Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für die Erforschung der Europäischen Aufklärung

Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg Siegel

Interdisciplinary Centre for European Enlightenment Studies

The IZEA was founded in 1990 as a central scientific institution of the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg. As a research institution for the history of culture and ideas, it explores the foundation of modern Western societies through the study of ideas and cultural patterns developed in the 18th century.

18th century studies

The research program includes research and publishing projects dedicated to a wide variety of themes, such as the history of universities, societies and communication; anthropology, aesthetics, culture and knowledge transfer, scholarly culture and literary forms of representation in the 18th century; the development of cultural patterns; the Enlightenment in global networks; and the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz.

Connected with the region's research institutions

The IZEA is located in the Red School, built in 1896, which was formerly the Higher School for Girls of the Francke Foundations. The IZEA houses a public library containing primary sources and research literature related to the Enlightenment in regional and European contexts. The Alexander von Humboldt Chair of Modern Written Culture and European Knowledge Transfer and the Immanuel-Kant-Forum also have their offices in the building.

Enlightenment studies in international networks

Thanks to its outstanding library, its publishing projects, its geographic proximity to important historic sites related to the Enlightenment (including extensive archives, libraries and art collections), and its partnerships with major cultural and scientific institutions,  the IZEA is now one of the most important international research institutes dedicated to the study of the Enlightenment, and is an essential meeting point for scientists from around the world.

1. Cultural Patterns of the Enlightenment

Enlightenment studies in the last decades have taken an either very critical or very favourable stance towards their object of study. The project “cultural patterns of the Enlightenment” seeks to overcome these biases and to ask anew the question of the legacy of the Enlightenment and of its significance for the present. It does not situate the debate in favour or against the principles of the Enlightenment, but rather seeks to reconstruct its long-terms ideals and its practical impact.

The heuristic concept of “cultural patterns” will allow us to grasp this impact both in conceptual and practical terms. This approach takes into account the interconnecting structures that lie at the intersection of the social and symbolic orders in very varied spheres of activity. The interpretive frameworks through which the world was accessed, structured, and interpreted, as well as the social and individual praxis that they generated will be our main field of investigation.

We will explore the formation, stabilisation, and transformation of cultural patterns in various areas. Their common facilitator was the breakup of the traditional orders of knowledge, action, and belief in the Enlightenment and the resulting open circumstances. The 18th century brought about a tension between a broader scope for freedom and the simultaneous existing need for guidance, which made it a very influential era for the shaping of cultural patterns. Thus the broad concept of “Enlightenment” encompasses trends that were a direct reaction to this tension. Speaking from a Pan-European point of view, those involve revolution and romanticism, that is, in the vocabulary of the traditional German literary and intellectual history: classicism, romanticism, and idealism.

To undertake an analysis of the cultural patterns of the Enlightenment means to uncover the cultural foundations of our present. This will be achieved with projects having various scopes and varyingly far-reaching claims to validity. The concept of cultural patterns has for objective a heuristic approach for cultural studies which is interdisciplinary and integrating. Methodologically speaking, it seeks to combine literary/interpretive research approaches with the methods of cultural and communication studies, action-theory and social history. Thus, it also offers research alternatives – which are transferrable to other fields of study – to the much-debated issue of the correlation between the texts and the social – a problem which the humanities and social sciences have increasingly faced ever since they sought to be integrated in cultural studies.


[] Vignette from Pufendorf: De officio hominis et civis, Utrecht 1752.

Natural Law 1625-1850. An International Research Project

Frank Grunert et al.

The publication in 1625 of Hugo Grotius’ major work, De iure belli ac pacis, marked the beginning of a new form of natural law and a new phase in its history. As a branch of moral and political theology, natural law had a long earlier history in Catholic thought and in ecclesiastical and civil polity...

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Daniel Fulda

To historicize, that is, to see all existence as having-become is since Troeltsch, Koselleck, and Foucault a fundamental thought pattern of cultural modernity, which took its essential shape in the eighteenth century. The practice of historicizing establishes continuities and in this ways reacts to a specifically modern experience of contingency.

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The unfamiliarity of the Enlightenment: Was the Enlightenment the true bedrock of modernity?

Andreas Pečar, Damien Tricoire

The Enlightenment is always claimed to be the foundation era of modernity, as for example recently after the Paris attacks against Charlie Hebdo. But is it really the case? Did Enlightenment thinkers champion modern notions of tolerance, human rights, gender equality, or equality between peoples?

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[] Frontispiz Common Prayer

Focus and Self-Discipline. Forms and Functions of Prayer in the long eighteenth century in Great Britain

Sabine Volk-Birke

The cultural practice of prayer in the long eighteenth century constitutes a phenomenon which must be studied from a multidisciplinary perspective.

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Secularization: a cultural Pattern of the Enlightenment?

Jörg Dierken

The notion of secularization is one of the key concepts used to describe the relationship between religion and society after the Enlightenment. It is then that the role of religion and of its institutional representatives has changed dramatically in comparison to pre-modern times.

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