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American Studies

Der Fachrat ist die fachbezogene Zusammenkunft von Studierenden, akademischen Mitarbeitern und Hochschulprofessoren eines Instituts der Universität.

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Adwan Bw

Andreas Balz


Andreas Balz was born in Mainz, Germany in 1987. He studied English philology and biology at Heidelberg University, as well as Scottish literature and British history at the University of Edinburgh. Besides a B.Sc. in biology, he holds a “Staatsexamen”—a German degree required for teaching in advanced secondary education—in English and biology. His final thesis accomplished to reconcile his two major subjects by approaching two works by Cormac McCarthy, The Orchard Keeper and The Road, from an ecocritical perspective. Since his graduation in December 2014, Andreas Balz has been working as an academic advisor at the International Relations Office of Heidelberg University while pursuing his doctoral studies on authorship in contemporary American literature. In 2016, he joined the HCA’s Ph.D. program.

In his dissertation project, Andreas Balz aims at providing a new perspective on contemporary authorship, examining the social and cultural conditions of literary production, as well as related practices like publishing and literary reception in the U.S. Employing aspects of Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory and performance-based approaches to culture rooted in theater and gender studies, the project conceives of authorship as a cultural concept defined by a variable set of activities within a literary field. The works of authors like Dave Eggers, Tao Lin, Sheila Heti, and Ben Lerner, which portray the daily routine of literary writers and exhibit a complex semi-autobiographical relationship with their real-life counterparts, serve as a starting point. Since literary production itself only represents one aspect of authorship, their analysis has to be complemented by a study of their authors’ other activities “on the literary scene”. Taking into consideration socio-cultural developments like the institutionalization of creative writing, the increasing importance of literary prizes, and the phenomenon of authorial celebrity, the project will explore how fictionalized and real-life “performances” of literary authors engage in shaping our contemporary concept of authorship.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Günter Leypoldt


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Anastassia Biederstaedt

(BASF Scholarship)

Anastassia Biederstaedt received her bachelor's degree in English philology and art history from the University of Stuttgart in 2011. Her B.A. thesis "Dead Man and the Mythic West: Anglo-Saxon Values Revised" examined Jim Jarmusch's movie Dead Man within the framework of classic Western looking at its subversive potential. In 2014, Anastassia Biederstaedt received her M.A. in English philology with distinction at the same university. Her M.A. thesis "Bodies in Escape: Performative Gender versus Gender as Institution in Jackie Kay's Trumpet and Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex" analyzed the construction and performance of masculinity in Trumpet and Middlesex. Within the broad field of American Studies, Anastassia Biederstaedt mainly focuses on ethnic literatures and cultures. In this area, she is also interested in post-colonial questions that range beyond the borders of North America. Queer and gender studies belong to her earliest research emphases. Moreover, she is highly interested in posthumanism and theoretical questions which arise at the interfaces of human & animal and human & machine. A participant in both the Ph.D. in American Studies Program of the HCA and the research group Human Geography of North America, Anastassia Biederstaedt is writing an interdisciplinary dissertation with the working title “Animal Milk in Human Culture: A Critical Study of U.S. Milk Advertisements in the 20th Century” drawing from a broad variety of theoretical discourses for her project. Apart from this, she is a freelance teacher and multimedia artist.

Anastassia Biederstaedt's project examines milk advertisements as outcomes of a complex interplay of social and historical vectors of power. Her dissertation with the working title“Animal Milk in Human Culture: A Critical Study of U.S. Milk Advertisements in the 20th Century” aims at investigating both the geopolitical and sociocultural forces that helped building milk as a cultural construct and the broad variety of myths and images intimately tied to this liquid. Given the persisting presence of milk overflow, how does milk continue to be promoted regarding these developments? Which changes did happen in milk advertising during about hundred years since the beginnings of industrialization and urbanization? Which images are used and established to gain new consumers? How do these images inform and are informed by dominant discourses of race, class, gender, and species? These are some of the questions driving this dissertation project.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ulrike Gerhard


Adwan Bw

Louis Butcher

(Curt Engelhorn Ph.D. Scholarship)

Louis Butcher was born and raised in London to an American mother and English father. He spent most of his childhood holidays with family in Detroit & LA. Prior to returning to academia for a second spell, he worked in a variety of fields and travelled extensively across Europe, the Americas, and Asia. He then graduated with a B.A. in (modern European) history from the University of Bradford, which included a year abroad at Clarkson University in upstate NY. Louis spent a further seven months backpacking across Latin America in an effort to improve his Spanish before returning to the UK to work in Bath for a year. In 2015, he moved to Heidelberg to enroll in the HCA’s MAS program. While there, he majored in political science, history, and law, and graduated in early 2017. Since then, Louis has occupied his time in Heidelberg by starting up an online business.

Louis Butcher’s project is titled “Analyzing the Impact of Police Body Cameras in America: Has Increased Surveillance of Police Behavior Reduced Incidences of Excessive Force?” It will seek to determine whether the growing use of police body-worn cameras (BWCs) in the United States has reduced the police’s use-of-force – and excessive force, in particular – thus, positively impacting relations between the police and the public at large.


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Thi Diem Ngoc Dao

(Heidemarie Engelhorn Ph.D. Scholarship)

Born in 1984, Thi Diem Ngoc graduated from the College of Foreign Languages, Vietnam National University, in 2006 with a B.A. degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). In the HCA’S MAS program, she chose history, international business culture, and political science as her majors. With her M.A. thesis about “Moving on to a Common Ground: Vietnam-U.S. Normalization of Relations, 1990-1997” she qualified for the HCA’s Ph.D. program.

Her project focuses on the main themes of Vietnam-U.S. relations in the late 20th century from historical and political perspectives. After the Vietnam War, the “continuation of war by other means” among American people and policymakers to codify the meaning of the war and cope with its legacy seemingly made normal relations between two countries a remote possibility. The freeze of Vietnam-U.S. relations dragged on, despite early efforts to improve relations and remove the U.S. economic sanctions on Vietnam. It was only in 1995 that President Clinton established normal diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Preceded by the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Vietnam in 1993, establishing diplomatic relations was a critical move to thaw relations between the two countries. There has been a wealth of literature on the Vietnam War; however, little has been done to shed light on how the U.S. and Vietnam have come to achieve reconciliation and “move on to common ground.” Therefore, the project is intended to explore the complexities of the normalization process as well as to specify the most important factors contributing to normalized relations in the 1990s. Thi Diem draws on the following points in her research: 1) the significance of the prisoners of war and missing-in-action (POW/MIA) resolution in the Vietnamese and U.S. political contexts 2) the weight of mutual economic and security interests in moving towards normalization of relations, and 3) state and non-state actors’ roles in the establishment of normal relations. Hopefully, the significance of this project will illustrate a turning point in Vietnam-U.S. relations against a haunting past of war memories and ideological conflicts.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Manfred Berg


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Ryan Hoselton

(Heidemarie Engelhorn Ph.D. Scholarship)

Ryan Hoselton was born in New Mexico, U.S.A. He earned a B.A. in history from the University of New Mexico and an M.Div. and Th.M. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Ryan wrote his undergraduate thesis on the history of religious studies in America, and his Master's thesis examined the Baptist theologian Andrew Fuller's theology of virtue. His doctoral dissertation focuses on the history of biblical interpretation in early American theology. Ryan also works as a research assistant to Prof. Dr. Jan Stievermann on the Biblia Americana Project.

Ryan Hoselton's dissertation examines how eighteenth-century New England theologians employed experiential piety in biblical interpretation. Historians have documented the ways that many conservative theologians adopted evidentialist reasoning to defend and interpret Scripture in response to pressures from deism, empiricism, and historical criticism. Alongside these changes, however, religious thinkers like Cotton Mather (1663–1728) and Jonathan Edwards (1703–58) ascribed increasing authority to experiential piety in their hermeneutics. Drawing chiefly from their biblical commentaries, sermons, diaries, and other writings, this project seeks to understand the elevated role of experiential piety in hermeneutics and its significance in the intellectual and cultural context of eighteenth-century New England.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Jan Stievermann


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Julia Lichtenstein

(Curt Engelhorn Ph.D. Scholarship)

Julia Lichtenstein (nee Merkel) studied American Studies, Law, and Political Science at Frankfurt University where she received her MA. She joined the HCA in 2009 as a PhD student with her thesis on contemporary Southern fiction, titled “Persistent Tropology: Creating the Ultra-South in Postsouthern Times”. She has taught American literature at Frankfurt University, Heidelberg University and has been teaching Methodology in the BAS program at the HCA since 2010. Since June 2017 she serves as MAS coordinator for the MAS program.

Julia Lichtenstein’s dissertation with the working title “Persistent Tropology: Creating the Ultra-South in Postsouthern Times” investigates how contemporary Southern authors Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, and Harry Crews create and perpetuate a distinctive Southern literary space she calls the Ultra South. At first glance contemporary Southern storytelling still reproduces and perpetuates traditional literary Southern tropes, but a closer investigation reveals their alienating role as empty signifiers. The equivalents of the Southern Gothic rotting mansion are in today’s suburbs or trailer parks, residences with bad substance built with dirty or loaned money. William Faulkner’s history-ridden cast is distortedly mirrored in Hannah’s catfish-frying, cheap porn-bootlegging country folks, who sneer at mainstream America, or in Brown’s white trash who term Oxford, Miss., “up north,” and ironically have never heard about the Civil War. In the works investigated, Julia Lichtenstein argues, the readers are lured into the Ultra South by familiar markers and known defining features just to find themselves surrounded by surprisingly unfamiliar territory, but a territory still well-defined and with sometimes still seemingly impenetrable borders. Within the portrayed version of the South, a space Julia Lichtenstein calls the inner space is constituted by cultural practices and brings forth the imagined region. A strong and resilient regional identity is constituted and communicated, both in the protagonists and in the reader, and embedded in the outer space of the United States as a whole.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Günter Leypoldt


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Anthony Livanios

Anthony Livanios graduated in 1988 from the School of International Service, The American University, Washington, D.C. with a B.A. in economics and in 1991 from the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University with a master's of international affairs in international political economy. He has over twenty years of experience in structuring, negotiating, and implementing oil and gas projects, intergovernmental agreements, geopolitical risk assessments, and market intelligence. He has delivered consulting projects for the upstream and midstream petroleum industry in Eurasia and the Caspian region, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, Europe and the United States. He has been a fellow at prominent Washington D.C.-based think tanks, such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation (1994-1997), the American Enterprise Institute (1998), and the Leadership Institute (1999-2004). In 2006 he was honored in the United States with two International Templeton Awards for his active role and "outstanding work in the field of international development and cooperation in the region of East Mediterranean." He is often quoted as an analyst in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He frequently appears asa commentator on CNN, Reuters, and Associated Press.

Anthony Livanios’ dissertation “The Geo-strategy of the United States and the Role of the US Oil Majors in the New Great Game of Oil and Gas in Eurasia After the End of Cold War” explores the influence of US policy and the challenges the US oil industry faced in the exploration and production of the Eurasian oil and gas resources. The Caspian Sea is at the heart of Eurasia, and the US geostrategy was unfolding, after the end of cold war, on the stage of geopolitics and petroleum industry. The US geo-strategy is analyzed in relation to the role of the US oil majors in the new Great Game in Eurasia. In his dissertation, Anthony Livanios uses the methodology of qualitative primary research, while performing and analyzing in-depth interviews with oil industry leaders and public policy decision makers.

Primary Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Dr. Detlef Junker, PD Dr. Martin Thunert, HCA



Jula Maasböl

Jula Maasböl studied English language and literature and art history at Heidelberg University and Durham University. Her B.A. thesis examines the performativity of gender and witchcraft in the work of Terry Pratchett. She received her M.A. in German literature and English Studies from Heidelberg University. Her M.A. thesis analyzes human-animal relations as a vehicle for ethics and morality in contemporary role-playing games. During her studies, Jula Maasböl was active as a student council representative and worked as a tutor and research assistant at Heidelberg University’s English Department. Upon completing her M.A. in 2020, she joined the research tandem “Culture Wars: Contested Cultural Heritage” within Heidelberg University’s flagship initiative “Transforming Cultural Heritage” as a doctoral research assistant. She is an associated Ph.D. student in the HCA’s Graduiertenkolleg “Authority and Trust” (GKAT).

Jula Maasböl’s dissertation project investigates the depiction of cultural heritage in the secondary worlds created by writers emblematic of a recent shift in Black Speculative Fiction: N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, and Tochi Onyebuchi. Using the genres of science fiction and fantasy, the works of these authors depict processes of heritage-making and the contention of cultural heritage that are thoroughly enmeshed with the fantastical elements of their worlds. The project seeks to elucidate the intersections of the representation of contested cultural heritage, processes of heritage-making, and challenges to heritage with issues such as race and racism, oppression and displacement, and intergenerational trauma and identity, which are at the heart of these texts.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Günter Leypoldt



Nikolas Mariani

Nikolas Mariani was born and raised in Germany to Croatian and German/American parents. In 2012, he graduated with a B.A. in English and Philosophy from Heidelberg University, writing his B.A. thesis on the rising Tea Party phenomenon in the USA. He subsequently received his M.A. at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies in 2015, where his thesis dealt with the emerging opportunities for independent news outlets in the media landscape after the Great Recession of 2008. Following his studies, Nikolas Mariani worked at the German-American Institute in Heidelberg, where he coordinated Social Media and PR efforts, ran the project “U.S. Topics,” an educational program for visiting German high-school classes, as well as helped organize a conference on “Journalism 2.0.” In 2019, he joined the HCA’s Ph.D. program where the subject of his research is examining which factors help predict audiences’ formation of trust in alternative news media. Parallel to his research, Nikolas Mariani serves as the coordinator of the HCA’s MAS program.

Nikolas Mariani’s project “Alternative Media in Twenty-First-Century USA: Cultivating Trust in an Era of Distrust” focuses on the phenomenon of alternative, and often digital-native, news media outlets on the left and right of the political spectrum and seeks to explore the question of how audiences of such sources come to form a relationship of trust with them. This comes at a time when the news industry in general and print journalism in particular are still struggling to adapt to a new economic reality created in part by the proliferation of the Internet and exacerbated by the 2008 Great Recession. At the same time, polls are reporting record levels of distrust in mainstream news sources. Conversely, many of the same factors detrimental to mainstream news have allowed alternative news media to flourish. These sources often exhibit views, approaches, methodology, and economic models that differ greatly from mainstream news media. In his dissertation, Nikolas will examine the distinguishable factors that help predict how audiences form a relationship of trust to such outlets.

Primary supervisor: Dr. habil. Martin Thunert


Adwan Bw

Sina Movaghati

Sina Movaghati received his M.A. degree in English Language and Literature from Kharazmi University, Iran in 2014. His M.A. thesis, “Defamiliarization and Foreshadowing of Death in Henry James' Daisy Miller and The Wings of the Dove” discusses how James utilizes the narratological techniques such as blank, focalization, and stylistic oddity to reformulate his hackneyed subject of “American Girl.” Sina has published articles on Henry James, Paul Bowles, and W. Somerset Maugham. He also translated Bowles’ acclaimed novel, The Sheltering Sky, into Persian. His current research interests are modern fiction, Henry James, E. M. Forster, Paul Bowles, and literary aesthetics. His latest article discusses the motives of Bowles’ villains in the short story collection The Delicate Prey.

The Aesthetics of Failure: A Jamesian Tradition in Modern and Postmodern Novels

The last novels of Henry James are still a focal point for modern fiction scholars. The protagonists of these novels undertake missions to solve complicated and intricate affairs; however, on the verge of triumph, they lose interest in their goals and abandon their missions. The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904) – all follow the same pattern. Taking a closer look at these novels’ unresolved dénouements, I will study these works in light of Emmanuel Lévinas’ interpretation of aisthesis. Critical of the aesthetic attitude towards the world, Lévinas considers “being” in an ontological sense where a subject is surrounded by a world of objects towards which he holds certain intentions. However, there are times when an unformed sensuous element claims its particularity and substitutes the worldly objects. In this regard, the subject’s intention is lost in a transcendental image rather than in a real being. Thus, the reality of the world is eroded, and the worldly perspective is brought to collapse by sensationalism. In my readings of the novels, the much-debated “renunciations” of Lambert Strether, Merton Densher and others are regarded as “modern failures” when intentionality is engulfed in a sensuous image and fails to arrive at the worldly target. Drawing on this thematic pattern, I will show that the Jamesian failure has become a successful prototype in the hands of the subsequent generations of fiction authors such as Edith Wharton, E. M. Forster, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Ian McEwan. I will conclude that these novelists’ preoccupations with the subject of failure are also due to the aesthetic dimension and the aesthetic function of failure. I will also draw on concepts by proponents of the aesthetics such as Hans Robert Jauss, Wolfgang Iser, Alan Singer, and Rudolf Arnheim.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Dietmar Schloss


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Hannes Nagl

Hannes Nagl studied English literature and political science at Heidelberg University. After graduating in 2009, he joined the HCA’s Ph.D. program working on a thesis on “Figurations of Violence: Contemporary American Fiction and the Sociology of Modernization.” Between August 2010 and July 2011 he worked as a research assistant at the English Department as part of the research project “Violence and the Hidden Constraints of Democracy: A New Civilization Studies Approach to American Literature and Culture.” At the HCA he is responsible for the institute’s website and teaches American literature and culture.

In his thesis, Hannes Nagl will analyze different contemporary American novels which are notorious for their depictions of violence. By doing so, he will especially focus on the following questions: What motivates the fascination with violence in contemporary American literature? How do these representations of violence square with the notion of a “pacified” and “civilized” society? The basic assumption that underlies the project is that such novels offer not only entertainment and thrill but can be read as socio-analytical novels, which present a quasi-sociological analysis of the role violence plays in postmodern American society. From this perspective, the main aim of the thesis will be to make these socio- analytical and, to a certain extent, socio-critical aspects of contemporary “novels of violence” transparent. In order to do so, Hannes Nagl will draw on rather uncommon theoretical sources: Besides more recent sociological research on violence, he will use Norbert Elias’ “theory of civilization” and other sociological theories of modernization as a theoretical background for the interpretations of the novels. Although Elias’ theory is rather uncommon for literary studies and has been applied only rarely to an American context, his approach of modernization and modern society as well as his writings on the sociology of modern sport are considered as a promising and a fruitful theoretical model for analyzing both the sociological and aesthetical aspects of contemporary novels of violence. From an Eliasian perspective, the literary and cultural fascination with violence and the reality of “pacified” modern societies are not contradictory, but rather complementary facts. Beyond the individual “worlds” of the novels, the Eliasian approach will thus also help to shed new light on the various restraints and self-restraints that establish social discipline and peaceful cooperation in “civilized” Western societies as well as on the cultural role of real and imaginary violence in this context.

Primary Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Dietmar Schloss


Adwan Bw

Amra Odobasic


Born in Karlsruhe in 1990, Amra Odobasic studied English and Spanish philology at the University of Heidelberg and the Universidad de Buenos Aires. She graduated in Heidelberg in 2015 with a Staatsexamen and also holds a qualification for teaching German as a Foreign Language from the Pädagogische Hochschule Heidelberg. Since her very first semester, linguistics — particularly phonetics and phonology — has remained her passion, which is why she worked as a phonetics and phonology tutor for five semesters in the Heidelberg English Department. Her final thesis entitled "Politeness in Parliament - A Study in Contrastive Pragmatics" dealt with the question of whether parliamentary discourse in Great Britain and Germany is polite or merely ‘politic’.

Ms. Odobasic's doctoral research topic is entitled "Vocal Fry — A Sociophonetic Study in Women's Speech" and aims at investigating the causes for the ambiguity regarding vocal fry's social perception and potential negative evaluation when used by women. Vocal fry is a phonation that is characterized by a combination of rapid and short glottal pulses and a low frequency. Ms. Odobasic's two main hypotheses are that it is not vocal fry causing the negative evaluation per se but a) an excessive use of vocal fry manifesting itself in a high ratio between vocal fry and word number and/or b) a combination of vocal fry and other (non-)linguistic features. Aside from the study of relevant research literature and the work with various spoken corpora, Ms. Odobasic's main work will focus on analyzing test persons' reactions to vocal fry via questionnaires and via picture and audio recordings.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Beatrix Busse


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Maarten Paulusse

(BASF Scholarship)

Maarten Paulusse received his bachelor's degree in history at Utrecht University in 2007, and completed his Master's degree in American Studies at the same university in 2009. During his studies he did an internship in New York City with the U.S. correspondent of the leading Dutch current affairs television program "Nova", and undertook several other ventures into journalism. In the summer months of the years 2010-2013 he has taught courses on Dutch history and culture to international students at bachelor-level at the Summer School of Utrecht University. In the Spring semester of 2011 Maarten enrolled in the Ph.D. program at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies.

In his doctoral study Maarten explores the ways in which politicized forms of “contemporary spirituality” are having an impact in the American public sphere. The project aims to make a contribution to the contemporary discussion on the role of religion in American politics. In this far from settled debate among historians, political scientists, sociologists, theologians, and other analysts of public life in the United States, the primary focus in the past two decades has been on the interaction of forms of Evangelicalism, particularly those related to the “Christian Right”, with American politics. In this project the matter will instead be explored from the angle of “contemporary spirituality”, using the recent Occupy movement as a case study. The extensive theoretical toolbox offered by the academic field of religious studies will be used in this endeavor. In 2012 and 2013 Maarten completed two research trips to the U.S., during which he interviewed participants of the Occupy movement.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Inken Prohl


Adwan Bw

Hien-Le Pham

Hien Le Pham (Le is her first name) was born in Da Nang, a beautiful city in central Vietnam. She graduated from Foreign Trade University with a major in International Economics. Le worked for HSBC Bank Vietnam for over one year after graduation and started to collaborate with some publishing companies as a freelance book translator. Before moving to Germany for her graduate study in 2016, she had been a fulltime corporate trainer at a US software company for over three years. Le received her Master’s degree in American Studies in April 2018 and decided to go further on her academic journey by staying with the HCA for the PhD program.

Le has a keen interest in American foreign relations, especially in the relationship between the US and East Asia. Her project, which is titled “US Policy towards China on Maritime Territorial Disputes in East and Southeast Asia,” examines America’s involvement and interest in these territorial disputes since the Nixon administration’s famous rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s. The disputes involve several of America’s strategic partners and long-time allies in the region. Thus, they pose serious challenges for US policymakers trying to strike a balance between Washington’s interest in establishing constructive relations with Beijing and America’s commitment to its allies. An inquiry into America’s reactions to China’s territorial claims may therefore provide new perspectives on how the United States conceives of its role in a new multipolar. Eventually, the key questions that the project hopes to answer are whether, historically, the dilemma that the United States has to deal with now could have been anticipated earlier in the past, and what are the possible flaws in US modern foreign policy that led to this situation..

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Manfred Berg


Adwan Bw

Jonathan Pike

(BASF Scholarship)

Jonathan Pike most recently earned an MSt in Theology from the University of Oxford where he wrote on Samuel Clarke's Newtonian theology in relation to moral agency and human liberty. Prior to that he obtained an MA in History from Oxford Brookes University where he wrote on the rejection of original sin and the recrudescence of more Pelagian perspectives in relation to the American Revolution. He earned his BA in History from Brigham Young University. He studies the impact of theology on political thought through the history of ideas. He is particularly interested in the long-eighteenth century's transatlantic flow of ideas in relation to the American Revolution and Founding. His dissertation focuses on the Trinitarian debates and their impacts on the substance and character of the American Revolution.

Jonathan Pike's dissertation continues his interest in the anatomy of an ideational revolution, or, more specifically, the theological roots of the American Revolution. Within the context of his prior graduate studies, his PhD dissertation centers on the Trinitarian debates and controversies that formed a primary impetus toward the tripartite nexus of theological, societal, and political thought that fed into the justifications for and subsequent supporting structures of the American Founding. Related aspects of the political theologies held by principal Founders and other significant voices (such as Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Mayhew), as well as the transatlantic impact of seminal publications (such as Samuel Clarke's Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712)), are significant areas of endeavor in his research project, which aims to contribute to a greater and more cultivated understanding of the American Revolution and its origins.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Jan Stievermann


Adwan Bw

Chitra Sanam

Chitra Sanam served U.S. citizens for over seven years in her capacity as a senior foreign service national with the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in India. She helped open the new U.S. Consulate in Hyderabad and build its American Citizen Services Unit, from the ground up. Highlights of her career include temporary duty during crises at the U.S. Embassies in Yemen and Djibouti, and collaborating with the U.S. Mission to encourage the Indian Government to accede to the Hague Abductions Convention. Prior to joining the Consulate, she enjoyed being a feature writer with India’s national newspaper, The Times of India. She holds a Master of Science degree in Journalism from Ohio University. She was born and raised in Hyderabad, India, but enjoys traveling to new places, and seeing the world with a new pair of eyes.

“American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted,” stated Hillary Clinton at the Secretary of State Nomination Hearing, at the start of President Obama’s term in office, in 2009. “We must use what has been called ‘smart power’… with smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy,” she further discussed, after describing a range of smart power tools – military, diplomatic and cultural, among others – that the Obama administration adopted. ‘Smart power’, to that end, promised great potential for the U.S. to build stronger ties with nation states, cooperate and address various worrisome global issues such as terrorism, pandemics, climate change and energy. It led to a shift in U.S. diplomacy practices. Chitra Sanam’s research aims to analyse how U.S. leadership through the lens of Obama’s ‘smart power’has impacted U.S. diplomatic relations with the world, in the area of addressing transnational issues. A focus on better understanding ‘smart power’ as a diplomatic tool of this era would certainly contribute to the growing dialogue on assessing the true value of ‘smart power’ in addressing world issues specific to this time and age.

Primary supervisor: PD. Dr. Martin Thunert


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Maren Schäfer

(BASF Scholarship)

Maren Schäfer studied International Business in cooperation with ALDI SÜD, graduating from the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University in 2011. After receiving her B.A., she managed key accounts and international projects in an online marketing agency before she joined the MAS program at the HCA in Heidelberg. As part of her studies, she spent a year at the University of New Mexico as a recipient of the Baden-Württemberg-Stipendium. In 2016, she graduated with a M.A. in American Studies. Her Master’s project reflected her interest in political rhetoric, dealing with “The American Presidency and the ‘Power to Persuade’”. While working as a program coordinator at the SRH University in Heidelberg, Maren joined the HCA’s PhD program in 2017 to further pursue her interest in political rhetoric. In her dissertation, she focuses on the issue of contemporary populist rhetoric and framing in the United States.

In her dissertation project, Maren focuses on the impact of contemporary populist rhetoric and framing on people’s attitudes in the United States. Despite being a recurring feature of American politics, populism has perhaps reached an all-time high. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, increasing inequality and distrust of elites seem to have contributed to this development while the mass proliferation of digital media outlets and mobile devices has facilitated direct communication with a mass audience. Trump’s victory in 2016 is seen by many as the manifestation of this trend. In the contemporary United States, more and more mainstream actors of all ideological persuasions seem to be employing populist rhetoric to shape people’s attitudes and beliefs in their favor. In particular, framing has become a popular strategy to alter the ways in which information is being presented, in the hopes of influencing people’s attitudes. In her project, Maren will address the issue of contemporary populist rhetoric. She aims at understanding how and why framing, especially with an underlying populist notion, can influence audiences by focusing on the political discourse among stakeholders of different ideological backgrounds.

Primary supervisor: PD. Dr. Martin Thunert


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Juste Šimelyte


Justė Šimelytė studied law at the University of Vilnius (Lithuania) where she specialized in commercial law. In 2007, she received her master‘s degree in law. In Lithuania, she also worked as a legal consultant in the Law Clinic of Vilnius University where she offered pro bono legal advice. In October 2007, she began her studies at the HCA, majoring in law, political science and international business cultures. In 2008, Justė Šimelytė received her M.A. in American Studies with a thesis entitled “Cultural Globalization: ‚Made in the USA‘ or ‚Made in Europe‘?”

Currently Justė Šimelytė is working on her thesis “Americanization and Europeanization: Two Forms of Cultural Globalization in Lithuania.” Her thesis deals with social processes of the last twenty years in Lithuania, which has undergone dramatic changes in the political, economic, and cultural realm. After regaining its independence, Lithuania had to build new state institutions, create national laws, and determine new political and economic as well as cultural strategies. In 2004 Lithuania became a member of NATO and the European Union. The accession to the single European market and the free movement of goods, capital, and people facilitated transnational cultural contacts that brought new possibilities and challenges for Lithuanian culture. This empirical study focuses on the changes that occurred in Lithuania since 1990s (after it became independent from the Soviet Union) and refers to the research areas that can be summarized in such key-words as space and place, identity, consumption, and cultural values. From the perspective of Americanization and Europeanization this thesis analyses the transformation of Lithuanian cultural places and spaces, the building of a new identity, the perception of European values as “imposed from above,” the consumption of popular culture, western artefacts and (N)ostalgia remaining in a post-communist Lithuania. The thesis reveals the perception of Americanization and Europeanization as well as the relationship between these two multidimensional processes.

Primary Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Detlef Junker, PD Dr. Martin Thunert



Bariah Altaf Qadeer

Bariah Altaf Qadeer is a Ph.D. student at the HCA and the Institute of Geography at Heidelberg University. Her dissertation focuses on community building in different housing forms in mixed-use areas of Toronto. She was born and raised in Toronto where she received her bachelor’s degree in English. After analyzing the themes of alienation in the city in various forms of literature, she wanted to research this idea further. She then completed a Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies (MES) with a specialization in urban planning from York University. The aspect of community building has been central through an interdisciplinary lens in her master’s project and also in her Ph.D. studies. Bariah believes that places are reshaped through the experiential perceptions of residents, and understanding these perspectives is key in bringing positive change in neighborhoods for better community building. Although Bariah grew up in a mixed-use neighborhood, she has seen the impact that various societal changes have brought in community building. People do not interact in the same way due to various complex issues in housing. She is interested in analyzing these various issues through an interdisciplinary lens because she sees the clear bridge between academic fields and human societies. By constantly travelling in North America and Europe, she has developed a keen interest in different housing models. Architecture based on New Urbanist ideas can enhance the residents’ experience for developing a sense of community, but it is not the only factor. However, an interdisciplinary approach with the fields of psychology, sociology, and geography can provide some answers.

In her Ph.D. project, Bariah Altaf Qadeer uses the multidimensional lens of community and trust to analyze planning practices in mixed-use neighborhoods. Bariah acknowledges that community is not an object but rather an experience. She specifically focuses on different forms of housing to learn how residents feel about their community. Communities are the core unit that people are a part of and tend to define their relations with the greater surroundings, based on social processes that usually impact geographical processes. Urban planning, architectural design, geographical location, and psychological/sociological processes are all key elements that need to be analyzed in this project. Our lives are connected to the environment as we experience community through our choice of social interactions, which defines our identity in the city.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ulrike Gerhard


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Latest Revision: 2021-03-12
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