Navid Kermani

by Helga Druxes (Volume editor) Karolin Machtans (Volume editor) Alexandar Mihailovic (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection VII, 221 Pages


Navid Kermani – author, journalist and academic – is one of the most prominent public intellectuals in Germany today. Kermani has been at the forefront of recent debates about Islam and its role in Germany’s political, social and cultural life. Instead of emphasizing the differences between ethnic affiliations and religious beliefs, Kermani questions the Western notion of a clear dividing line between Islam, Christianity and Judaism, highlighting instead their affinities. In addition to his political essays, Kermani’s travel journalism introduces western audiences to diverse Muslim societies in the world and his fiction provides accessible meditations on first love, contemporary music, death and friendship. This is the first volume of criticism in English dedicated to Kermani’s varied work. The book features an extensive interview with the author, a reproduction in German and English of Kermani’s famous 2014 Bundestag speech and a collection of critical essays on Kermani’s writing. The essays, by major scholars in the field, cover issues such as gender, religion, cosmopolitanism, mystical experiences, and the power of the liberal arts in a time of neoliberal distraction.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Navid Kermani: Biographical/Bibliographical Chronology
  • Introduction: The Intercultural Project of Navid Kermani
  • ‘Was zählt, ist das gesprochene Wort’ [What Counts is the Spoken Word], Bundestagsrede Celebrating the 65th Anniversary of the Basic Law, 23 May 2014, Berlin
  • Interview with Navid Kermani
  • Kafka and the Quran: Patriotism, Culture, and Post-national Identity
  • Kermani’s Writing on Islamic Religion
  • The Beauty and Terror of Love: Große Liebe and Du sollst
  • Down by the River: Music, Love, and Memory in Navid Kermani’s Work
  • Literary Cemeteries: Recalling the Dead in Kurzmitteilung and Dein Name
  • Kermani’s Reception of Jean Paul: Reconsidering his Frankfurt Lectures Über den Zufall and his Novel Dein Name
  • The Crisis of (Re)Productivity in Dein Name
  • The Political Anthropology of Navid Kermani’s Travelogues
  • Bibliography
  • Works Cited
  • Works by Navid Kermani
  • Works on Navid Kermani
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

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Peter Lang commissioning editor Laurel Plapp was interested in publishing the first English-language collection on Navid Kermani, and the series editors, in particular Julian Preece, made incisive comments and suggestions that, we hope, made this a better volume. The editors would like to thank Bronwyn Becker for her attentive copyediting. Helga Druxes is grateful to Williams College for its research support that allowed her to experience some of Navid Kermani’s public speeches in Cologne and Berlin, and its generous financial support with the publishing costs. Karolin Machtans would like to thank Connecticut College for its generous research support and for supporting Navid Kermani’s visit to Connecticut College in April 2014. Most of all, we would like to thank Navid Kermani for taking the time to meet with us at Connecticut College. Without his helpful suggestions this volume would not have come about.

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Navid Kermani: Biographical/Bibliographical Chronology

1967 Born in Siegen, Germany. His father is an Iranian doctor who emigrated to Germany in 1959 together with his wife, a homemaker.

1985–2000 Studies Orientalism, Philosophy, and Theater in Cologne, Cairo, and Bonn, then works as assistant director at the Theater an der Ruhr and at Schauspiel Frankfurt. Settles in Cologne.

1994–1997 Founds and directs first cultural center in Isfahan, Iran.

1996–2000 Regular author for the ‘Arts and Literature’ section of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

2000 Ernst-Bloch-Förderpreis der Stadt Ludwigshafen for Gott ist schön [God is Beautiful].

2001 Iran. Die Revolution der Kinder [Iran: The Children’s Revolution].

2002 Annemarie Schimmel, Auf den Spuren der Muslime [Tracing Muslim Cultures], co-edited with Hartmut Bobzin.
Dynamit des Geistes. Martyrium, Islam und Nihilismus [Dynamite for the Spirit: Martyrdom, Islam and Nihilism].
Das Buch der von Neil Young Getöteten [The Book of Those Slain by Neil Young].

2000–2003 Long-term fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin [Institute for Advanced Study]. Initiates West-Östlicher Diwan [West-Eastern Diwan], an exchange program that brings together German writers and colleagues from Arab countries, Iran, and Turkey; ← ix | x →
co-chair of ‘Jewish and Islamic Hermeneutics as Kulturkritik’; promotes establishing the first Islamic Jewish Academy in Germany.

2003 Annual Prize of the Helga-und-Edzard-Reuter-Foundation.
Schöner neuer Orient. Berichte von Städten und Kriegen [Beautiful New Orient: Reports on Cities and Wars].
Über Nathan den Weisen [On Nathan the Wise].

2004 Europe Prize of the Heinz Schwarzkopf-Foundation.
Vierzig Leben [Forty Lives] (vignettes).

2005 Du sollst [Thou Shalt].

2005–current Co-host, Der literarische Salon (readings by international authors in Cologne and Essen).
Post-doctoral degree (‘Habilitation’).
Der Schrecken Gottes: Attar, Hiob und die metaphysische Revolte. Translated as The Terror of God: Attar, Job and the Metaphysical Revolt (Cambridge, 2011).
Geisteswissenschaften International Translation Prize 2008.
Strategie der Eskalation: Der Nahe Osten und die Politik des Westens [Strategy of Escalation: The Near East and the Politics of the West].

2006 Deutsche Islamkonferenz [German Islam Conference], initiated by German Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schäuble to further dialogue between the German state and Germany’s Muslims.
Nach Europa: Die Rede im Burgtheater [After Europe: The Speech in the Burgtheater].

2007 Election to Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung [German Academy for Language and Literature].
Ayda, Bär und Hase [Aïda, Bear, and Hare].
Andersen Prize 2007.
Mehdi Bazargan: Und Jesus ist sein Prophet. Der Koran und die Christen [Mehdi Bazargan: And Jesus is his Prophet. The Quran and the Christians] (edited volume).
Kurzmitteilung [Text Message]. ← x | xi →

2008 Fellow at Villa Massimo, German Academy of Rome.
Proposes Cologne Academy of Global Arts.

2009 Fellow, Kulturwissenschaftliches Kolleg, Universität Konstanz.
Wer ist Wir? Deutschland und seine Muslime [Who is We? Germany and its Muslims].
Election to Hamburger Akademie der Wissenschaften.
Hessischer Kulturpreis.

2009–2012 Senior Fellow at the ‘Kulturwissenschaftliches Kolleg Essen’ [Institute for Cultural Studies].

2011 Buber-Rosenzweig-Medaille
Cologne Academy of Global Arts established.
Dein Name [Your Name].

2012 Über den Zufall. Jean Paul, Hölderlin und der Roman, den ich schreibe. Die Frankfurter Poetikvorlesungen [On Accidents: Jean Paul, Hölderlin, and the Novel I Am Writing. Frankfurt Lectures on Poetics].
Vergesst Deutschland! Eine patrotische Rede. [Forget about Germany! A Patriotic Speech]. Discussion of the xenophobic NSU murders and a plea for Lessing’s Enlightenment values.
Kölner Kulturpreis, Cicero-Rednerpreis, Heinrich-von-Kleist-Preis.

2013 Ausnahmezustand: Reisen in eine beunruhigte Welt [State of Emergency: Travels to a Troubled World].
Professor for the History of Islamic Culture and Ideas, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt.

2014 Gerty-Spies-Literaturpreis, Joseph-Breitbach-Preis, Deutscher Dialogpreis.
Address to the Bundestag on the 65th Anniversary of the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz), 23 May 2014 (‘Was zählt, ist das gesprochene Wort’, reproduced in this volume, pp. 23–35). ← xi | xii →

Große Liebe [Great Love]. Speech of the Year Award, Academy for Rhetoric, Universität Tübingen, for ‘Was zählt, ist das gesprochene Wort’.
Album: Die Ammann-Bücher.
Zwischen Koran und Kafka: West-Östliche Erkundungen [Between Kafka and the Quran: West–East Explorations].
Max Kade Distinguished Visiting Professor, Department of German, Dartmouth College.

2015 Ungläubiges Staunen: Über das Christentum [Unbelieving Wonder: On Christianity].
Election to Nordrhein-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Künste.
Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and lecture ‘Über die Grenze – Jacques Mourad und die Liebe in Syrien’.

2016 Einbruch der Wirklichkeit: Auf dem Flüchtlingstreck durch Europa [Eruption of Reality: On the Refugee Route Across Europe].

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Introduction: The Intercultural Project of Navid Kermani

Navid Kermani – author, journalist, and academic – occupies a unique position in contemporary German letters. He is one of the best-known public intellectuals in Germany and one of its most respected academic specialists on Islam. He is also the author of novels that blur and ultimately fuse a range of literary, scholarly, and journalistic genres. He recasts political, religious, and aesthetic categories in a way that provokes us to re-examine what we thought we knew about Islam, Europe, and ourselves. Kermani draws our attention to the hidden story of the mutual affinities between Islam and Enlightenment cosmopolitanism. The multiple imbrications of genre and faith, fiction and meta-fiction within his work serve as a counter-demonstration to essentialism and the artificial constructs of cultural exclusivity.

By being at the forefront of recent debates about Islam – its role in Germany’s political, social, and cultural life, and the dialogue between religions – Kermani has continued this project of giving a voice to intercultural awareness. He also advocates an acceptance of cultural diversity within a Germany that is ‘going global’,1 by taking an ethical approach to the inclusion of others in a secular society. This view is broadly based on the ideational history of Germany as a Kulturnation [nation of culture] within a United States of Europe. Thus it connects back to views held by the framers of Germany’s Basic Law, which, for Kermani, were ← 1 | 2 → subsequently embodied by one of Germany’s great post-war liberal politicians, Willy Brandt. Brandt sought out intercultural dialogue and helped restore Germany’s international credibility. Despite the fact that Kermani openly proclaims his left-liberal political sympathies, he receives invitations from members of the conservative Merkel government to comment on current affairs. He is a gifted orator and has spoken out against far right terrorism by the National Socialist Underground (NSU) and the collective blindness to the evidence that these murders were racially motivated. Arguably not since Günter Grass during Willy Brandt’s chancellorship has a German author become such a high-profile spokesperson of the political establishment. His message of tolerance celebrates the radical modernity of Germany as a secular state, as David N. Coury has pointed out in a seminal book chapter.2 What defines Kermani’s outlook is his resolute embrace of civic contestation, a democratic Streitkultur that would allow for the public airing of conflicts about integration and social participation, and their eventual resolution by consensus. All too often in recent years, genuine debates were forestalled by media spectacles where the loudest, most outrageous voice drowns out more nuanced articulations of political views. A case in point is the debate prompted by the publication of Deutschland schafft sich ab [Germany Abolishes Itself] in 2010, on which Kermani comments in our interview. Thus Kermani’s own preferred fora are the essay, the panel discussion with other cultural creatives, and most recently, in light of the ongoing European refugee crisis, the journalistic travelogue.


VII, 221
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (June)
Political life of Germany Interview with Navid Kermani Debates about Islam Cultural life of Germany
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. XII, 222 pp.

Biographical notes

Helga Druxes (Volume editor) Karolin Machtans (Volume editor) Alexandar Mihailovic (Volume editor)

Helga Druxes is Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Williams College. Her books include Resisting Bodies: The Negotiation of Female Agency in Twentieth- Century Women Writers (1996), The Feminization of Dr. Faustus: Female Identity Quests from Stendhal to Morgner (1993) and, with Patricia Simpson, Far Right Digital Media Strategies Across Europe and North America (2015). Karolin Machtans is Assistant Professor of German Studies at Connecticut College. She is the author of Zwischen Wissenschaft und autobiographischem Projekt: Saul Friedländer und Ruth Klüger (2009) and co-editor, with Martin Ruehl, of Hitler – Films from Germany: History, Cinema, and Politics since 1945 (2012). Alexandar Mihailovic is Professor Emeritus of Russian and Comparative Literature at Hofstra University and a Visiting Professor of Literature at Bennington College. He is the author of Corporeal Words: Mikhail Bakhtin’s Theology of Discourse (1997) and the edited volume Tchaikovsky and His Contemporaries (1999). He has published on on religious studies, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian and Ukrainian literature, cultural relations during the Cold War, and LGBTQ and gender.


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