Fall term 2019: Visiting Professor, Bern

In fall term 2019, I serve as visiting professor in the Science of Religion, University of Bern.

Dr. phil. Anja Kirsch
Assistentin / PostDoc

Anja Kirsch

Theologische Fakultät

Fachbereich Religionswissenschaft

Assistentin / PostDoc

Heuberg 12
4051 Basel

Tel. +41 61 207 29 26

Education and Academic Positions

Following my studies in religion, history and German studies at the University of Hannover, Germany, I was employed at the University of Jena, Germany; the University of Dublin (Trinity College), Ireland; and at the Universities of Basel and Bern, Switzerland. Currently, I am a post-doctoral researcher and a habilitation candidate in the study of religion at the University of Basel and the academic coordinator of the interuniversity doctoral program in the study of religion at the University of Basel and the University of Zurich. 


My main research interests include the relation between religion and the secular in contemporary and historical perspective; strategies of imparting religious knowledge; and narrative approaches to religion and theories of religious efficacy in the context of modern European religious history.                                                                                                                                                                                                          In my M.A. thesis on changes in contemporary funerary customs, I analyzed not church-related funeral services to explore the structure and content of secular rituals. The thesis was based on interviews conducted with freelance funeral celebrants.                                                          My PhD thesis provides a narratologically informed study of a twentieth-century state ideology and its moral und character education based on the impartation of the socialist worldview in the German Democratic Republic in its relation to religion.                                                          Currently, I am working on nineteenth-century discourses on secularity in the medium of novels and popular literature to further differentiate the genres of secularity and to assess newspapers as a significant source of popular religious history.

Areas of Research

  • Modern European history of religions
    • Short twentieth century: religion and socialism; ritual design; religion and state politics
    • Long nineteenth century: social revolutionary movements; discourses on secularity; utopia and emigration; new Christian movements  
  • Aesthetics, media, and strategies of imparting religious knowledge 
  • Narrative approaches to religion and to the study of religion
  • Conceptual history & historical semantics of religion 


Buchcover Weltanschauung

Weltanschauung als Erzählkultur (The Narrative Culture of a Secular Worldview, 2016)              In my book on character education in a secular state, I analyze the narrative construction of cultures of remembrance by focusing on religion and socialism in East German civics school textbooks. Based on a narratological approach, the analysis illustrates how socialism was construed through a well-defined set of narrative strategies used to impart this worldview, making it plausible and adaptable to citizens' daily concerns. The historical part of the study consists of a detailed analysis of socialist narratives, while its theoretical framework sketches the academic discourse on socialism and religion. It reveals how acts of classification, interpretation, and comparison (socialism as "political", "pseudo-", "quasi-" or "para-"religion) are interwoven with normative understandings of religion and exemplifies how these understandings shape politics and political discourse.

The book has received the 2016 Georg Eckert Prize for Excellence in International Media Research awarded by the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research.

Further book reviews in Theologische Rundschau  (2017), on H/Soz/Kult (2018), and in Zeitschrift für Pädagogik und Theologie  (2019).

Book Abstract (English)

Book Extract (German) 

Since I obtained my Ph.D., I have published on textbook studies and secular education, the emergence of socialist work ethics in its relation to a late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century immortality discourse, civil religion, religion and the fantastic in the popular TV show LOST, narrative strategies i.e. the cognitive mechanisms and discursive strategies of narration in religious contexts, and university didactics. My article on early nineteenth-century political catechisms and the genesis of the Communist Manifesto received the Young Scholars‘ Award of the Swiss Academy of the Humanities and Social Sciences (SAHS).                                                                                                                            With Stefan Arvidsson and Jakub Beneš, I co-edited Socialist Imaginations: Utopias, Myths, and the Masses(Routledge 2019). The anthology brings the international study of socialism into contact with the history of religions and offers new perspectives on the appeal and persuasive power of socialism in the modern world and details how it forged a community of believers by mobilizing pre-existing religious and mythic modes of thought and by appealing to aesthetic sensibilities.                                                                                                                          Together with Dirk Johannsen and Jens Kreinath, I co-edit Narrative Cultures and the Aesthetics of Religion, published in Brill’s Supplements to Method and Theory in the Study of Religion series. In light of approaches to materiality, performance, embodiment, and cognition within the study of religion, the anthology documents religious storytelling practices in historically and culturally diverse settings.

A particular interest of mine concerns the transfer of academic knowledge to broader audiences. I am a member of the Culture on the Edge working group and blog, initiated by US-American scholars of religion to discuss questions of identity politics, religion, and social theory.


I was a member of the organizing committee of the 2018 EASR conference that took place from June 17-21 at the University of Bern, Switzerland. The 2019 annual issue of the Zeitschrift für junge Religionswissenschaft (ZjR)documents a conference seminar for master’s students at the University of Basel and the University of Bern and includes students’ interviews with the keynote speakers of the 2018 EASR conference: https://journals.openedition.org/zjr/1140?lang=en.                                                                                                                                  In summer 2016, I co-hosted the international AESToR.net conference on Narrative Cultures that was held at the University of Oslo, Norway.


frame with text office hour by appointment

I have experience in teaching undergraduate and post-graduate level courses on the history and theory of religion, including tutorials, B.A. and M.A. seminars, colloquia, and lectures. I started teaching as a student tutor at the Leibniz University of Hannover. Since then, I have been teaching at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, the University of Dublin, Trinity College, and the University of Bern, Switzerland. In Basel, my particular responsibility is teaching BA courses on the theory and history of the study of religion as well as on the European history of religion. List of courses taught