Revisiting the Canons of Textual Scholarship

Zukunftsphilologie endeavours to promote and emphasize primary textual scholarship beyond the classical humanistic canon. In an age of advanced communication, intellectual specialization, and unprecedented migration of knowledge and people, the discipline of philology assumes new relevance.

Zukunftsphilologie aspires to support research in neglected varieties of philology with the explicit aim to integrate, across the pre/modern divide, texts and scholarly traditions from Asia, Africa, the Middle East as well as from Europe itself.

The title is inspired by the work of the classicist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff’s Zukunftsphilologie! (1872), which was a polemic against Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1872 "Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik". Written at a time when philology was at its prime, the debate between the two German philologists was not so much about the place of philology in the German academy as about “the method and meaning of classical studies”. Wilamowitz was of the view that knowledge of the past could only be attainable by examining every feature of its historical context, and that detachment from present-day concerns was necessary. Nietzsche, however, argued that the approach of the professionalized discipline of philology had perverted and even caused the death of antiquity. If seen from a wider perspective, as suggested by the indologist Sheldon Pollock, the dispute is “a struggle between historicists and humanists, Wissenschaft and Bildung, scholarship and life, of a sort not unique to European modernity”. Inspired by the Wilamowitz-Nietzsche dispute, the
program Zukunftsphilologie seeks to resume the debate about the global significance of philology today and to reflect on its future. The aim, then, is both to contribute to a more profound appraisal of pre-modern philological practices within and beyond Europe and to critically revisit and refine the methods and canons of contemporary philological practice.

In order to promote historically-conscious philology, the
program will foster research in the following areas: the genealogy and transformations of philological practice, philology’s place in the system of knowledge (e.g. its relation to science, theology and jurisprudence), and philology and the university. Furthermore, Zukunftsphilologie aims to support critical reviews of historical and philological practice. In revisiting important “philological wars”, the goal is not to merely evaluate the argumentative worth of these debates, but to reflect on the wider cultural and political context in which these “philological wars” emerged and how they have shaped our knowledge of the past.

One of the predicaments of philology today is that in many cases it still serves the interests of exclusivist political agendas not fit for a globalized humanistic university. This appears from time to time in the works of historians who use allegedly sound philological methods to advocate exclusivity and cultural difference. Such an approach is evident, for instance, in the historical interest in the so-called “decline” of the non-Western world as opposed to the triumph of Western culture, formulated with regard to China in Needham’s famous Grand Question (extendable to the Arab and Indian worlds), which has generated a body of historical works with dubious (if any) philological foundation. In this context, the philological method, understood as the careful and diversified reading of texts, is particularly significant both as a liberating force and a humanistic endeavour. Thus the use of philological approaches and methods has been significant for revising and rethinking commonplace historiographies of science, religion and society.

program will be initiated through the organisation of workshops, a World Philologies Seminar series and two international summer/winter schools. Postdoc-fellows, trained in a branch of the historical or philological disciplines, will be invited annually to work on their own research projects within the research group. Emphasis will be put on invitations of scholars from outside of Berlin, especially from those regions whose philological traditions are being studied in the context of the program.

Zukunftsphilologie is associated with the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies at Freie Universität Berlin and is a research program at the Forum Transregionale Studien.