Aleida and Jan Assmann. Copyright: Corinna Assmann
Aleida and Jan Assmann. Copyright: Corinna Assmann

Two voices for peace

University of Konstanz researchers Aleida and Jan Assmann to be honoured with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

“The German Publishers and Booksellers Association awards the 2018 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade to Aleida and Jan Assmann. In doing so, the association and its members have chosen to honour two exceptional scholars who have inspired and complemented each other’s work for decades”. This is what the the Board of Trustees write in a public statement regarding their choice, which Heinrich Riethmüller, chairman of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Börsenverein), announced today at the opening of the 2018 Berlin Book Days. Professor Aleida Assmann is Emeritus Professor of English and Literary Studies at the University of Konstanz, Professor Jan Assmann is an honorary professor at the University of Konstanz and Emeritus Professor of Egyptology at Heidelberg University. The prize, which is endowed with € 25,000, will be awarded on 14 October 2018, the final day of the Frankfurt Book Fair, in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt.

Aleida and Jan Assmann’s research is on cultural memory as an officially institutionalised form of collective remembrance that is distinct from subjective and individual memories. As the Board of Trustees note: “The exhilarating and mutually enhancing unity created by the two voices of Aleida and Jan Assmann has generated a body of work that is of tremendous importance for contemporary debates and, above all, for sustainable peace and understanding among the peoples of the world”. The German Publishers and Booksellers Association has recognised individuals whose literary, artistic or scientific work champions peace since 1950.

Aleida Assmann, who was Professor of English and Literary Studies at the University of Konstanz from 1993 to 2014, “has displayed an unfaltering commitment to investigating the virulent and perennial themes of historical amnesia and memory culture”, the Board of Trustees continue in their statement, emphasising that “in view of the growing political instrumentalisation of these themes in recent German history, her scientifically grounded studies continue to provide much needed enlightenment on a broad range of issues relating to the cultural memory of nations. Time and again, her work has illustrated that an open and honest handling of the past is an essential precondition for peaceful coexistence”.

Jan Assmann, who was Professor of Egyptology at Heidelberg University from 1976 to 2003 and has been Honorary Professor of Religious Theory and Cultural Sciences at the University of Konstanz since 2005, is commended for launching international debates on the cultural and religious conflicts of our time through his comprehensive scientific oeuvre. As the German Publishers and Booksellers Association note, in his writings about religion and violence as well as the genesis of intolerance and claims to absolute truth, he has made “an indispensable contribution to our understanding of the willingness and capacity for peace held by religions in today’s global society”.

The literary and cultural scholar Aleida Assmann was a member of the executive board of the Centre of Excellence “Cultural Foundations of Social Integration” at the University of Konstanz and is a permanent fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study Konstanz, one of the centre’s main facilities. Jan Assmann is also a member of the Centre of Excellence.

The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade is not the first award the researchers have received - in 2017, for instance, they were awarded the Balzan Prize and the Karl-Jaspers Prize. Over the course of her career, Aleida Assmann was honoured many times, for instance with the A. H. Heineken Prize (2014) and the Max Planck Research Award (2009). Among the many accolades Jan Assmann received, the Sigmund Freud Prize for Academic Prose (2016) and the Thomas Mann Prize (2011) are of particular note.

Facts:

  • Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for Professors Aleida and Jan Assmann
  • Joint research on collective memory
  • Endowed with € 25,000
  • Prize is awarded to persons of note whose literary, artistic or scientific oeuvre champions peace
  • Award ceremony to take place in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt/Main on 14 October 2018.