I welcome master theses and dissertation projects that are connected to my own special field of research and teaching. In particular, this includes the subject areas 1) religion and gender, 2) dying, death, mourning and conceptions of the afterlife as well as other themes of comparative religious studies, 3) Practical Religious Studies: inter-religious and spiritual dimensions of Palliative Care or Spiritual Care, 4) ethics of religions, 5) modern Hindu movements.

Students interested in supervision should clarify the following issues to identify a concrete topic before the first conversation:

  • Fathom the selected area of research based on appropriate key words in the common dictionaries of religious studies
  • Compile a list of keywords related to the subject area and highlight the themes of special interest
  • What personal interest in the subject area is guiding me?
  • What prior knowledge and resources do I have?
  • Formulate research question(s)
  • Formulate a working title of the research project

Supervision takes place regularly through personal meetings. Sufficient reading proficiency particularly with English research literature is required.

Central Subject Areas of Possible Supervision

Religions and Sex/Gender

Sex/Gender and religion are interrelated in various ways. On the one hand, the religious traditions, views, symbols and practices are not gender-neutral, but characterized gender-specifically. Furthermore, the gender roles, images, stereotypes, ideals and self-conception of women and men (and other genders) within the framework of a specific culture are in constant correlation with its respective religious-philosophical heritage. Today’s most influential religions are predominantly shaped by heterosexual normativity. On the other hand, the traditional research and presentation of religions itself is predominantly marked by a one-sided androcentric perspective. The complex of religions and sex/gender encompasses a broad range of themes and questions. Since more than 25 years I have been focussing on the most varied aspects of this vast research field. Depending on the topics, different approaches may be applied: religio-historical analyses of individual aspects (such as the connection between conceptions of (im-)purity and gender in specific religious traditions); comparative-systematic studies (e.g. the meaning of gender-specific body symbolism in fundamentalist movements) or qualitative social research (e.g. gender differences in one segment of contemporary religious culture). I gladly accept the supervision of thesis projects located in this research area.

Dying, Death, Mourning and Conceptions of the Afterlife

Since time immemorial, the interpretation and integration of death has been a central task of religions within the framework of a particular culture. In this context, various mythical images of death, diverse theoretical approaches and practical ways of coping with death have evolved. Death proves to be in need of explanation almost everywhere and hardly ever is death seen as a natural phenomenon. Moreover, death is generally not considered to be the end of life, but a transition into another form of existence associated with a wide range of the most diverse conceptions of the afterlife. Mourning rituals are commonly interpreted as rites of passage in connection with a death ritual. The rules for the appropriate mourning behaviour, but also the mourning experience (i.e. the emotional level) are religio-culturally defined and vary considerably. I find the developments and transformations in modern societies particularly interesting, such as the changes in the funeral culture or the ways that beliefs in the afterlife take shape (i.e. belief in reincarnation, the widespread interest in near-death experiences, etc.). Therefore, projects that focus on these aspects of contemporary religious culture are most welcome.

Selected Themes of Comparative Religious Studies

I gladly accept the supervision of various themes of comparative religious studies that I have dealt with more closely (e.g. comparative in-depth studies in the following areas: images of the human being, human dignity, conceptions of creation or animals in the religions).

Practical Religious Studies: Interreligious or Spiritual Dimensions of Palliative Care or Spiritual Care

Palliative Care administers to the physical-mental-social-spiritual dimensions of critically ill or dying patients and their affected relatives. In multi-religious modern Western societies, the Christian hospital chaplaincy has lost its formerly undisputed position. However, in the hospice movement and in Palliative Care, Christian spirituality still has great significance, not least because the hospice idea itself is strongly influenced by Christian values. Nowadays, Buddhist traditions play an important role in Western societies as in many cases they seem to form a bridge between the levels of a non-denominational and an individual spirituality. Apart from terminal care in the institutionalized religious traditions, numerous forms of spiritual care for the dying have emerged which are located outside of organized religions. The dimensions of spiritual care and support for the dead constitute a special aspect which has received little attention so far. Many facets of this care for the dead are anchored within the religious traditions, but it also plays a role in modern secular societies. Spiritual Care is a modern phenomenon that is not only relevant in palliative care, but in the healthcare sector in general. The term is applied to confessional Christian pastoral care in its modern (often inter-religiously renewed) appearance, to the traditional support on the part of various religions (such as Islam, Judaism, etc.), but also to spiritual support beyond the established traditions. I gained broad expertise in this field as I have taught in an interdisciplinary university course on Palliative Care for 15 years where I learnt a lot myself from various professors, and I have been active in training and advanced training up to the present day. Research projects that focus on a question from this subject area are welcome. 

Ethics of Religion

Within the scope of this broad and relevant subject area, I have thus far primarily discussed medico-ethical questions at the end of life. Medical progress has made human dying a problem of the first magnitude. This has resulted in the demand for the right to a natural death which calls for assisted dying contrary to the possibilities offered by medical technology. Initially, it was mainly Christianity and Judaism that participated in the current ethical discourse on euthanasia. One reason for this is that development standards in medicine and technology are subject to global variations. In the meantime, the shaping of opinion has got under way in the religions all over the world. Within the context of my research, the term euthanasia is not restricted to the narrow medical use for active assisted dying, but refers to the fundamental question of the religious bases and conditions for dying well. Particularly relevant is the question of a medically assisted fasting to death that has its roots inter alia in Asian religious traditions. The debates on brain death and the removal of organs also have social relevance and are characterized by various religious positions. I am open to the supervision of projects that refer to this context. Another topic that lies close to my heart is the significance and handling of animals in the diverse religious traditions. I find it very interesting that in recent years, behavioural biologists (such as the primatologist Frans de Waal or the wolf researcher Kurt Kotrschal) increasingly comment on the biological foundations of ethics and religion. I gladly supervise research projects that work on historical or comparative aspects of the two areas mentioned above.

Modern Hindu Movements

Since I have intensively studied two modern Hindu movements, namely the Rāmakṛṣṇa-movement and the Viśva Dharma-movement, I am open to projects aimed at discussing movements of this kind in India or Europe.