Quests for Meaning: Religion, Spirituality and the Transcendental in German Culture
April 28–29, 2017
Binghamton University (SUNY)

Keynote: Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona: “The Individual Quest For Spirituality In German Literature”

Discourses that have conjugated ideas of “truth” with notions of “purity,” “sacrifice,” and religiosity or quasi-religiosity have been prominent in German-speaking cultures for centuries. Such discourses link, for example, the biographies of individuals such as Luther, Kant, and Bach, situating them as figureheads of their moment or even symbolic figures of a “German spirit.” The concept of “Bildung” as a foundational value that links knowledge and spirituality, as well as the idea of a particular “German depth,” have contributed to this constellation.

What does it mean that meaning, quest, and spirituality have often been defined in terms of one another in German culture and thought? How do ideas of the spiritual and the transcendent interact with and inform other discourses, knowledge practices, and areas of culture? How has the “individual quest for meaning” shaped such disparate domains as philosophy, literature, political thought, and the like? What can the shifting configuration of spirituality among diverse discourses tell us about its central role in the history of German culture and thought?

On the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 theses, the Binghamton University German Studies Colloquium (BUGSC) will explore the shifting constellations of spirituality, religion, and individual quests in German literature, philosophy, culture, and history. We are looking for contributions from German Studies and neighboring disciplines (art history, comparative literature, cultural studies, history, music, philosophy, and visual studies) in order to pose the question of the ever-changing role of spirituality in German culture, broadly conceived. 

We hope that this Lutherjahr colloquium will provoke a wide variety of conversations and investigations. Accordingly, possible topics may include (but are not limited to) the following:

The reformation and/as hermeneutics
Romantic quest (and narrative form)
Return to the Greeks: Winckelmann, Nietzsche, Heidegger
From Grail to Grizzly man: The Quest for meaning in nature
The confessional divide and the picaresque
Theodicies, materialisms, monisms, and “Absolutes Wissen”: spirituality as philosophy and politics
Lebensreform and Lebensreformer: communes, FKK, nutrition as lifestyle, gymnastics clubs
The politics of redemption and messianism on the left and the right
Reformation, book culture, and the public sphere
Political Theology and the post-secular: religion and the public sphere
Atheism, pantheism, and the German Enlightenment
The rediscovery of Christian thought by writers after 1945: Langgässer, Schneider, Rinser, Mosebach
Atheism and critique of religion as a mission: from Schopenhauer to Arno Schmidt
Jewish-German writers look to the east: Döblin, Roth, Lasker-Schüler, and others
“Sie sind suchende”: the quest for meaning and the novel form
The “Faustian” in the ideology and culture of the 20th century
The politics of the occult and the mythological
Heathens in Sturm und Drang and Weimar Classicism
Spiritualism as bricolage: from Hermann Hesse to Evangelischer Kirchentag
From the Jewish Enlightenment to the Renaissance of German-Jewish thought in the Weimar Republic: Mendelssohn, Buber, Rosenzweig, Scholem, Benjamin
Reformation, humanism, and Luther’s legacy (in two Germanies)
Geist in der Maschine: the spiritualization of technology and media

We welcome submissions for papers and panels (in German or English) on “Quests for Meaning: Religion, Spirituality and the Transcendental in German Culture.” Please submit an approximately one-page abstract with a one-paragraph biographical note by Friday, December 30, 2016 to Harald Zils at [log in to unmask] We also welcome panel proposals, which should include three abstracts and three biographies. Presentations should be no longer than twenty minutes, with three presentations per panel. We welcome submissions from all those interested in thinking about the 2017 BUGSC theme, including faculty and graduate students, teachers and researchers, writers and translators, and others active in the field.

Dr. phil. Harald Zils
Assistant Professor of German Studies
Undergraduate Studies Director, German Studies
Dept. of German and Russian Studies (GRS)
Binghamton University, SUNY
PO Box 6000
Binghamton, NY 13902

The German Studies Call for Papers List
Editor: Sean Franzel
Assistant Editor:  Olaf Schmidt
Sponsored by the University of Missouri
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