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Aleida and Jan Assmann to Receive the 2018 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

The Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade has chosen the German professor of Literature and Cultural Studies Aleida Assmann and the German Egyptologist and scholar of Cultural Studies Jan Assmann to be the recipients of this year’s Peace Prize. The announcement was made today by Heinrich Riethmüller, Chairman of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Börsenverein), at the opening of the 2018 Berlin Book Days. The award ceremony will take place on the final day of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Sunday 14 October 2018, at the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt am Main. The ceremony will be broadcast live on German public television. The Peace Prize has been awarded since 1950 and is endowed with a sum of €25,000.


Aleida und Jan Assmann
© Corinna Assmann

The Board of Trustees issued the following statement with regard to their choice:

“The German Publishers and Booksellers Association awards the 2018 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade to Aleida and Jan Assmann. In doing so, the association and its members have chosen to honour two exceptional scholars who have inspired and complemented each other’s work for decades.

As a scholar of literary and cultural studies, Aleida Assmann has displayed an unfaltering commitment to investigating the virulent and perennial themes of historical amnesia and memory culture. In view of the growing political instrumentalisation of these themes in recent German history, her scientifically grounded studies continue to provide much needed enlightenment on a broad range of issues relating to the cultural memory of nations. Time and again, her work has illustrated that an open and honest handling of the past is an essential precondition for peaceful coexistence. As an Egyptologist and a scholar of cultural studies,

Jan Assmann has launched international debates on fundamental questions relating to the cultural and religious conflicts of our time. His extensive scientific work has examined the relationship between religion and violence, the genesis of intolerance and the claim to absolute truth, all of which have made an indispensible contribution to our understanding of the willingness and capacity for peace held by religions in today’s global society.

The exhilarating and mutually enhancing unity created by the two voices of Aleida and Jan Assmann has generated a body of work that is of tremendous importance for contemporary debates and, above all, for sustainable peace and understanding among the peoples of the world”.

Aleida Assmann, born on 22 March 1947 in Bethel near Bielefeld, has placed her academic focus since the 1990s on English and archaeology, but also on the subject of ‘cultural memory’ as well as remembrance and forgetting. In 1993, she became Chair of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Konstanz. She also took on numerous guest professorships across the globe in the subsequent decades.

In her book “Der lange Schatten der Vergangenheit. Erinnerungskultur und Geschichtspolitik” (2006; “Shadows of Trauma. Memory and the Politics of Postwar Identity”, 2015), she examines the tension between personal experience and official commemoration, while also providing suggestions for an apposite culture of remembrance and arguing in favour of giving memory a “common memory space”, which could become tangible in a day of remembrance. In her latest book, “Menschenrechte und Menschenpflichten” (2017; tr. Human Rights and Human Duties), written in the context of the current refugee debate, she calls for a new social contract driven by human rights, by values such as empathy and solidarity as well as by a canon of rules for the fair and respectful coexistence of existing residents and immigrants.

Aleida Assmann’s husband, Jan Assmann, born on 7 July 1938 in Langelsheim (Harz), has made fundamental contributions to the development, editing and interpretation of sources relating to Egyptian religion. From the very beginning, he pursued interdisciplinary approaches, for example by connecting philological interpretations of texts with archaeological findings, as well as by taking into account cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. By analysing cults of the dead, Assmann also sought to shed light on the particular self-conceptions a culture seeks to impart about itself to future generations.

In his work on Egypt and cultural studies, Assmann revises the biblical image of Ancient Egypt as an enslaved society under the rule of the Pharaohs, instead portraying it as a civilisation guided by concepts of order and justice. Assmann became known to a wider audience with his works on the emergence of monotheism, which he sees as having its beginnings in the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. In his 2016 book “Totale Religion. Ursprünge und Formen puritanischer Verschärfung” (tr. Total Religion. Origins and Forms of Puritanical Intensification), Assmann spans an arc to current discussions regarding the potential for violence held by societies shaped by monotheism.

In 1978, he joined with his wife Aleida Assmann to found the research group “Archäologie der literarischen Kommunikation” (Archaeology of Literary Communication) which brought representatives of different academic fields and cultural disciplines together in a dialogue. Aleida and Jan Assmann used these initial approaches to formulate the concept of ‘cultural memory’, which they defined as an officially constructed and institutionalised form of collective memory in contrast to purely subjective individual memories. Today, they continue to take up subjects drawn from our present day – such as the question of the individual and collective memory of the Shoah – and seek to investigate literary history within these broad cultural scientific frameworks.

Aleida and Jan Assmann have received numerous awards, including the Balzan Prize (2017) and the Karl Jaspers Prize (2017) for their joint work. Aleida Assmann was awarded the A.H. Heineken Prize for History (2014) and the Max Planck Award for Research: History and Memory (2009) among many others. Jan Assmann received the Sigmund Freud Prize for Scientific Prose (2016) and the Thomas Mann Prize (2011). In 2006, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, First Class. Aleida and Jan Assmann live in Constance. The couple have five children.