Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - Institute of Asian and African Studies

About us - Profile of the IAAW

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Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften (IAAW)

Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Profile paper (June 2014)


1. Concept

Based on the concept of area studies, the Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften (IAAW) opens up multidisciplinary perspectives to regions of Asia and Africa and their regional and global entanglements. On a structural level this translates into our regional departments


  • (Sub-Saharan) Africa
  • East Asia
  • South Asia
  • Southeast Asia
  • Central Asia


and into the thematically bridging cross-sectional departments – presently


  • Islam
  • Mediality and Intermediality
  • Transformation


Area studies focus on spatial and temporal phenomena, implementing methodological tools from the fields of human, cultural, and social sciences as well as from linguistics and history with the aim to further develop existing theories. Necessarily linked to their epistemological pattern is the awareness that researchers, lecturers and students of area studies are situated between the poles of reality and representation, local and global, emic and etic, amongst others.

A fundamental condition for successful area studies is their internationality. It characterizes our students and staff and is also reflected in the institute’s mobility of research and teaching as well as in different forms of cooperation.

We are aiming at a dialogue on equal terms between culturally and regionally diverse scientific traditions which opens up avenues for multiple and decidedly non-Eurocentric academic perspectives.



2. Research

Members of the IAAW conduct individual and/or coordinated research projects according to their regional and disciplinary orientation and position themselves in national and international subject areas within their academic community. In order to lend their area studies expertise to diverse research projects, members of the IAAW are actively engaging in major projects across thematic, disciplinary and organizational boundaries, without neglecting their research focus in their specialized field of area studies. Teaching and research at the IAAW are oriented toward this interconnection between region-specific questions and general questions from the fields of social sciences and the humanities. Currently, the focus of research is mainly on (selected)


  • Work and life course
  • Mobility and migration
  • Endangered languages, language policies, multilinguism
  • Narrating and memory
  • Religious change, religio-sociological movements
  • Globalization, Urbanization and social inequalities  
  • Medialization and media cultures
  • Transcultural encounters between Africa, Asia and Europe
  • Everyday life and life styles
  • Childhood, youth, education
  • Environment


The fields of teaching and research at the IAAW are shaping diverse and dynamic international academic communities. In order to ensure a flexible response to international developments in the field, the IAAW abstains from defining key priorities and therefore from creating a distinctive profile in the conventional sense. This allows the IAAW to adapt to changing scientific interests and requirements in the field of area studies.


3. Studying

The IAAW offers the transregional and multidisciplinary bachelor degree program


  • Regional Studies Asia/Africa

   And in extension the DAAD-sponsored

  • Bachelor Area Studies Asia/Africa Plus (planning stage)


Within these study programs, the basic idea of area studies is to transcend regional and disciplinary boundaries, to look for interdisciplinary and comparative questions and obtain scientific results. The resulting teaching structure is comprised of three thematic areas, namely “Society and Transformation”, “Culture and Identity”, and “Language and Communication”, which are supplemented by a multidisciplinary and transregional introduction module, with methodology and project courses and an intensive language training in the languages of Asia and Africa. Within the modules, students are free to opt for a regional specialization or a comprehensive transregional education which prepares them for further studies or a non-academic professional career. The Bachelor Plus program opens up possibilities for studying an extra year at a partner university located in the specific research area.


On a master degree level the IAAW aims at a differentiation of and focus on the regional specialization in the following study programs


  • MA African studies
  • MA East Asia studies (planning stage)
  • MA Modern South and Southeast Asia studies
  • MA Central Asian studies


Within the framework of these master degree programs, students can choose a disciplinary as well as regional focus and furthermore have the opportunity to perfect their regional language skills.

A scientific perspective geared towards the phenomena of globalization can be developed and deepened in two master study programs which were jointly set up by the IAAW and international and Berliner partner institutions:

  • MA Global Studies
  • MA Global History


4. Postgraduate Studies

The regional sections of the IAAW offer the possibility of obtaining a PhD in the subjects


  • African studies
  • East Asian studies (planning stage)
  • South Asian studies
  • Southeast Asian studies
  • Central Asian studies


Starting with the winter term 2014/15, students can take part in the postgraduate program

  • Global and Area Studies

conceptualized and structured by the IAAW in cooperation with national and international partners.


Members of the IAAW supervise doctoral students from the graduate school initiated by Humboldt-Universität and Freie Universität Berlin, which is jointly supported within the framework of the Initiative of Excellency.

  • Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies


They also participate in cross-institutional graduate programs like the

  • Graduiertenschule Mensch und Tier 

(under the aegis of: Kulturwissenschaften of te KuSoBi faculty; planning stage) as well as in common doctoral programs together with universities in Asia and Africa as well as in the  global North. Some members have the right to award doctorates in further PhD subjects of their faculties and/or of other Humboldt-Universität faculties.


5. Networking

The master degree and doctoral programs jointly initiated by (members of) the IAAW and other institutes of the KuSoBi faculty are among the main long-term networking projects. When it comes to medium-term networking projects (SFBs, BMBF and others), the key role is played by projects either in cooperation with institutes of other faculties or with further national and/or international institutions.

Particular emphasis is laid on dense medium- and long-term networking activities linking universities and other academic institutions in countries of the IAAW’s areas of research. This manifests itself in cooperation – either program-based or independent from a program-based structure – in teaching and promoting young researchers as well as in postgraduate and student research, individually and in groups.