College of Arts and Sciences

Germanic Studies

Literature & Culture

Our faculty covers most aspects of the literature, cultural history, and thought of the German-speaking world since the Middle Ages in their courses and research. In particular, there are five collective areas of active research and teaching:

  • German Thought
    and Ideas
  • History of
  • Narrative
  • Performance and
  • Politics and
  • German Thought and Ideas
  • History of Knowledge
  • Narrative
  • Performance and Intermediality
  • Politics and Aesthetics

German Thought and Ideas

From its beginnings in the European Middle Ages, through the turbulent Reformation and period of religious civil wars, to our Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment modernity, the German intellectual tradition has been a source of profound innovation and renewal. With Luther, Christianity reinvented itself; with Kant, philosophy was redirected; and with Marx, political theory and practice were revolutionized.  Members of the Department's faculty investigate these and other turning points, whose inspiration can be traced to the German conversation with the Western tradition.  

What is the continuing provocation of Nietzsche or relevance of Freud?  What do the theological, aesthetic, philosophical and scientific speculations of Lessing, Schiller, and Goethe tell us about the world we live in now?  How did Hölderlin, Kleist, and Kafka alter the task that literature sets for itself?  How do we account for the cultural and intellectual importance of the late 18th-century Berlin salons that were hosted by educated Jewish women like Rachel Varnhagen and Henriette Herz?  What is the significance of the controversies that surround towering figures like Wagner, Heidegger, and Arendt?  To help us explore these and other phenomena of the German tradition we are aided by colleagues in neighboring disciplines – Philosophy, Religious Studies, Political Theory, Jewish Studies, Comparative Literature, among others – with whom we often collaborate, debate, and teach.

William Rasch's major interest is the philosophical discourse of modernity from the European Enlightenment to the 20th-century theoretical works of Weber, the Frankfurt School, Gehlen, Habermas and Luhmann. Sandra Shapshay (philosophy and adjunct professor in Germanic Studies) works on Schopenhauer and tragedy. Allen Wood (philosophy) is currently working on a book on Fichte's Ethical Thought. William Scheuermann (political science, adjunct professor in Germanic Studies), works on modern political thought, German political thought, and international political theory. In his current book project, Johannes Türk develops the implications of the figure of the immune man in the tradition of political theories of sovereignty from Roman Law through feudal law to biopolitical contexts. Fritz Breithaupt continues to return to Goethe and is currently working on Goethe's moral thought.

Selected publications:

Fritz Breithaupt, Jenseits der Bilder. Goethes Politik des Bildlichen, (Freiburg: Rombach, 2000).

William Rasch: "Theory after Critical Theory," in: Jane Elliott and Derek Attridge (eds.), Theory after 'Theory,' (London: Routledge, 2011):  49-61.

Benjamin Robinson, "One Iota of Difference: Remembering GDR Literature as Socialist Literature," in: Renate Rechtien and Dennis Tate (eds.), Twenty Years On: Competing Memories of the GDR in Post-Unification German Culture, (Rochester: Camden House, 2011): 217-231.

Sandra Shapshay, "Poetic Intuition and the Bounds of Sense: Metaphor and Metonymy in Schopenhauer's Philosophy," in: European Journal of Philosophy, 2008 (reprinted in Christopher Janaway & Alex Neill eds. Better Consciousness: Schopenhauer's Philosophy of Value, Blackwell 2009).

William Scheuermann, Frankfurt School Perspectives on Globalization, Democracy and the Law (Routledge 2008).

Johannes Türk, homo immunis. Der Souverän und die Ausnahme des guten Lebens, (forthcoming 2014).

Allen Wood, Kantian Ethics (2008).

History of Knowledge

Exploring questions related to the history of knowledge has inspired significant achievements from members of our faculty. From the relevance of a constellation in contemporary chemistry for the understanding of the concept of Romantic poetry, to the influence of economic and monetary factors on the development of the modern self, to an examination into the history of immunology and its language as a major vocabulary for defining art – these investigations relate traditional literary knowledge to other bodies of knowledge.

Although knowledge about cultural contexts has always played an important part in philology, the production, dissemination and influence of formations of knowledge on literature has only recently become an independent area of research that encompasses – but is by no means limited to – what was traditionally called intellectual history. Whereas traditional views of the relationship between literature and knowledge privilege humanistic knowledge – especially philosophy, historical linguistics, history, and psychology – now chemistry, medicine, astronomy/astrology/prognostication, immunology, economy, neuroscience and governmental sciences promise to make accessible the relationships between humanistic inquiries and developments in the sciences in the past as well as the present.

These approaches have allowed members of the department to establish networks of cooperation inside and outside the university and they have enriched our curriculum, especially on the graduate level, through, for example, courses on empathy and literature, the senses in the eighteenth century, or on temporality in narrative literature, biology and historiography.

Michel Chaouli has been working on the intersection of the sciences of the senses, theories of embodiment, and aesthetic theories since the eighteenth century. The late 18th-century is fertile ground for investigations of how knowledge is produced and disseminated; among other issues, William Rasch has dealt with German Enlightenment views on gender and the barriers they placed on women's full role in the intellectual life of the time. Sander Gliboff (History and Philosophy of Science, adjunct in Germanic Studies) works the history of biology, especially evolution and genetics, and the science in modern Germany and Austria. Johannes Türk has become a specialist in the history of immunology, investigating it cultural implications from a variety of angles from antiquity to the 20th century.

Selected publications:

Claudia Breger, "Imperialist Fantasy and Displaced Memory: Twentieth-Century German Egyptologies," in: New German Critique 96 (2005): 135-169.

Fritz Breithaupt, Der Ich-Effekt des Geldes: Zur Geschichte einer Legitimationsfigur, (Frankfurt: S. Fischer, 2008).

Michel Chaouli, "Laocoön and the Hottentots," in: Sara Eigen & Mark Larrimore (eds.), The German Invention of Race, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006): 23-31.

Sander Gliboff, H.G. Bronn, Ernst Haeckel, and the Origins of German Darwinism: A Study in Translation and Transformation (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008).

Hildegard Elisabeth Keller (ed.): Jakob Ruf. Leben, Werk und Studien. 5 Bände in Schuber mit 2 CD-ROM. Zürich: NZZ Libro 2008.

William Rasch, "Ideal Sociability: Friedrich Schleiermacher and the Ambivalence of Extrasocial Spaces," in Ulrike Gleixner and Marion Gray (eds.), Gender in Transition: Discourse and Practice in German-Speaking Europe, 1750-1830 (Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 2006): 319-329.
Benjamin Robinson, "Two or Three?—A Case for Two," in: Ian Cooper and Bernhard Malkmus (eds.), Dialectic and Paradox: Configurations of the Third in Modernity (New York: Peter Lang) (forthcoming)

Johannes Türk, Die Immunität der Literatur (Frankfurt: S. Fischer 2011).

Marc A. Weiner, "Hans Pfitzner and the Anxiety of Nostalgic Modernism," in: Rick McCormick, Patrizia McBride, and Monika Žagar (eds.), Legacies of Modernism: Art and Politics in Northern Europe, 1890-1950 (New York: Palgrave, 2007): 17-28.


Several members of our department are pioneers in the research of narrative in the context of German & European literature. Narratives are everywhere. When a lawyer wants to make a case for a client, she more often than not will resort to story-telling. Advertisers know the need to link their product to a good story, and journalists have become specialists in developing narrative as a mode of unfolding the world.

Narrative thinking and narrative presentations turn out to be highly efficient for memory and problem solving; narratives are a favorite pastime (Gottschall); narratives in the form of gossip may have had a central role in creating homo sapiens (Dunbar); and narratives also play a central role in the construction of individual and collective identities. Accordingly, we ask what narratives are, how they impact human behavior, what forms they take and how they relate to issues of aesthetics, morality, performance, identity, self-defense or immunity, in both literary and non-literary media. Of particular interest to us are questions of narration and empathy. Our department has even hosted a large workshop on narration and empathy, which led to the publication of two edited volumes, one in English and one in German.

A number of publications, courses, and research projects by faculty members over the last few years address crucial aspects of narratological questions. In these we turn to the multitude of German writers who have expanded the range of what narratives can do (think of Kleist's novellas with their peculiar "unerhörte Begebenheit") and also to the abundance of theorists and philosophers, such as Walter Benjamin, who have analyzed the structure of narrative.

In contrast to most "narratologists," we look at many different ideas and forms of narrative that emerge from individual literary, theatrical, filmic, and philosophical texts. That is, instead of subsuming narratives under some general taxonomy, we look at narrative through the eyes of specific textual, filmic, and artistic instances. A complementary approach links the narrative economy of texts and the ways in which they engage the reader/viewer with the latest research questions concerning emotionality and the structure of the sensorium (anger, visibility - invisibility).

Claudia Breger has been pursuing narrative's intersections with performance and affect (see also following sections). Johannes Türk reinterprets narrative as forming sequences that immunize against conflicts and allow to integrate them. Fritz Breithaupt currently works on a monograph on narrative moral reasoning.

Selected publications:

Claudia Breger, An Aesthetics of Narrative Performance: Transnational Theater, Literature, and Film in Contemporary Germany, (Columbus, Ohio State UP, 2012).

Fritz Breithaupt, Kultur der Ausrede. Eine Erzähltheorie, (Berlin: Suhrkamp 2012).

Hildegard Elisabeth Keller, "Blinded Avengers. Making Sense of Invisibility in Courtly Epic and Legal Ritual," in: Nichols, Stephen G., and Calhoun Alison (eds.), Rethinking the Medieval Senses. Heritage - Fascinations – Frames (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2008): 218-262.

Benjamin Robinson, "Was leistet ein Index?" ["What does an index accomplish?"], in: Stefan Börnchen, Georg Mein and Martin Roussel (eds.), Name, Ding. Referenzen [Name, Thing. References] (Paderborn: Fink, 2012).

Johannes Türk, Die Immunität der Literatur (Frankfurt: Fischer, 2011).

Performance and Intermediality

The prominence of theater and film is a central feature of the development of the culture of German-speaking Europe. Three core strengths of our department are 1) the analysis of intermediality and performance; 2) the use of creative performance and modern media to reanimate older sources for contemporary audiences as an aspect of reception; and 3) the digital arts, digital humanities and critical media practice.

Two noteworthy examples are Claudia Breger's new book, An Aesthetics of Narrative Performance: Transnational Theater, Literature, and Film in Contemporary Germany (2012), and Marc Weiner's monograph Undertones of Insurrection: Music & Cultural Politics in the Modern German Narrative (2009). In addition, Marc Weiner regularly contributes program notes to the excellent Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Hildegard Keller has worked with multiple media in collaboration with Swiss, German, Argentinian, and American universities, museums in Germany and Switzerland, and radio and television in Austria and Switzerland. Recent examples are her three volumes Trilogie des Zeitlosen (books with CDs), part of Museum Rietberg's exhibition on mysticism in the world religions (2011-2012), and her experimental film Der Ozean im Fingerhut (The Ocean in a Thimble, 2012, with Russell Sheaffer).

The Indiana University DEFA Project (2010-present) represents another important instance of our commitment to film and media studies.  Created by Brigitta Wagner, the DEFA Project combined research on relatively unknown Eastern films from the period of German unification with community and statewide educational outreach; a public film series with critical introductions and roundtables with faculty and visitors from numerous disciplines; an international conference; a graduate and undergraduate seminar; a high school conference; and the research volume DEFA after East Germany, which was published by Camden House in December 2014.

Our department has contributed to the greater campus community through numerous events at the IU Cinema and regular programming at the manuscript and rare book collection of the Lilly Library. Notable are the 2011 Kinsey Film Project and the annual series, Mediaevalia at the Lilly, (hosted at and co-sponsored by the Library and the Medieval Studies Institute). One seminar per year for both undergraduate and graduate students is conducted by a scholar from the fields of manuscript studies, the history of the book, and early prints. In combining lectures with hands-on workshops, our goal is to make abstract ideas concrete by confronting the IU community and interested public with the intractable nature of sources and giving them some sense of just how much can be gleaned from their materiality (handwriting, type, parchment, paper, watermarks, title pages, musical notation, format, and decoration).

Our department also engages with digital humanities and multimedia scholarship. Michel Chaouli was recently invited to join the editorial board of the online journal Dichtung Digital, in whose context he will continue his work in digital poetics. Hildegard Keller was invited to join a consortium, funded by the Mellon Foundation (since fall 2012), mandated to explore the performance cultures of the Middle Ages through the combined expertise of "Humanities Without Walls" scholars and creative artists to study, but also to stage and to film performances of medieval drama, ritual, dance, and music. We hope to offer our students similar opportunities in the future.

Selected publications:

Claudia Breger, An Aesthetics of Narrative Performance: Transnational Theater, Literature, and Film in Contemporary Germany (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2012).

Michel Chaouli, "Remix: Literatur," Merkur: Zeitschrift für europäisches Denken, 63 (2009): 463-76.

Hildegard Keller, Trilogie des Zeitlosen (Zürich: vdf)(3 books with a total of 6 CDs): Die Stunde des Hundes. Nach Heinrich Seuses "Exemplar". Das Kamel und das Nadelöhr. Eine Begegnung zwischen Zhuangzi und Meister Eckhart /
Der Ozean im Fingerhut. Hildegard von Bingen, Mechthild von Magdeburg, Hadewijch und Etty Hillesum im Gespräch.

Marc. A. Weiner, "Hollywood's German Fantasy: Ridley Scott's Gladiator," in: Jeongwon Joe and Sander Gilman (eds.), Wagner and Cinema. (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2009): 186-209.

Benjamin Robinson, "The State of Being Done: Film at the End of the Second World," in: Brigitta B. Wagner (ed.), DEFA after East Germany (Rochester: Camden House) (forthcoming).

Politics and Aesthetics

A prominent research and teaching strength of our department concerns the way artistic dimensions of culture interact with political dimensions. Our work is informed by long traditions emphasizing both the distinctness of these two realms and their interrelationships. In different ways, individual faculty members explore traditional as well as innovative aspects of this field, e.g., the legacy of engaged culture; new materialist paradigms; contemporary specifications of the political and aesthetic; new periodizations and territorializations; and minority positionalities. Several colleagues explore aesthetics in its philosophical space, where its relationship to ethics and political theory can take an oblique form. Others emphasize the historical and political embeddedness of aesthetic objects, their production, and their reception.

Our strength in this area builds on an active existing campus culture; for example, the recent reading group and workshop at the Center for Theoretical Inquiry in the Humanities focusing on the work of Max Weber, Leo Strauss, Louis Althusser, and Jacques Rancière. Other intellectuals frequently discussed in our department include Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Walter Benjamin. We have hosted symposia on figures such as Hannah Arendt, Carl Schmitt, Alain Badiou (who was a guest of the department in 2007), on Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht's Productions of Presence, as well as a multi-year project on East German film in the wake of reunification. Other workshops have focused on "Performing Community: Aesthetics and Politics, Violence and Re-mediation," and the legacy of Weimar "Sachlichkeit."

For the near future, we are planning a conference on the theme of "Engagements, Events, Energies: The Arts Between Affirmation and Critique" that will host international scholars to take measure of the most recent work on the conjunction of politics and aesthetics. In addition, an upcoming "Themester" (a College-wide coordination of undergraduate courses around a shared theme) focusing on labor will draw on curricular proposals from the department for new undergraduate courses on work in and by art.

Claudia Breger is working on a book manuscript on 'Mixed Feelings' in contemporary film narrative. Michel Chaouli is working to complete a monograph on Kant's aesthetic theory. For more than a decade now, Bill Rasch has worked on issues in political theory, especially in the arena of international order and law. Julia Roos (history, adjunct professor in Germanic Studies) works on twentieth-century Germany, gender, and sexuality. Mark Roseman (history, adjunct professor in Germanic Studies) works on the history of the Holocaust and modern German history, including post-1945 German and European reconstruction and generation conflict. Besides his work on the political function of immunological language and the regulation of empathy, Johannes Türk has demonstrated and rediscovered the relevance of Carl Schmitt's writings on literature, especially his book on Shakespeare.

Selected publications:

Claudia Breger, "Precarious Identifications: The Aesthetic Management of Empathy in Schläfer (Sleeper, 2005) and Paradise Now (2005)," in: Deutsche Vierteljahresschrift 82.3 (2008): 494-516.

Michel Chaouli, "Human Voices and the Voice of Humanity in Kant's Third Critique," in: David E. Wellbery (ed.), Kultur-Schreiben als romantisches Projekt. Romantische Ethnographie im Spannungsfeld zwischen Imagination und Wissenschaft, (Würzburg : Königshausen & Neumann, 2012): 43 – 60.

William Rasch, "Enlightenment as Religion," in: New German Critique 108, 36/3 (Fall 2009): 109-31.

Ben Robinson, Skin of the System: On Germany's Sociality Modernity (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2009).  

Julia Roos, Weimar through the Lens of Gender: Prostitution Reform, Woman's Emancipation, and German Democracy, 1918-1933 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010).

Mark Roseman, German History from the Margins, Bloomington: Indiana University Press 2006 (edited volume, with Neil Gregor and Nils Roemer).

Jeffrey Saletnik, Bauhaus Construct: Fashioning Identity, Discourse and Modernism. London: Routledge, 2009; (edited with Robin Schuldenfrei).  

Johannes Türk, "The Intrusion: Carl Schmitt's Non-Mimetic Logic of Art", in: Telos 142 (Spring 2008): 73-89.
Mirjam Zadoff, Der rote Hiob. Das Leben des Werner Scholem. Munich: Carl Hanser, 2014. (English Translation under contract with University of Pennsylvania Press).

Marc A. Weiner, Undertones of Insurrection: Music & Cultural Politics in the Modern German Narrative, republished by Transaction (New Brunswick) in 2009.

Germanic Studies
Global and International Studies Building 3103
355 North Jordan Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47405-1105
Phone: 812-855-1553
Fax: 812-855-8927