Dr. Anja Kirsch
Assistentin / PostDoc (Fachbereich Religionswissenschaft)
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 science of religion at the University of Basel and the program coordinator of the joint doctoral program in the science of religion of 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 and discourses of secularity. My M.A. thesis on ritual dynamics focused on the example of contemporary not church-related funeral services to explore the structure and content of secular rituals. It was methodically based on interviews conducted with freelance funeral celebrants. My PhD thesis provides a study of a twentieth-century state ideology and its secular moral und character education using the example of the conveyance and 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; processes of secularization; atheism and the modern criticism of religion
- Long nineteenth century: social revolutionary movements; discourses on secularity; religious and secular utopia; nineteenth-century emigration
- Aesthetics, media, and strategies of imparting religious knowledge (school textbooks, catechisms, mass media such as film & literature, myths, rituals, and cultures of remembrance)
- Narrative approaches to religion and religious studies, esp. narratological and aesthetic response theory and theories of religious efficacy
- Conceptual history/historical semantics of religion
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 Georg Eckert Prize for Excellence in International Media Research awarded by the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research.
Since I obtained my Ph.D., I have published on textbook studies, the construction 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 cultures, 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 2018). 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. 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 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 have taught in lecturer positions at the Leibniz University of Hannover, 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 introductory courses on the theory and history of religious studies as well as on the European history of religions. List of courses taught
Boards and Memberships
- Editorial Board Member Method and Theory in the Study of Religion MTSR
- Board Member of the Swiss Society for the Study of Religion SSSR
- International Association for the History of Religions IAHR / European Association for the Study of Religions EASR / German Association for the Study of Religion DVRW
- Member of the DVRW working group Aesthetics of Religion AESToR.net
- Centre for Religion, Economy, and Politics ZRWP
- Religious Studies Media and Information Service in Germany REMID