Profile Area Universality & Diversity

Mission Statement

Based on the theoretical and methodological potentials of the historical humanities – especially the interdisciplinary interaction of linguistics, religious studies, history, philosophy, as well as literary, linguistic, and cultural studies – and in close dialogue with the political and social sciences, the Profile Area "Universality & Diversity" poses the culturally, socially, and politically highly topical question of how to deal constructively with religious, cultural, and linguistic diversity, and the inherent opportunities and conflicts. The common framework of the Profile Area’s research fields and approaches is based on the assumption that knowledge in the humanities proves itself in the face of the current societal challenges that arise in the field of tension between the general validity claims of prominent guiding concepts – such as culture, reason and language – and the conceptual articulation and historical perspectivization of lived diversity. In addition to the analysis of phenomena and debates characteristic of European societies and cultures, Goethe University’s professional competencies in the analysis of knowledge orders beyond the European range of experiences are of central importance in this context.
In its research, the Profile Area builds on the university's interdisciplinary networks, organized in several research centers that together form the profile of Frankfurt as a research location. They include the Center for Interdisciplinary African Studies (ZIAF), which also acts as an interface with the natural and social sciences; the Interdisciplinary Centre for East Asian Studies (IZO), another interface with the social sciences; the Frankfurt Humanities Research Centre (FzHG), offering a common platform for research initiatives of Goethe University faculties 6-10; or the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften in Bad Homburg (FKH), Goethe University's Institute for Advanced Studies and a place for debate and dialogue on processes of transformation in social reality in the age of globalization and digitalization. Other centers – some of which also have an international character – are currently being established. Prime among them is the "Frankfurt-Tel Aviv Center for the Study of Religious and Interreligious Dynamics", jointly managed with Tel Aviv University, which strategically connects interdisciplinary religious research (with a focus on Judaism, Christianity and Islam) at both locations.


The research focus "Dynamics of Religion: Processes of Comprehension, Misapprehension, and Mutual Understanding" exemplifies the cooperation and discussion between the disciplines within this Profile Area. It brings Christian theologies, religious studies, Jewish studies and Islamic studies together with history, philosophy, ethnology, or archaeology. By means of interdisciplinary and interreligious explorations, the focus lies on  researching in both historical and contemporary global contexts the mutual relations and perceptions – dialogical or conflictual – between the three inherently diverse religions "Judaism", "Christianity" and "Islam" (and between them and the increasingly secular constellations of modern and contemporary plural societies). Key to this question and in this context are the complex processes of "comprehension," "misapprehension," and "mutual understanding". The participants' research perspectives are connected, among others, by a common interest in (1) the conceptual and historical research of the dialogical and conflictual aspects of mutual processes of understanding between religious traditions; (2) the phenomena of understanding one's own religion and the religious other in multi-religious and secular contexts, (3) the relationship between intra-religious and inter-religious plurality, (4) the attribution of cultural identities to the self and to others in the area of cult and ritual, (5) the socio-cultural dynamics and economic contexts of the encounter between ethnic and religious groups, (6) the interreligious dynamics of cultural transfer, translation, appropriation, and transformation of religious-cultural knowledge orders, (7) phenomena of destructive or creative misunderstandings, and (8) the rational, emotional, and political-social conditions of the possibility for religious dialogues and understanding, or (9) the transformation of religious, cultural, and social discourses through the increasing digitality of both research and public communication. The idea behind establishing a "Competence Center Religion" is to systematically develop the potentials of the participating disciplines in the fields of science communication, transfer and science policy.


The Profile Area "Universality and Diversity" aims to strengthen the existing networks between the research carried out by different disciplines, joint projects and centers, as well as between individual Goethe University projects that deal with the above-mentioned research topics through joint forms of working and discussion forums, thereby profiling the different disciplinary approaches on historical questions and current debates in the fields of society and culture, and simultaneously exploiting their mutual synergies. At the same time, the Profile Area intends to cooperate closely with the "Orders & Transformations" Profile Area, whose research perspectives are greatly important to the topics of diversity and universality. The approaches of religious studies, history, cultural studies, linguistics, and literature in turn offer important cooperation possibilities for the social sciences. Likewise, a dialogue with the Profile Area "Sustainability & Biodiversity" will set out to find how cultural and biological diversity relate to one another, and how diversity research in the humanities and the natural sciences can learn from each other. Key to the Profile Area's work are joint strategies for the internationalization of research and teaching, the systematic promotion of early career researchers, and further strengthening the city of Frankfurt as a center of science through the acquisition of third-party funded projects.

“What fascinates and motivates me about the Profile Area’s research perspectives is the polyphony of thematic accesses and methodological approaches that play a role in it. Whether independently or as part of a critical dialogue across disciplinary boundaries, in their questioning about the relationship between universality and diversity, the disciplines involved embody a decisive characteristic of excellent research at Goethe University: relevance to contemporary challenges, historical depth of focus, and a differentiated theoretical toolkit.”
Christian Wiese (Jewish Philosophy of Religion),
Founding Speaker of the Universality & Diversity Profile Area

“To me, diversity constitutes one of the most important challenges of our time, both in scientific as well as in social terms: How can we understand diversity, and how can we protect it? What do we gain by putting diversity in relation to the universal? These are the fundamental questions that drive me, and I am convinced that they can best be discussed together, thanks to a diversity of disciplines involved."

Roland Borgards (Modern German Literature from the 18th Century to the Present),
Founding Speaker of the Universality & Diversity Profile Area


Key Research Areas

Amid the growing complexity of coexistence in post-migrant societies, experiences of diversity and demand for unifying aspects of cultural differences are becoming increasingly important. Multilingualism is becoming as common in Western societies as it already is in many areas of the global South. Moreover, it is possible to discern a growing diversity of religious convictions and cultural practices, even if these sometimes also demarcate themselves from one another and require new translation efforts. In Western societies especially, previously established categorical systems of order and forms of government are sometimes put to an existential test by these dynamics. In this context, beyond the mostly present-oriented and prognostic analyses of the social sciences, the basic knowledge of linguistics, religious studies, and history, the conceptual differentiation and reflexive capacity of philosophy and cultural studies, as well as the intra- and intercultural translation competence of literary, linguistic, and cultural studies prove to be crucial social resources.


Against this background, the Profile Area "Universality and Diversity: Linguistic, Religious, and Cultural Dynamics" bundles the relevant competencies of the aforementioned disciplines at Goethe University and, using methods and approaches from the humanities, provides answers to these pressing contemporary challenges with the necessary historical depth.

Dynamics of the Religious: Processes of Comprehension, Misapprehension, and Mutual Understanding

The aim is to use interdisciplinary and interreligious explorations to examine the mutual relations and perceptions – dialogical or conflictual – between the three inherently diverse religions "Judaism", "Christianity" and "Islam" in different historical and contemporary contexts. Key is the common interest in phenomena of understanding one's own and foreign religions in multi-religious and secular constellations; in interreligious dynamics of cultural transfer, translation, appropriation and transformation of religious-cultural knowledge orders; as well as in the rational, emotional and political-social conditions of the possibility for religious dialogues and understanding.

Multilingualism and Powerful Action

Aesthetics: Materiality, Mediality, Potentiality

The Blueprint of the Human Language Faculty

Despite the many apparent differences regarding sounds, words, and structures between the languages of the world, all languages are based on universal principles that characterize them as being part of human cognition. Our linguistic research program aims to uncover these principles and the rules of their interaction to gain a deeper understanding of the blueprint of the human language faculty.


Three essential insights of modern linguistic theory constitute the starting point of our research program: first, linguistic expressions are organized hierarchically, although superficially, linguistic signals consist of a linear concatenation of sounds, words and sentences. Second, linguistic variation, both diachronically and across typologically different languages, is not random but restricted in systematic ways. The blueprint of the human language faculty therefore determines the commonalities among languages and, moreover, the range of linguistic variation and its limits. Third, the human language faculty is organized in a modular fashion, comprising the core modules of language, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. To arrive at a coherent model of the grammatical architecture underlying the human language faculty, specific research questions need to be addressed, using research methods tailored to the particular module under investigation.


Accordingly, we investigate the relation between the variable and invariable principles of language to answer central research questions that form the common basis of the linguistic research carried out at Goethe University.

  • In which way does the blueprint of the human language faculty determine the acquisition of one or more specific first languages?
  • How can the typological heterogeneity of the languages of the world be captured within a general blueprint of human language?
  • To what extent are the different modules of the human language organized in a parallel fashion?
  • Does the diachronic variation between different stages of the same language mirror the same general principles as synchronic variation between genetically close and distant languages?
  • How does linguistic knowledge interact with other cognitive systems in production and comprehension?
The Profile Area gives national and international visibility to excellent collaborative research initiatives and individual projects that focus on different aspects and dimensions of linguistic, religious and cultural dynamics. Specifically, it investigates the conditions and possibilities of religious and cultural processes of comprehension and transformation as well as the structures and practices of cultural memory and cultural heritage, the foundations of human linguistic ability, the power of architectural concepts to shape culture and society, the role of digital infrastructures in processes of cultural meaning production, the relationship between democracy and aesthetics, the human-animal difference, and the control potential of historical and contemporary forms of state rule.

ERC Grants 

  • Starting Grant "PIVOTAL: Predictive Memory Systems Across the Human Lifespan" (Yee Lee Shing, FB 05) 
  • Starting Grant "NoJoke: Humor as an epistemic practice of the political present" (Mirco Göpfert, FB 08) 

Emmy Noether-Programm

  • "Linking Ages - Die Materiell-Diskursiven Praktiken des Un/Doing Age im Lebensverlauf" (Anna Wanka, FB 04) 

Heisenberg-Programm

  • Professur "Räume der Berührung - Subjektkonfigurationen und Gemeinschaftsbildungen in der Kunst der 1960er und 1970er Jahre" (Antje Krause-Wahl, FB 09)

Leibniz-Preis

  • 2015, Hartmut Leppin (FB 08)

GRADE-Centers

  • GRADE Aging 
  • GRADE Education 
  • GRADE Gender 
  • GRADE GPE – Geschichte, Philosophie, Ethnologie 
  • GRADE Language 
  • GRADE PPD Humanities 
  • GRADE Ruth (Religionsforschung und Theologie) 
  • GRADE Social Sciences

Institutions of Goethe University

  • CGC - Cornelia Goethe Centrum 
  • FzHG - Forschungszentrum Historische Geisteswissenschaften 
  • IRF - Institut für Religionsphilosophische Forschung 
  • IZO - Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für Ostasienstudien 
  • ZIAF - Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Afrikaforschung 
  • ZEFIS - Zentrum für Islamische Studien

Cooperating Institutions

  • Frobenius-Institut für kulturanthropologische Forschung 
  • BRI - Buber-Rosenzweig-Institut für jüdische Geistes- und Kulturgeschichte der Moderne und Gegenwart
  • Frankfurt-Tel Aviv Center for the Study of Religious and Interreligious Dynamics 
  • FKH - Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften
  • FBI - Fritz-Bauer-Institut 
  • DIPF - Leibniz-Institut für Bildungsforschung und Bildungsinformation 
  • MPI AE - Max-Planck-Institut für empirische Ästhetik 
  • MPI LHLT - Max-Planck-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte und Rechtstheorie 
  • IGAIW - Institut für Geschichte der Arabisch-Islamischen Wissenschaften 
  • ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung 
  • IFRA - Institut Franco-Allemand de Sciences Historiques et Sociales