Globetrotter with a social vision: Sisi Sung teaches and conducts research at the University of Erfurt

A traffic-calmed city center, people sitting in the sun and reading, no rushing crowds. Erfurt is a contrast for Sisi Sung. The Chinese economist grew up in Hong Kong and lived for ten years in big cities like Beijing and Seattle. She came to the Thuringian capital for the first time on a business trip. And as soon as she stepped out of the train station, she knew, „This is where I want to stay for a while.“ Today, she lives and works in Erfurt: at the university’s Max Weber College, she is researching career obstacles for women in large companies as part of her dissertation. She also teaches at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy and supports the university’s internationalization through committee work. „WortMelder“ spoke with her about her research and life in Erfurt.

Ms. Sung, Erfurt is so very different from the cities you’ve lived in so far….

After traveling to and studying in more than 30 countries, I felt the charm of Erfurt being old in pace, modern in facilities. I was more astonished by the many bookstores in the city and people reading books in open spaces. I knew I wanted to live and work on my doctoral project here, so I did not make any second choice. When navigating my way to Erfurt, I was fascinated by the University of Erfurt’s history as the oldest university in Germany, and I wondered how study life would be in the university.

And then you must have quickly come across the Max Weber College?

As an economist, Max-Weber-Kolleg is a perfect accommodation for my doctoral project. Its international and interdisciplinary structure is very innovative. It is a unique platform to gain global experience and intellectual inspirations from interactions with a wide variety of renowned social scientists and outstanding young researchers. With my goal of promoting diversity and equality through cross-cultural and intersectional collaboration, Max-Weber-Kolleg is a perfect fit.

So you do research on diversity and equality. What exactly are you investigating?

I am always interested in fostering diversity and equality. Having men and women working together in parity can have many benefits, especially economically. For example, with both men and women working, the economy grows in size, and each individual’s income in society can improve. At a company level, more women on the board or in the executive team can generate a better profit. Ultimately, they help to achieve economic growth. So my research basically aims to locate the drivers for diversity and equality and navigate a path to economic development.

Working on the topic can be difficult. Although the economic benefits, it remains a fact that more efforts are required to achieve diversity and equality. Given the challenge to attain diversity and equality, studying them can be a demanding task. Besides, the issues can be so prevalent and complicated that it can be hard to thoroughly examine with the scope of my doctoral project.

How did you get involved in this topic?

I came from a typical Chinese family. I am thankful that they often emphasize the importance of social responsibility. They sent me to the oldest girls‘ school in Hong Kong. The school was created to offer girls equal education opportunities as boys because before that, girls had no access to education in Hong Kong. Reflecting back on the six years, it was a life-changing experience and perhaps the earliest motivation that has shaped my determination to strive for diversity and equality in the global community.

As an economist, I attended many international conferences, and for most of the time I found that the guest panels were mostly men. When I saw some discussions had no female speakers, the diversity issue was very trivial and striking. After visiting some of the world’s largest Chinese companies, such as Alibaba and Tencent, I observed that male senior managers often dominated the meetings. I became more curious about where the women were. When I sat in a guest lecture by Christine Lagarde, she mentioned that „if Lehman Brothers was Lehman Brothers and Sister, things would be different.“. It immediately brought me back to the exact date in 2008 when I was sitting in a classroom surrounded by male students. My undergraduate alma mater, Tsinghua University, has been one of the most prestigious science and engineering universities in China, so it seemed not surprising to be one of the fewer female students. Her words reminded me of the experiences, and I immediately knew that I wanted to explore more about diversity and equality.

What contribution do you want your study to make to society?

One primary motivation, which is also my ambition, is to connect academic research with practice. My interest in the topic stemmed from past experiences, so I hope that my academic work can be applied to solve real-life problems. Therefore, I am eager to share my experiences and contribute my expertise to the development of our community. After completing my doctoral project, I would like to provide the findings and help leaders overcome inequality and achieve diversity. I would like to push for collaboration among scholars, organizational leaders, and policymakers to cultivate a path towards diversity and equality in the global community. I believe that diversity and equality can make policy and decisions more effective, less biased, and making people live better.

Now, you had high expectations for your time studying in Erfurt and at MWK. Have they been fulfilled?

Living and studying in Erfurt has been amazing. After two years of intellectual discussions with colleagues, lecturing at Willy Brandt School, and representing all Ph.D. students at University of Erfurt and Max-Weber-Kolleg, I definitely gained experience I could not have attained anywhere else. Max-Weber-Kolleg has provided ample formal and informal exchange opportunities, with a nice balance of academic and social events. The best part has always been the personal connections and conversations with prominent scientists and my fellow researchers from different backgrounds.

… Just like your students at the Brandt School. You just mentioned the lectures you give there. How does teaching enrich your research work?

I realize I haven’t stopped teaching since 2010. I have taught at Tsinghua University in China, the University of Washington in the U.S., and now at Willy Brandt School. Each has been an invaluable experience. I am lucky to have met so many intelligent students and benefited from the interactions. At Willy Brandt School, I teach two courses that involve cross-cultural collaboration and strategic management of public leadership. I am always inspired by the unique perspectives of my students. Discussions with them not only enrich the understanding of my own research work but also provide useful suggestions to improve my research.

For a year now, the pandemic has already overshadowed us. How are you coping with it far from home?

University and Max-Weber-Kolleg always offer the most they can in supporting my study and living in Erfurt. Especially during the pandemic, the directors and staff at Max-Weber-Kolleg have expressed their availability for assistance. My fellow colleagues and I also regularly organize a walk in the city to tackle the challenging lockdown. These supports are very helpful during the pandemic because you know there is always someone you can reach out to, even when you are 9,000 km away from home. During the pandemic, I will spend an hour or two on workout every day, which helps me stay to my work routine. I would say Erfurt is such a nice place for outdoor workout.

Call for application: Scientific employee

Max-Weber-Kolleg – in the scope of the DFG-Kollegforschungsgruppe „Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations“

Pay category 13 TV-L (100 %)

Am Max-Weber-Kolleg der Universität Erfurt ist – im Rahmen der DFG-Kollegforschungsgruppe „Religion und Urbanität: wechselseitige Formierungen“ – zum nächstmöglichen Zeitpunkt folgende Stelle im Umfang von 40 Wochenstunden zu besetzen: Wissenschaftliche*r Mitarbeiter*in

Zur Ausschreibung geht’s hier.

Doctoral Preparation at the Max Weber Kolleg

The Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the University of Erfurt (MWK) offers a six-month doctoral preparation programme for applicants at the MWK as part of its study programme. Applications are possible until 28 February.

This offer is aimed at early stage researchers who have completed an excellent Master’s degree and who wish to pursue an interdisciplinary doctorate in the context of the Weber research programme at the Max Weber Kolleg, which can be supervised by members of the Kolleg. A one-semester preparation period for the doctorate is offered to suitable early stage researchers, which enables individualised supervision by a mentor, so that at the end of the doctoral preparation an exposé is available that enables application to the doctoral programme of the Max Weber Kolleg. The doctoral preparation is oriented towards the individual needs of each participant. It consists of mentoring with regard to the research question of the dissertation project and the state of research, participation in selected colloquia and the opportunity to participate in seminars and in the qualification programme of the University of Erfurt. Certificates are issued for participation in the university’s qualification programme. The admission procedure as a doctoral candidate to the Max Weber Kolleg remains unaffected.

The Max Weber Kolleg offers financial support for participation in the doctoral preparation for the duration of usually 6 months in the form of a scholarship, which is awarded according to the scholarship statutes of the University of Erfurt. The doctoral preparation usually starts on 1 April. Direct follow-up funding in the case of acceptance as a doctoral candidate from a doctoral scholarship can only be made possible if the full 6 months are not required for the preparation of the exposé.

As the Max Weber Kolleg would like to support women in a special way, applications from women will be accepted preferentially. More information you can find on the website of the MWK.

Lecture Series in the Winter Term 2020/21 „Judaism and Education. Concepts and Media of Learning in and about Judaism“

Welcome to the lecture series in the Winter Term 2020/21 that investigates teaching and learning in and about Judaism. All lectures will be available online via a Live Stream on YouTube on Tuesdays between 6 and 8 pm. Students may also join the corresponding StuFu-course. After the event, the lectures will be archived and can be accessed throughout the semester.

You can find more information on the website of the lecture series.

Online-Event in cooperation with the Max Weber Kolleg: ‚Mark Terkessidis: Wessen Erinnerung zählt? Koloniale Vergangenheit und Rassismus heute‘

Mark Terkessidis: „Wessen Erinnerung zählt? Koloniale Vergangenheit und Rassismus heute“

Über Deutschlands koloniale Geschichte wird in jüngster Zeit heftig debattiert. Es geht um kolonial belastete Straßennamen, um die Bestände von Museen und die Frage nach dem kulturellen Erbe insgesamt. Im Mittelpunkt stehen ehemalige Kolonien in Afrika wie das heutige Tansania und Namibia. Doch muss die Perspektive sowohl zeitlich als auch räumlich erweitert werden. Der deutsche Kolonialismus begann nicht erst 1884 mit der Berliner Kongokonferenz, sondern bereits im frühen 16. Jahrhundert mit den Aktivitäten der Handelshäuser der Fugger und Welser in Lateinamerika. Und er fand keineswegs nur jenseits des Salzwassers statt. Auch die deutschen Expansionsbestrebungen in Richtung Osten (Polen) sowie in Richtung Südosteuropa und Osmanisches Reich hatten eine koloniale bzw. imperiale Dimension. Mark Terkessidis, renommierter Migrations- und Rassismusforscher, schlägt für die Geschichte des deutschen Kolonialismus einen größeren Rahmen vor. Nur so werden die Position Deutschlands in der Welt sowie aktuelle Migrations- und Fluchtbewegungen verständlich. In einer globalisierten Gesellschaft muss sich der Raum der Erinnerung demokratisch erweitern.

Mark Terkessidis ist freier Autor und hat u. a. für taz, Tagesspiegel, Die Zeit und Süddeutsche Zeitung geschrieben sowie Radiobeiträge für den Deutschlandfunk verfasst und im WDR-Radio moderiert. Er promovierte über die Banalität des Rassismus und unterrichtete an den Universitäten Köln, Rotterdam und St. Gallen. Zuletzt veröffentlichte er Interkultur (2010), Kollaboration (2015) und Nach der Flucht (2017).

Die Online-Veranstaltung der Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Thüringen in Kooperation mit dem Max-Weber-Kolleg der Universität Erfurt findet am Mittwoch, den 24.06.2020, 19 Uhr statt.

Please contact for more information

Sanam Roohi shares insights on the current situation in India

Solidarity protest at University of Erfurt

Against CAA and police brutality on protesting students in India

By Sanam Roohi

On Friday, 20 December 2019 some 40 people including students of University of Erfurt and Fachhochschule Erfurt, members of the Max Weber Kolleg, and other concerned citizens and students from Thuringia gathered in solidarity with the protestors and students of different universities and educational institutes who were protesting against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 and were met with brutal police violence on 15 December 2019. Those gathered unequivocally condemned the highhandedness of the government of India and this police brutality on protesters, in the spirit of solidarity with the students and protestors in India.

Why protest CAA?

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 was passed by the two houses of Indian Parliament and became an Act on 12 December 2019. The Act amends the existing Citizenship Act of 1955 to explicitly make ‘illegal’ migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religions who came to India prior to 2014 as eligible for Indian citizenship. It ostensibly leaves out of its purview persecuted Muslims from these countries, the Rohingyas from Myanmar and Tamils from Sri Lanka. The Act is highly discriminatory and arbitrary at best, violating secular ideals of the Indian constitution. Yet, if taken together with NRC or National Register of Citizen, it will be devastating for the social fabric of the country.

What is NRC?

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah has reiterated time and again that the Citizenship Amendment will be followed by the nationwide implementation of NRC by 2024 to throw out ‘infiltrators’ or illegal immigrants. Once adopted, every person living in India will have to prove with documents that they are a citizen of the country to have their names included in this register. If they do not have requisite documents, they will be deemed living illegally and stripped of their citizenship and thrown in detention camps. We learn this from the limited enrolment of NRC in the North East Indian state of Assam between February 2015 and August 2019 after which almost 1.9 million people failed to get their name registered in the NRC and many were put in camps.

Many poor citizens in India do not have proper documents like birth certificate and because many have not finished school, they do not have their school leaving certificates too. Not only will NRC be an administrative nightmare for the bureaucracy it will create unparalleled fear among Indian citizens. While Hindus too can be excluded from the NRC, the Citizenship amendment act indicates that Hindus will get citizenship even if they are illegal or without documents. But Muslims, unable to prove their citizenship will be deemed illegal!

Taken together with the anti-Muslim sentiments prevalent in India since the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014 and again in 2019, it has created a lot of fear among the Muslim citizens of the country.

Protests and police brutality

The passing of the bill to an Act was followed by widespread protests from Indian citizens who argued that it goes against the principle of secularism enshrined in the Indian constitution and the Fundamental Rights guaranteed to everyone irrespective of their religion. Students joined in the protest at some universities – prominent among them were Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh. On the night of 15 December, the police stormed into these university campuses, entered canteens, girls and boys hostels, prayer rooms and libraries and physically assaulted students, including those who were not protesting, to instil fear. Students were flushed out and campuses were vacated in the middle of the night, some were arrested and the whereabouts of a few Aligarh students is unknown. These incidents of police brutality inspired other universities across India and abroad to join in the protest. Apart from attacking university spaces, the police in large parts of central and Western Uttar Pradesh, Mangalore in Karnataka and Assam opened fire killing more than 30 people, most of them in the state of Uttar Pradesh within 24 hours between 20-21 December 2019. The state government also arrested more than a thousand protestors to instil fear.

Despite police brutality, the protests have not stopped but spread from one city to another in the last one and a half months. These protests are unprecedented in the history of independent India. It is for the first time Muslim women, many of them wearing hijab have come out to the streets to protest in large numbers, joined in sizeable numbers by anti-right groups, left organisations, student bodies, lawyers groups, Sikh community members and ordinary citizens who stand against the CAA and NRC. Shaheenbagh area in Delhi has become a symbol of this non-violent resistance of the current right-wing government. Women of Shaheenbagh have come out to protest against the CAA and NRC and have shown exemplary spirit in taking care of each other in turns as others sit out to protest. Women of other cities like Kolkata and Mumbai have followed suit.

Meanwhile, the government has not only continued with the CAA, it has also started rolling out NRC in Uttar Pradesh and in Karnataka.

Qudsiya Contractor gives a working paper on ‚The teacher and the aalim – Religious imagination in the making of public Muslims in a Mumbai slum‘

This paper looks at how the objectification of religious imagination
influences Muslim’s coping of their changing worldly realities. It looks at
the role of new religious intellectuals in addressing the shrinking Muslim
presence in the public sphere in urban India through newer styles of
religious leadership embedded in a broader understanding of the religious
imagination itself. These new religious intellectuals among the Muslim
poor I argue see the role of secular education coupled with a religious
imagination as essential in order to protect one’s self interests as a Muslim
yet be integral to a larger and diverse public. Islamic knowledge and
behavioural conduct combined with secular education is hence seen as a
way of fashioning the lives of the modern Muslim subject. In other words,
embracing modernity with Islamic values is seen as a way of refashioning
the Muslim self.

Simone Wagner gives a working paper on ‚The Cistercians of the Upper Rhine. Foundation, Relationships and textual Production of female monasteries‘

This paper overviews the history of three south-western female Cistercian monasteries (Günterstal, Wonnental, Marienau) from the 13th to the 15th century. In order to analyse the specific and non-specific characteristics of female Cistercian monasteries in contrast to their male counterparts and other non-Cistercian female communities it focuses primarily on three different aspects: 1. the foundation of the monasteries and their affiliation to the Cistercian order, 2. their relations to different worldly and religious actors such as the father abbot as well as cities and 3. the written record of the monasteries.

Applying to all examples the relationship with the order was complicated and it is unclear whether they all were incorporated into the order or if this question was important for contemporaries. However, all communities developed a Cistercian identity. Nevertheless, they were also in (close) contact to other non-Cistercian religious actors and their religious lifestyle resembled other female communities. Equally, the relationship with cities was quite important for the south-western monasteries. The women had options to shift the boundaries being normatively imposed on them. Men and women did work together regarding administrative business and the nuns didn’t always adhere to strict enclosure. Their written record — though perhaps quantitatively not comparable to the men’s – should also be taken seriously and offers a lot of inside in 15th century religiosity.