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Coping with Difference

Coping with Difference – Concepts of Humanity and Humanitarian Practices

Along with concepts of humanity and humanitarian practices, this research area investigates the central structures and approaches employed to cope with the increasing and strengthening experiences of difference. From the early modern period through the 19th century and up to contemporary history, the research area thematises the changing concepts of humanity with their social, religious and legal-political distinctions, which in practice had an ambivalent effect. The area therefore investigates the central conflicts and dilemmas both of ideas of humanity but also of humanitarian action.

In the time period being investigated, the pluralization and ideologization of otherness and inequalities was defined by some fundamental changes: the transition from a society based on estates to one based on classes, the debate regarding secularization and reconfessionalization, the differentiation between nature and culture, and the emergence of nationalism, colonialism and imperialism. During these processes, in some cases new differences emerged, in other cases existing differences were intensified and ideologized. Also, the increasing differentiation between law, politics, economics and religion as independent societal function systems contributed to the pluralization of experiences of differences.

The guiding hypothesis of this research area is: By referring to the human race as the ideal human collective, ideas of humanity and humanitarian action on the one hand ignore the differences referred to or attempt to transcend these differences. On the other hand, the practical application of these ideas gives rise to new differences, for example, by differentiating between helpers and those in need of assistance, or through violent means of humanitarian intervention. This research area places particular focus on this basic paradox of the generation of differences by means of guiding ideas which are intended to bridge differences, as well as on the resulting ambivalence of the concepts of humanity and the humanitarian practices being investigated.

On the one hand, it was internal European processes which contributed to the growing importance of discussions of the concept of humanity and to the emergence of different understandings of humanity. On the other hand, the discourse on humanity changed through the encounter with non-European cultures, and contributed to the emergence of an understanding of humanity which was perceived to be "European".

The research area contains the following modules and projects:

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1. Emergence and development of humanitarian norms

This module investigates the emergence of humanitarian norms in the context of the broader history of ideas, and how these norms became established in practice from the early modern period up to the 20th century in the interplay between religion, international law and human rights. The central assumption is that through societal discourses on central topics such as slavery and human suffering during war humanitarian norms emerged over the course of four centuries, which in the 19th and 20th centuries were propagated by civil society actors and implemented using military and civil means.

a) Antislavery Discourse between Early Modern Criticism and Abolitionism

b) In the Cause of Humanity

c) The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as a humanitarian actor


2. Humanity in missions and »world christianity«

This module was originally supported by the Junior Research Group “Protestant Missionaries' Images of Europe.” It examined the value system of European missionaries in contact with the “other,” using examples from the mission to India in the 18th century, the mission movement of the 19th century, and the reorientation of missionary work after 1945. The group was supplemented by four postdoctoral studies undertaken by international fellows. Since then, two new projects have emerged, one dealing with images of man in German-language missionary periodicals, the other with European missionaries and humanitarian action in the Middle East.

a) Transformation europäischer Wertvorstellungen im Kontakt mit dem Fremden – der Beitrag der evangelischen Missionsbewegung im 19. Jahrhundert

b) People – Images – One World. Images of People in German-speaking Missionary Journals from Imperial Germany

c) Engaging Europe in the Arab World: European missionaries and humanitarianism in the Middle East (1850-1970)

3. Humanitarian efforts and charity

Up to the Enlightenment, concepts of humanitarianism in Europe were primarily religiously based. In this period, the circle of people who were perceived to be in need of assistance usually belonged to one’s own religious community or were inhabitants of missionary territories. However, from the 18th century onward secular dimensions also increasingly came into play. During the course of the 19th century and the emergence of nationalism and the civilizing mission, charitable efforts were directed towards new groups of people in need. This module examines humanitarian efforts and charity, and their conditions and feedback effects on society from the early modern period up to modern humanitarian assistance in the 20th century, which is supported by civil society and transnationally organized.

a) The History of Humanitarian Assistance in the 19th and 20th Centuries

b) Generations of Shtadlanut and Zedakah: The Viennese Court Factor Family Wertheimer

c) The "Distant Child": Religious Engagement and the Globalization of Family, 1840–1930

d) Catholic (Anti-)Imperialism. The Italian Catholic press and European expansionism around 1900