have proved particularly rewarding.

    In the field of ancient history and classical philology the foundation is particularly interested in supporting projects in which methods or contents have an interdisciplinary character and where the questions to be answered permit a link with archaeological concerns. In the case of historical studies, these projects will come largely from the fields of religious history, economic history, social history and the history of mentality; for philology, from the examination of texts which are relevant to these various areas of historical research.

    The interdisciplinary dialogue between the various sub-disciplines of ancient history deserves further attention, with the goal of bringing sophisticated methods developed in a single field to a wider application. Similarly, ancient history has methodological contributions to make when viewed in its role as a part of the entire field of historical studies; and classical philology, seen as part of the field of linguistics and literary studies as well as in relation to philosophy and studies of the ancient world, may also contribute to methodological advances.

    Finally, research projects are welcomed which relate the field of ancient history to all the other areas of cultural studies.

  • Aesthetics

    As a consequence of the dynamics of cultural and social change, disciplines which deal with the arts, in particular the history of art and musicology as well as theatre and media studies, are facing a variety of new challenges. What matters now is less the emergence of a new avant-garde or artistic advances, but a dramatic shift in the perspectives and contexts in which these arts flourish. An altered awareness has not only brought about a broadening of the range of images that is studied, but also shifted attention to processes of artistic exchange extending beyond the European canon of art. Conventional methods and strategies of interpretation have been called into question and a reassessment of approaches is required.

    This can be illustrated using the example of the image: As a result of the electronic revolution, the image has become a universal medium of information, understanding and knowledge that can hardly be assigned to any single discipline. The focus has shifted to its instrumental function, which can no longer be grasped within the traditional methods of art history. The continuation of familiar scholarly processes would result in blotting out current problems, while new opportunities and challenges would be missed. The disciplines that address visual phenomena are thus as a whole called upon to spell out more precisely their own contribution to the polyphonic choir of interventions.

    The Fritz Thyssen Stiftung supports projects from all areas of the arts and neighbouring fields, but particularly those that deal with theoretical questions and foundational sources, with methodological issues, clarification of important categories and interdisciplinary research – in short, with scholarly investigations characterised by problem-awareness and a high level of reflection. The Foundation does not assign priority to supporting projects which centre on cataloguing or on new editions.

  • Linguistics and Literary Studies

    Linguistics and literary studies, like most of the other liberal arts, have undergone considerable changes since the 1960s – changes which have affected the methods used and which have also led to a new determination of the objects of study. One of the consequences of these changes is the increasing autonomy of linguistics and literary studies, which have developed into largely separate and very precisely differentiated fields. The main cause of these changes was a marked theoretization which in linguistics led to a primary interest in synchronic questions. In literary studies since, at the very latest, the 70s, a lively debate on the possibilities and variations of a “literary science” has been in progress. Such attempts to bring about a theoretization of the discipline have generated a number of fields such as the aesthetics of reception, the sociology of literature, literary semiotics and deconstruction, which now exist parallel to the traditionally dominant literary history.

    The theoretization of linguistics and literary studies has been accompanied by shifts in the actual objects of study. Not only the standard written form of languages and the traditional canon of texts are the objects of study, but increasingly the focus is on a wide variety both of speech and literary forms of expression. Recently in the area of literary studies a discussion of the nature and function of the media has once more brought about a considerable revision of the subjects to be treated; increasingly, the relationships between literature, film, the new media etc. have become of central concern.

    In the light of this differentiation between linguistics and literary studies, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation gives priority to the support of projects which investigate basic questions of language and literature. Above all, the foundation is interested in projects which focus on the examination of language and text. It also supports projects which are devoted to historical investigations as well as those which are devoted to the theoretical foundations of these disciplines. Of special interest are projects which establish links to other fields of study, and in particular to such disciplines as philosophy or theology which also investigate language and texts.

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