ProLOEWE faces

Professor Dr Elisabeth Hollender Researcher on the connection between language and identity

© Britta Hüning

Prof Hollender, you are the spokesperson for the LOEWE focus area "Minority Studies: Language and Identity", which has been funded since 2020: how did the project come about and what makes it special?

In February 2020, I took over from my predecessor Jost Gippert as spokesperson for the LOEWE project, which was set up at the Institute of Empirical Linguistics and has been researching languages with small groups for a very long time.

As a result of the wave of refugees since 2015, it has become abundantly clear that (language) minorities are living in a special situation in their respective home countries, including Germany. Partners from various disciplines were sought and found to research the current issues of integration, the legal situation, but also the preservation of their own cultural heritage, as well as looking at historical examples. The variety of languages and cultures researched - from Aramaic to Zaza, a Kurdish language - is just as broad as the variety of methodological approaches, which also include educational science and computer science. But we also bring together the humanities and social sciences to explore a contemporary social challenge. This is only possible in combination, with a view both to the countries of origin and to Germany, with the question of self-perception and perception by others.

How did you come up with the idea of studying Jewish Studies and what fascinates you about it to this day?

It all started with my interest in Hebrew, which I heard for the first time as a schoolgirl on a trip to Israel. It was a language that sounded familiar, but I didn't understand it. During my studies, I then discovered the Middle Ages as a subject for me and had the opportunity to work with a manuscript from the 13th century for the first time. The fascination for the written word, for a Jewish culture that, as a minority, constantly engages with its environment, is still at the centre of my research today. As a professor, I am in the enviable position of being able to introduce my students to the diversity of Jewish history and culture, which enables me to gain new insights every day: the Talmud says "I have learnt much from my teachers, I have learnt more from my colleagues, I have learnt most from my students."

On 7 October, Israel became the focus of public attention in an alarming way. Has this had an impact on your work and how are you dealing with it?

Apart from the pain of those murdered and kidnapped and the admiration for my colleagues in Israel, who are there for their students and doctoral candidates despite the constant rocket fire, but who are also the driving force behind the civil movement that cares for internally displaced persons in Israel and steps in where the government is overwhelmed - it is above all the so obvious anti-Semitism in Germany that is now influencing our work. I'm worried about the safety of Jewish students and colleagues and wonder what we can do to give them the strength to stand up to prejudice and hatred on a daily basis. And right now, I am pleased with the good relationships with the colleagues from Islamic Studies, who are working with us to consider how we can deal with the effects on campus, but also in society. It is very unsettling when posters commemorating the abductees are torn down within a very short space of time, even at the university. As a place of education, the entire university must have an impact on social discourse, must stand up for humanity and respect, but also against anti-Semitism and racism.

LOEWE research funding is a Hessian speciality. Why do you think it is so important - even beyond our federal state?

Especially in the humanities, LOEWE is a unique opportunity to start interdisciplinary research and thus ask questions that a single discipline cannot answer. As a researcher, I am always building my network and looking for those who are asking similar questions from other perspectives. The LOEWE programme encourages us to find partners beyond our immediate surroundings at our own university; it helps us to turn ideas into real projects. The LOEWE focus gives us the time to collate, compare and evaluate our results. Our doctoral students and postdocs get to know and appreciate the methods of other disciplines. They build their own first interdisciplinary networks and prepare for their own scientific careers.

When you work in research like you do, it's usually much more than a job - it's more of a vocation. Do you still have time for hobbies or what do you draw inspiration from in your free time?

I am very lucky to be able to turn my passionate curiosity and the subject that inspires me into my profession. In addition to my work in Frankfurt, every year I find the time and opportunity to spend a few weeks at the National Library of Israel to do research the way I like it best: with medieval manuscripts, an almost inexhaustible stock of specialist publications, and a large number of colleagues who are doing research in the same place and also find time to talk to each other. There I find the peace and quiet to complete projects I have started, but also the inspiration for new projects and partners for new collaborations.

About the Person

  • Spokesperson for the LOEWE Minority Studies Centre
  • Professor of Jewish Studies at the Department of Jewish Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt

Published in ProLOEWE NEWS

Issue 03.2023 / December


In the December issue of ProLOEWE-NEWS 2023, you can once again expect a wide range of current topics from LOEWE projects: From projects that show how science "works" to research by LOEWE-TBG on dangerous pathogens and the leishmaniasis self-test by LOEWE-DRUID, which is going into production. Further highlights are the reviews of the opening of the Offenbach Institute for Mobility Design (OIMD), which emerged from LOEWE-IDG, and the LOEWE-AO finissage.

ProLOEWE faces

ProLOEWE faces with Dr Elisabeth Hollender, spokesperson for the LOWE Cluster "Minority Studies: Language and Identity" and Professor of Jewish Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt. She researches the cultural history of medieval Judaism and its interaction with the surrounding culture.