DIMAS - the Department for Interdisciplinary and Multiscalar Area Studies at the University of Regensburg aims to strengthen and expand area studies-related research and teaching. It has six permanent professorships as well as a broader membership made up of faculty, researchers and support staff.
Here you can find an outline (in German) of the questions that will be explored at DIMAS and which professorships are involved. The main details are also summarized below in English.
The Statute (Ordnung) of DIMAS was passed by the University Senate in April 2021 and approved by the University President on 7 July. The document can be found here (in German only).
The University of Regensburg (UR) has in recent years developed a focus in the field of area studies through a variety of initiatives. The Faculty of Languages, Literature, and Cultures (SLK) and the Faculty of Philosophy, Art History, History and Humanities (PKGG), in collaboration with the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Catholic Theology, seek to further expand this research area, which has received very good evaluations and offers prospects for strengthening UR’s research profile. One of the key objectives is to increase the competitiveness of the University of Regensburg in the upcoming round of applications in the German Excellence Strategy (most likely in 2025). In pursuit of this objective, the Faculties are developing a cooperative research-focused department structure – DIMAS: The Department for Interdisciplinary and Multiscalar Area Studies.
Area studies’ particular potential for generating knowledge can be fully realized when expertise on different regions is brought together in a cooperative research agenda. This idea shapes the existing Center for International and Transnational Area Studies (CITAS) at UR and the Leibniz-ScienceCampus Europa and America in the Modern World: Frictions and Transformations of Globality, a joint project with the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies (IOS). Existing research in Regensburg explores the big questions of our age, including the frictions produced by globality, from the perspective of the regions where Regensburg has particular expertise, namely East and Southeast Europe, Western Europe, North America and Latin America.
The Department for Interdisciplinary and Multiscalar Area Studies (DIMAS) will offer a dynamic and flexible structure bringing together existing expertise in Regensburg (in the collaborating UR Faculties and in close collaboration with the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies – IOS). The six new research-focused professorships at its core are fundamental to its systematic development. DIMAS can draw on ideas that have emerged in a recent application developed by CITAS and IOS as part of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) programme for strengthening area studies. The ideas outlined here outline the core mission statement of the future Department: producing collaborative research that can result in third party-funded projects.
In contrast to the Faculties, which are structured around particular disciplines, DIMAS is primarily focused on research themes and objectives. Disciplinary positioning will not necessarily become obsolete but will rather form part of a project-focused area studies framework. This will enable research at UR to respond more quickly to new developments and demands placed upon scholarship. At the same time, DIMAS will lead to new intersections with existing disciplines thanks to the diverse expertise contributing to it.
The six professorships integrated in DIMAS each have a theoretical-conceptual dimension and a methodological focus established in conjunction with the relevant faculty. This dual orientation will enable empirical research and thematic collaboration that furthers the theoretical and empirical development of area studies in cooperation with existing institutions in Regensburg. This means that the new positions complement the existing spatially or regionally defined area studies professorships and institutions at UR (and IOS). Furthermore, the new professorships can also serve as a point of collaboration on projects with faculty members whose posts are not defined spatially or regionally. A key asset of the new professorships should be an ability to contribute to research on common themes and questions. The six professorships at the core of DIMAS are outlined below:
This professorship represents the field of Spatial Dimensions of Cultural Processes in research and teaching. It investigates the interaction between forms of representation and the shaping of geographical space. The professorship focuses on cultural processes and phenomena in spatial dimensions resulting from the transformative impulses of a networked, global and mobile world. Thus, the professorship is located at the intersection of culturally oriented area studies, historically grounded regional studies, and digital humanities. The focus on space as a central dimension of cultural processes and their forms of expression innovatively develops cultural studies approaches in Area Studies.
This professorship represents the field of Sociological Dimensions of Space in research and teaching. The post will involve conceptual reflections on the spatiality of social and cultural phenomena, as well as developing and applying suitable methodological approaches for investigating these phenomena empirically within a social sciences framework. Potential thematic areas include: the constitution of social spaces and fields of interaction; spatial dimensions of social structures in respect of equality, differences and asymmetries; and relations between different levels of spatialization, ranging from the micro-level of everyday life through to globalization. The professorship’s focus on the sociology of space means that it will offer a crucial contribution to the development of innovative area studies approaches exploring not only horizontal but also vertical spatial entanglements.
This professorship represents the field of Dynamics of Virtual Communication Spaces in research and teaching. It examines the interplay between developments in media technology and virtual communication spaces. The professorship is concerned with the corresponding forms of communication and their content, technologies and modes of use, which are examined in terms of their concrete social embedding, their political consequences and their location-specific relationships in cultural studies. One focus lies on new virtual communication spaces, as well as on the perception and design of these spaces by individuals and society.
The future incumbent (m/f/d) will represent the field of Transregional Cultures of Knowledge in research and teaching. The professorship will focus on the cultural and social conditions for the transfer of ideas, along with the mechanisms enabling such transfers to function, while also investigating the entanglement of epistemic systems that have emerged in the Modern era in relations between various spatialized orders of knowledge. Such orders of knowledge include worldviews and ideologies, norms, religions and quasi-religious phenomena, as well as expert cultures, and the production, storing and circulation of knowledge. The professorship will address the theoretical and conceptual foundations relevant to exploring the abovementioned themes, while also developing and applying suitable methodological approaches for investigating these phenomena empirically within a social sciences framework. The successful applicant (m/f/d) will have a background in fields that explore questions related to the circulation of knowledge, such as religious studies, religious psychology, the history of knowledge, the philosophy of science, the sociology of knowledge, ethnology or anthropology.
This professorship covers the area of the history of religions in transregional perspectives, forming a bridge in terms of content and structure between the Department and the Faculty of Catholic Theology, in particular the Center for Advanced Studies - Beyond Canon: Heterotopias of Religious Authority in Late Christian Antiquity. The Center explores the significance of apocryphal traditions in literature, ritual and material culture.
The professorship employs a transregional approach with an eye toward the formation and interaction of religious movements since Late Antiquity. The "Axial Age of the History of Religions" (Guy Stroumsa) is of crucial importance for the longue durée of the history of religions. Intellectual and cultural diversity cannot be understood without attention to the influence of religious movements. Historically shaped mentalities, multiple and fluid identities, internal and external fault-lines and conflicts are also the result of centuries-long interactions between various religious movements. But these do not occur as geographically uniform or historically static dimensions; rather, they demonstrate complex regional differentiation and develop in diverse exchange, conflict and hybridization. "Shared space" and the related "shared" or "entangled history" are thus decisive categories of interpretation.
This professorship explores the transregional dynamics of norms and their interrelation with conceptions of space, culture and political community. The incumbent should have a qualification enabling them to teach in law, while also demonstrating an ability to contribute to interdisciplinary research and cooperation. Experience in interdisciplinary and empirical studies are advantageous.
It is worthwhile considering how necessary in an increasingly globalized world is area-focused knowledge that seeks to develop deeper understanding of regional bodies of knowledge and constellations of meaning? We would argue that it is indeed crucial precisely because the world is globalized, and has been for a significant amount of time. The intensification and spatial expansion of the global circulation of ideas, narratives, rituals, goods, rules and people does not, after all, lead automatically to the homogenization of social structures and cultural systems around the world. Societies, groups and individuals respond to global challenges in highly diverse ways, choosing different modes of adaptation or resistance in conjunction with specific local institutional conditions and cultural ways of meaning-making. The different responses around the world, and indeed within individual countries, to the COVID-19 pandemic offer a current illustration of how a global phenomenon results in different social responses within particular locations and cultures.
We live in a world that is increasingly interconnected yet also characterized by difference. The spaces of experience and horizons of expectation that are manifested in institutions, social structures, bodies of knowledge and cultural systems of meaning are space- and culture-specific. They condition not only individuals’ and societies’ responses and ways of adapting to global processes, such as technological innovations, climate change or the challenges posed by globalized markets, but are also catalysts for societies’ potential for innovation and resilience. With its sensibility for place-specific knowledge – as evident in language skills and familiarity with local knowledge production – area studies is crucial for understanding these relations. Area studies explores and explains diversity in the context of a globalized world and the horizons of far-reaching globalization processes. Area studies are thus more relevant than ever.
The particular potential for generating knowledge in area studies can be fully realized when expertise on different regions is brought together in a cooperative research agenda. This idea shapes the existing Center for International and Transnational Area Studies (CITAS) at UR and the Leibniz-ScienceCampus Europa and America in the Modern World: Frictions and Transformations of Globality, a joint project with the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies (IOS). Existing research in Regensburg explores the big questions of our age, including the frictions produced by globality, from the perspective of the regions where Regensburg has particular expertise, namely Central, East and Southeast Europe, Western Europe, and North America. The approach adopted does not involve simply aggregating isolated local bodies of knowledge; instead, it is focused on generating new research questions by exploring interrelations, entanglements and cross-references between these regions, as well as the boundaries between them, that were at the core of what during the Cold War were termed the “First” and “Second” Worlds. The common area studies perspective adopted in Regensburg: investigates the forms a particular process takes at local levels; considers how spatially-inflected differences and similarities can be explained; and examines how place-specific manifestations transform global and regional processes. A particular idea, technology, or natural phenomenon can possess diverse meanings in different places. And this is a result of the significance that is ascribed to it and of institutional responses, both of which are anchored in the history and culture of a place.
The planned Department will tackle the imposing task of exploring key questions relating to the social and cultural dimensions of globalization, including the renaissance of nationalism and the consequences of migration. DIMAS is a platform facilitating innovative and excellent collaborative research, while also supporting novel forms of knowledge transfer.
We term the approach adopted in Regensburg multiscalar area studies. It encompasses the idea that phenomena should be explored on different spatial levels and through empirical investigation of the geographic structures of relevance of a particular phenomenon. All things might indeed be connected but they are not connected in the same ways or with equal intensity. Indeed, because in a world marked by far-reaching interconnection not all sites of communication and praxis are global, it is therefore necessary to establish the relevant scale and methods for approaching particular research questions. It is crucial to consider the spatial extent of interactions and comparisons. The impact of a global challenge or development in particular spaces and, conversely, how and why spaces generate processes, which become significant beyond their point of origin, in different ways and forms, are both related to the configuration of a given space. Our approach thus differs from that of Global Studies in its emphasis on divergence while combining perspectives from both above and below. Our understanding of comparison, meanwhile, transcends the aggregation of knowledge about particular regions – which in each case constitute specific spatial categories – as our interest instead lies in how entanglements are manifested.
The multiscalarity of the Regensburg approach to area studies is evident in our interest in the interaction of diverse levels: from the global to the local, from the macro-scale to the micro-scale, from a focus on the present to historical depth. What we avoid is positioning these scales in a hierarchy. The department structure, meanwhile, brings together a range of methodological expertise that has often emerged from a focus on a particular large-scale region in order to then emphasize the entanglements and mutual dependences of regional spatial structures. This lays the foundations for thematically-focused interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity: the methods of international relations, international law and transnational law tend to focus primarily on inter-state interactions; the political sciences, law, sociology, and social geography address broader social aggregations (such as the nation state, society or social groups); linguistics, humanities and cultural studies concentrate on producing knowledge on communication repertoires and cultural repertoires; while social anthropology, ethnography and empirical social sciences specialize in spaces of everyday interactions and meaning-making.
For heuristic and practical reasons, individual researchers are usually limited to investigating spaces on a particular scale, as shaped by their thematic and methodological expertise. The new department will combine individual expertise in order to develop systematic interdisciplinary knowledge on various spaces that will be approached both horizontally and vertically. The relevant spatial scales for investigating a particular phenomenon should be determined by the particular subject of investigation – an outcome that can be facilitated by the kinds of research contexts envisaged for DIMAS. The Department will enable differentiated scaling of social and cultural phenomena, in reference to both time and space. We thus seek to engender better understanding of the actual extent of the entanglement of the world and to delve into the complexity of these entanglements. It is for this reason that the new research-focused professorships are positioned outside classical disciplinary boundaries and within the Department structure. The multiscalar approach emphasizes that area studies need not necessarily concentrate on large-scale phenomena, but on outcomes, structures and relations that span micro-, meso- and macroregional levels, without placing them in a hierarchy. Innovative research findings can emerge from observing phenomena on all the levels simultaneously. The Department is interdisciplinary because its perspectives emerge from the intersection of the diverse theoretical and methodological (outlined below) that contribute specific traits while engaging in exchanges with other approaches.
Alongside multiscalarity as characteristic trait of area studies in Regensburg, the Department and its research-focused professorships, look to apply epistemtological premises that are prominent in contemporary area studies, namely: interdisciplinarity, comparative transnationalism, and reflexivity.
Interdisciplinary cooperation is fundamental to the success of area studies. Different academic disciplines collaborate in investigating particular cultural and social phenomena in order to thus understand not only the internal particularities of regions but also the communication between them. The emerging Department will promote the integration of different disciplines and methodologies, engendering synergies that inspire the use and creation of diverse bodies of knowledge. The concept of multiscalarity gives a clear indication of how various analytical lenses and perspectives can be applied to common research questions in order to develop different sources of knowledge and analytical frameworks. The traditional strength of area studies – bringing together scholars from different fields of the humanities, social sciences and cultural studies, as well as theology and law, who all share an interest for a common subject: a given region – informs the ideas behind DIMAS. It is only through inter- and multidisciplinary collaboration that phenomena such as migration can be analysed comprehensively, in their regional diversity and in the multitude of areas of human life that they affect.
The humanities, social sciences and cultural studies have in recent decades, at least in theory, overcome perspectives that were limited to national containers and contexts. Crucial social processes and cultural phenomena, quite clearly, do not stop at national borders, or other boundaries. Instead, they are part of relations that transcend such boundaries. This observation is relevant not only as a theoretical principle but also as a guiding principle for an empirical research programme. Concepts such as the transnational, transregional and translocal are crucial in the move away from spatial containers and towards a focus on processes of entanglement and transfer.
Contemporary area studies do not respond to this by embedding the nation in an even larger spatial container (region), but rather by developing their interest in relationships and interdependencies that cross borders on different spatial scales. At the same time, area studies increasingly directs its gaze deep into individual societies and cultures, as well as far beyond their borders.
What this suggests is that the comparative method – a traditional strength of area studies – must be reconceptualized in a way that avoids isolating units of comparison and instead seeks to approach comparatively the spatially-specific enabling conditions and forms of expression that transnational phenomena take. Our multiscalar approach is ideally suited to comparative investigation across different spatial scales – from the subnational to the supranational – while remaining sensitive to site-specificities and particular tendencies. The logic of globalization means that global processes and structures are shaped in different regions by diverse forms of adaptation and rejection that are a product of local and regional conditions. This is something that can only be investigated through a simultaneously comparative and transnational method.
Like much work in contemporary area studies, the Department does not treat spaces as fixed, static and given but rather as the product of practices, discourses and institutions. Area studies is thus obliged to reflect continuously on the conditions under which spaces are constructed and to reconstruct and deconstruct spatial categories with reference to temporality. Certain spatial categories and the denomination of not only have a history, but are also semantically loaded and often overdetermined. It is therefore crucial to reflect critically upon the influence that unquestioned spatial categorizations can have on research perspectives and questions. This also applies to which spatial scales are deemed relevant for exploring particular phenomena. What often lurks behind terms such as “cultural space”, “region”, “East”, “West”, etc. are non-scholarly and indeed ideological underlying assumptions that should be called into question and laid bare.
Reflection on the spatial categories used in research generates significant critical potential for area studies because all too often concepts also reflect asymmetries of power and authority. The call for reflexivity also applies in respect of the critical exploration of hierarchies of knowledge production that also point to the relative nature of knowledge: can analytical categories that have emerged from the particular Western context simply be applied in the study of non-Western societies? The aim of area studies is not only to bring marginalized knowledge to light but also to understand why people in different regions and in different places know different things, or at least believe that they know different things.