Faculty of Modern LanguagesMission Statement

The Faculty of Modern Languages at Heidelberg University focuses on research and teaching in the fields of language, literature, and culture. Its field of inquiry comprises contemporary European languages and literatures; the cultural contexts in which these languages and literatures have developed since the Middle Ages; and their transcultural expansion, as driven by migration and colonialism. Languages studied include German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, Czech, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian and Bulgarian. The Faculty imparts in-depth linguistic command in each of the above-named languages.

The Faculty of Modern Languages supports theory-based research as well as projects which adopt applied and experimental approaches. Specialties within each discipline include the following:

  • Research within the field of literary studies encompasses preserving and editing texts, and interpreting them in cultural, intercultural and comparative contexts, and literary theory.
  • Research within the field of linguistics involves the analysis of linguistic structures using theoretical models as well as corpus-based and computational methods; the development and analysis of automated methods for the processing of natural language; and the investigation of increasing cultural and linguistic diversity.

Through its contributions to the specialties outlined above, the Faculty of Modern Languages seeks to address a number of societal phenomena, including:

  • the development of new, primarily digital forms of linguistic communication, which are giving rise to new communicative practices and the ongoing creation of extensive amounts of digitalised online language;
  • the proliferation of unsubstantiated opinions and beliefs to the detriment of individual, critical reflection based on experience and knowledge;
  • the use of manipulative language in advertisements, in the media, and in political propaganda;
  • changes in general education levels and understandings of what “education” means;
  • falling levels of historical knowledge and dwindling degrees of confidence in the traditional literary canon;
  • the changing status and meaning of literature in culture and society;
  • new processes in the development of regional, ethnic, national and European identities and their utilization of languages and literatures;
  • increasing diversity within individual language profiles as a result of migration, and the concomitant necessity to provide a linguistically inclusive learning environment in schools.

Our aim is to increase understanding of these issues and to offer constructive insights through the use of research methods drawn from the fields of linguistic, literary, and cultural studies. We seek to reflect critically on societal changes within the fields of language and literature from a historically informed perspective and in doing so recognise and research the productive potentials created by social, technological, and media-related shifts in these areas in order to support an enlightened and free society.

The Faculty draws on these contemporary and future developments as well as the structure, nature and traditions of the disciplines it encompasses to define a strong sense of its own self and purpose, thereby underpinning its mission to contribute to society through research and teaching:

  1. We have comprehensive expertise enabling us to conduct useful and constructive investigations of linguistic, literary, and cultural phenomena in the past and present, and to employ findings from these endeavours for the good of society.
  2. Humans’ ability to use language is unique, yet the ambivalence inherent in language means risk is intrinsic to language as well. For this reason, we consciously avoid the simplification of issues in our research and teaching and instead strive for nuanced understandings of the diversity, complexity, and paradoxes that govern linguistic, literary, and social phenomena. To this end, we embrace diverse perspectives in our research and support students in the development of critical and analytical thinking skills that will enable them to comprehend the complex and multidimensional nature of sociocultural developments and their interconnections as expressed in language and literature.
  3. We work on multiple levels and utilize a variety of methods to explore the meaning and significance of language and literature in society, ranging from philological, hermeneutic and philosophical methodologies to sociological, empirical, and applied research approaches. This diversity is reflected in teaching and learning at the Faculty. Building on our strengths in each discipline, we not only encourage increased interdisciplinary collaboration in research and teaching but actively seek out research questions which demand interdisciplinary collaboration and attention.
  4. We challenge ourselves, our students and the wider public to engage language and literature intensively and critically, keeping in mind that this engagement, which involves considering distant eras as well as distant regions, is essential for a comprehensive understanding of contemporary and future processes in the realm of society and culture. Accordingly, our research always has a didactic and pedagogical component.
  5. O

    ur Faculty cannot be divorced from its origins in Eurocentric conceptions of “national philologies”. We are aware of the criticism this paradigm has received and critically reflect on the history of our disciplines in our research and teaching. Even more, we deliberately incorporate transcultural and comparative perspectives in our research subjects and course offerings, in particular by collaborating with colleagues in the arts, humanities and social sciences at the University of Heidelberg. We also contribute insights and knowledge from linguistics and literary studies to the growing field of “Area Studies” at the University.
  6. By producing various text editions, translations, commentaries and handbooks, we keep the linguistic and literary past alive. We investigate the historical and cultural contexts of languages and literatures, regarding languages, l texts reflecting the evolution of a particular language, and literary expressions of varied forms as essential elements of our global cultural heritage. A key goal in this regard is the transmission of knowledge in education and beyond. In addition, we endeavour to use our studies of linguistic and literary practices in the past to gain insights into current language(s) – and to employ this knowledge in our examinations of current and future developments in the field.  
  7. Our mandate is to facilitate the development of a more just and equitable educational system by

    giving future teachers a solid academic foundation in their fields as well as a nuanced understanding of roles played by learning and development processes, thus enabling them to embrace cultural and linguistic heterogeneity in their classrooms.
  8. The Faculty of Modern Languages defines itself as a community of teachers and students, researchers and academics at various stages of their educational and professional development. Although many spend only a short period of time at the Faculty, all members of the Faculty are encouraged to consider it as a place that prioritizes academic teaching, learning, thinking, argumentation, reading, and writing, in which each and every individual is taken seriously. As a space for individual research and academic exchange, the Faculty seeks to create the best possible conditions for research, teaching, and learning  – not only in terms of time, space and infrastructure, but also in the sense of a collegial atmosphere that fosters communication, cooperation and mutual appreciation – to allow every member of the Faculty to succeed both personally and professionally.

Heidelberg, March 2023