Current Research Activity
I am currently based in Melbourne on leave and I am working on the following:
- working towards completion of my monograph Ambivalent Similarities. German Representations of Islam 1770-1918
- editing a volume of essays together with Dr. Ben Schofield (KCL) entitled German in the World. A Culture in National, Transnational and Global Contexts;
- preparing a special edition of Poetics Today with Dr Silke Horstkotte (Leipzig) on post-secular cultures.
- preparing a large scale project on the origins, transmissions and relevances of German Popular Music in a global context.
Large research projects: Islam in German Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century
My current research is geared towards producing a monograph to appear in 2018. This is to be a thematic study of how Islam was conceived and represented in German and Austrian writing of the long nineteenth century (from the late Enlightenment to the end of World War I). The project is interdisciplinary, embracing 'high' and 'popular' literature, the academic discourses of philosophy, theology, historiography and Oriental Studies, as well as travel writing in German. The discourses examined emanate from differing and often radically competing ideological sources across the German-speaking world and the period. The project challenges the idea that Islam was a focus of the German Enlightenment, only to cease being of interest throughout the nineteenth century until Germany (re)engaged politically with Ottoman Empire in the latter phase of the period. Instead, Islam, be it as a theme, a trope or a complex corpus of cultural information and learning, is an object of fascination throughout the period, though it migrates between the discourses described, with a gradual shift discernible away from literature towards travel writing, academic study and the political.
The ideological valency of the German 'take' on Islam also shifts with the changing ideological currents of the century: Islam serves variously as a stylized literary ideal which helps to articulate a vision of a new connection between Germany and the Orient set in a cosmopolitan future, though it is also reduced to a template of Germany's radical other, to be admired though also despised from afar. Islamic Studies emerges as an admirably objective university discipline in the latter half of the century, presenting itself as a 'weltbürgerliche Wissenschaft’, though is later co-opted in various ways to underpin ideologically Germany’s political allegiance with Ottoman Turkey. And German and Austrian travel writing by men and women, soldiers, clergymen, missionaries and tourists alike, both critiques the British and French colonisation of Islamic territories and also participates in kind of para-colonial fantasy, which allows German speakers both to reject imperialism ostensibly, and yet still to judge Islam according to European and Christian norms: a complex story, which, it should be noted, also tells the story of the ideological tensions at play in the construction of German and Austrian National (and Imperial) identity.
I have also worked (and continue to work) on the relationship between German Romanticism and contemporary critical theory: I have previously investigated the extent to which the Romantic notions of meaning and language, from which much of the writing of this period flows, make Romanticism remarkably modern in its treatment of concepts such as individual and collective identity. In the light of this, theory is not merely something which we postmoderns 'do' to Romantic texts, but those texts are also part of a historical theoretical canon which informs and gave rise to our contemporary theoretical culture. Whilst there is much that differs between Romanticism and contemporary theory, not least in the area of metaphysics, I believe in questioning some of the false dichotomies exisiting between eighteenth and twentieth-century modes of thought and writing.