I gladly accept proposal for M.A. or PhD projects that fall into one of my areas of expertise. These include the relationship between religion, esotericism, and politics, for instance regarding socialism, völkisch movements, National Socialism, or far-right extremism; religious history in South Asia, specifically with a focus on Bengal; questions concerning the relationship between religion, science, and politics in modernity; as well as global historical and postcolonial approaches in religious studies.

Those interested are requested to submit a proposal of five pages for an M.A. project, or a proposal of ten to fifteen pages for a PhD project, respectively. The following points must be covered:

  • Working title
  • Research question(s)
  • An abstract summarizing the project (about 200 words).
  • More detailed description of the project, including theoretical and methodological approaches
  • Preliminary structure
  • Schedule
  • Scholarly literature that will be used
  • Description of the primary sources that will be used


Major Areas of Supervision

Ariosophy, Völkisch Movements, National Socialism, and Present-Day Right-Wing Extremism

The relationship between National Socialism, esotericism, occultism, neo-paganism, and related topics is subject to intense public debate. Within pop culture specifically, motifs of a supposed "Nazi occultism" are widespread, but affinities between National Socialism and the field of esotericism are also emphasised in academic publications. This is often related to historical links to völkisch movements, life reform (Lebensreform), and nineteenth-century currents such as Ariosophy. Such links were recently highlighted and debated in the media with respect to the so-called Corona demonstrations. In light of this public interest and the particular relevance of the related historical events, the relative lack of scholarship on these subjects is astonishing. This is not least underlined by prominent far-right global networks that make use of esoteric symbols such as the "Black Sun." Solid research on this is thus an urgent desideratum. Supervision of dissertations and theses may range from historical examples since the nineteenth century until today.

Bengal since the Eighteenth Century

A special focus of my research rests on Bengal, which today comprises the northeast Indian state of West Bengal and Bangladesh. Dissertations and theses may range from the eighteenth century until today, with the British colonial context forming the most decisive framework. This period includes the co-called "Bengal Renaissance," which saw re-negotiations of Hindu identities. Under keywords such as "Hindu Revivalism" or "reform Hinduism," as represented by Swami Vivekananda, these historical developments are a well-established subject of South Asian studies. Actors such as Vivekananda popularised Yoga and a certain understanding of Hinduism in the West, making them an integral part of an understanding of present-day views on India and the reception of Asian practices such as yoga or Tantra. Hence, dissertations and theses can also address broader relevant subject areas such as (post-)colonialism, orientalism, gender, sexuality, social reform (for instance, with regard to women’s rights and caste), New Age, and alternative religiosity. Knowledge of the Bengali language is very welcome but not a definite prerequisite, since many Anglophone sources by English-educated Bengalis may be used. However, precisely due to that circumstance, projects are welcome that direct their attention towards subaltern perspectives beyond the colonial intelligentsia.

Esotericism and Alternative Religious Movements

In addition to the Department’s foci on East Asian new religious movements and their connections to the West, my own research concentrates on exchanges between South Asia, Europe, and North America. Subjects that may be highlighted here include the Theosophical Society, Spiritualism, and occultism since the nineteenth century. Dissertations and theses are invited to explore the whole field of esotericism and alternative religiosity, with great room for flexibility. Especially because the meaning of "esotericism" is anything but clear, fundamental debates within the study of esotericism must also be considered, for instance with regard to the demarcation of a "Western esotericism." This field of study allows for some genuinely pioneering work, particularly because a vast amount of source material awaits exploration and many theoretical and methodological questions remain open.

Global History and Postcolonialism

As a historian, I consider it vital to always base dissertations and theses on historical sources. Yet, I also encourage research that focuses on theoretical and/or methodological problems and debates. I am particularly open to global historical and postcolonial approaches that, among other things, make use of the repertoire of post-structuralism and current theories of translation. Engagement with such perspectives should always remain critical and must be considered while grasping the complexities of the research subjects, particularly within colonial contexts. Students with an interest in more abstract philosophical discussions in that regard are warmly welcome.

Socialism, Radical Social Reform, and Religion

Today, the relationship between religion and socialism, anarchism, and related subjects is usually perceived as conflictual or even hostile. Historically speaking, however, the first socialist movements during the first half of the nineteenth century were explicitly religious. Socialist contexts even decisively produced new religious movements such as Spiritualism and occultism. Sociology (of religion), too, emerged within that context, as the line from Henri de Saint-Simon via Auguste Comte and Émile Durkheim illustrates. It was only through the dominance of various forms of Marxism in the years around 1900 that those early socialist ideas and their relevance for the history of religion were eclipsed. Dissertations and theses may approach the whole spectrum of these political currents and also address fundamental problems and questions within religious studies, such as secularisation and modernisation. I also encourage projects dedicated to the conflicts between socialism(s) and religion, for instance in the German Democratic Republic or the Soviet Union.

South Asian Religious History

The religious history of South Asia is marked by an enormous complexity and diversity, which opens up a multitude of research subjects. My own expertise primarily revolves around Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Tantra since the eighteenth century—however, subjects beyond that sphere may be investigated. Examples of subjects include Kashmir Shaivism, Shrividya, Shaiva Siddhanta, Bhakti, Bengali Vaishnavism, goddess worship, the Bauls of Bengal, or Sant traditions. I also welcome studies that are devoted to the history of Islam in South Asia, as well as to non-brahmanical traditions.

Yoga, Body Cultures, and Religious Identities

Yoga plays an exceptional role within the subject areas of life reform, esotericism, and the reception of Asian religions. Topics such as nationalism, colonialism, health, sexuality, corporality, and the relationship between science and religion become especially tangible in light of yoga. In addition to historical subjects ranging from the nineteenth century back to prior periods, current subjects such as commercialisation, globalisation, as well as debates about “cultural appropriation” are highly relevant research topics. Moreover, issues of religious and national identities may be discussed in light of yoga, for instance with regard to anti-colonialism, Indian independence struggles, and Hindu nationalism, including the relationship between Hinduism and Islam in South Asia.