April 8, 2016
The penultimate colloquium of the Spring semester was given by Jens Kugele (Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen), who presented a paper titled “Autobiographie und Religion. Zugänge und Konzepte.” Kugele’s paper approached the intersection of religion and literature from a new perspective within cultural and ethnographical studies. In the first part of the paper, Kugele gave an overview on the current discourse in cultural studies on the role of aesthetic representations of religion and its practices in contemporary secular times, and showed how the specific entanglement of religion and culture has shifted in recent years. The second part of the paper offered a close reading of Ruth Klüger’s autobiography weiter leben (1992).
Kugele argued that Klüger’s text needs to be situated among other autobiographies of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. He elaborated on the exceptional status of her writing, which is highly aware of the thematic and formal aspects of the genre’s tradition, yet radically breaks with them. Through his analysis of rare descriptions of religious cultural practices in the text, Kugele was able to shed light on the complex relation of presence and absence of religion and the question of (self-)representation in Klüger’s life writing. Despite Klüger’s explicit omission of religion as a theme in her writing, the importance of religion for it, Kugele argued, cannot be neglected. One has to find a new language in cultural studies to approach Klüger’s text, which cannot be grasped by a reading that separates the realms of religion and culture.
The discussion focused mainly on questions of genre, memory, and autobiographical writing, and on how Klüger’s departure from certain elements of this tradition can be read in dialogue with Kugele’s new approach on religion and culture. The discussion then moved to the formal aspects and effects of Klüger’s writing and the question of creating distance not only between text and reader, but also between collective and individualized forms of community, which are so important for practices and formations of culture. (Annekatrin Sommer)