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Research concept

The research group Aetiologies examines the fascination of beginnings and the search for origins by approaching them as retrospective narratives constructed for the needs of the present. 

Stories of beginnings contain blueprints for politics, aesthetics, religion, and life sciences.

Stories of beginnings contain blueprints for politics, aesthetics, religion, and life sciences.

Stories of beginnings, when viewed through the heuristic lens of aetiology (the narration of origins, foundations, and causes), contain the imprint of the very present which they seek to establish and explain, and blueprints for its politics, aesthetics, religion, and life sciences. This project studies the rhetorics of temporality employed by cosmologies, creation myths, political foundation stories, and literary and scientific origin narratives. The fundamentally argumentative nature of aetiologies draws attention to their position on the interface between literature and science, i.e. to both discourses of knowledge in literature and to the fictivity of scientific hypotheses. A central question of the project is whether (and how) literature imbues origins with ideological and metaphysical power, or undermines this power by questioning linearity and causality. Finally, the project’s focus on beginnings connects our research programme to the current interest in the ends of geological periods and their aetiologies in both aesthetic and political contexts.

At a glance


Aetiologies – Founding Narratives in Literary, Scholarly, and Scientific Discourses


Prof. Dr. Susanne Gödde, Institut für Religionswissenschaft, Freie Universität Berlin

Participating institutes

Freie Universität Berlin
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung

Supported by

Berliner Antike-Kolleg

Funded by

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
Projektnummer 458735579


Prof. Dr. Susanne Gödde


Researchers from the following fields work together in the research group: Greek Studies/Religious Studies, Latin Studies, Theology (New Testament), English Literature, Medieval Latin Philology and History of Mythology, History of Natural Sciences and Philosophy of Science, Political Science and Modern German Literature.

Linked subprojects

Linked subprojects

The eight sub-projects cooperate with each other in different constellations: there are thematic and conceptual key terms that connect some of the sub-projects with each other: for example, creation (SP3, SP5, SP9), ideologies (SP1, SP6, SP8), questions of aesthetic representation (SP1, SP4, SP5, SP9) or scientific explanatory models (SP6 and SP7).

Main focus

The overall structure consists of four main topics:
A) Aitiology and temporality; B) Aitiology and authority; C) Aitiology and literacy; D) Epistemology of aitiology.
Each sub-project is connected with two of the main topics, which also form the framework for annual conferences, lecture series and workshops.

Four main topics

Four main topics

Aitiologies is a research group funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and hosted by the Freie Universität Berlin.