Post-Doc and doctoral research projects

of the "Literature and Media of Religions" working unit

The construction of mental health among Muslims on social media. A comparative study between German and Tunisian actors

Samira Ghozzi-Ben Miled, dissertation project

woman im Schatten, Denkpose vor Elektronikgeräten

This dissertation project examines how mental health is constructed among Muslim influencers and their followers on Social Media. What does mental health mean for Muslim actors on Instagram? Which narratives are constantly taken up or (consciously) being avoided? On Instagram, posts from nutrition, fitness, spirituality to ‘selflove’ etc. will be analyzed on aspects such as, e.g., the influence of religious factors and identities. From the perspective of academic studies of religion, a special focus is placed on religion in times of deep mediatization. An aspect that has gained new importance due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The dissertation is methodically collected and analyzed using the Grounded Theory Method (GMT). The field data consists in this case of audio-visual data from the social medium Instagram (images, IGTV, stories, etc.) and episodic-narrative interviews with influencers. In the course of the comparative study, field data will be collected from both German and Tunisian actors. By comparing both countries, differences and similarities should be analysed concerning the construction of mental health among Muslim actors in mediatized living environments. Both countries involve different starting points for the comparison on a socio-cultural, religious, political and historical level. Tunisia, for example, brings historically interesting approaches in the context of France’s colonial history or new developments of the Arab Spring into the research. Muslims in Germany, for instance, bring positions as religious minorities in contrast to Tunisia with Muslim as the religious majorities into the project.

Research field esports – Negotiating the notion of the nation and discussing value formations

Dr. Dr. Lisa Kienzl, Post-Doc Project

Videospiler vor Bildschirmen in einem e-Sports setting, Kopfhörer, grüne Beleuchtung, unscharfe Bildschirme, vermutlich DOTA
Alex Haney / Unsplash

Video game cultures are central parts of contemporary societies. In addition to economic interests, due to the economic significance of the video game industry, this also involves socio-cultural and political discourses. Video games and video game cultures can be understood as expressions of globalized media cultures. However, they also have to be perceived in their interconnection with socio-political and contextual discourses. The broad visibility of video game cultures and their connection with political interests is diverse and ranges from individual actions in political election campaigns, for example in the US election campaign in 2020, to social discussions, such as controversies regarding first-person-shooter games, to the economically and politically increasingly important growing field of esports. It is precisely in this diverse and multivocal field that the different interests and positions of various groups are clearly evident. In addition to political stakeholders, international organizations and (multi-)national teams, participants and spectators naturally play a central role in this field. Participation takes place on site at events but also simultaneously on online platforms.

Lisa Kienzl researches the role of the notion of the nation, the function of power and gender hierarchies as well as the role of religion and value systems in relation to identity formations in the field of esports. Various actors reproduce, transform, discuss and interpret these categories in national and international contexts and fan cultures. In addition to the discussion of values of sport in general, power relationships and identity constructions are also negotiated. In particular, specific values in relation to game cultures become visible within the field as well as in broader socio-political discourses. Ethnographical methods (participatory observation, field notes and qualitative interviews) as well as a discourse-analytical focus on broader socio-cultural debates is used for data collection in this research project.

Considering ethical questions, negotiating identity and discussing the position of technology in society are vital elements in the field of esports. In addition, discussions within the field build on broader socio-cultural discourses, engage with them and bring them back into the field. The social entanglement of video game cultures and in particular the field of esports allows discussion of central topics and provides information about negotiation processes and identity formation processes.

Value formations in a video-game-franchise. A comparison of value formations in “The Last of Us” (2013) and “The Last of Us: Part II” (2020)

Bodil Stelter, dissertation project

Frau mit Maske vor Laptop, dunkle Gesamtumgebung. Einzige Lichtquelle Bildschirm

The video games ‘Last of Us’ (2013) and ‘Last of Us 2’ (2020) caused heated discussions during their release periods. While the first game prompted players to reflect on their moral compass through depictions of difficult decisions in crisis situations, the second instalment, published in the middle of the corona-pandemic, caused a polarizing controversy about ideological messages and representations of the depicted content and characters. The actors’ arguments often referred beyond the games to current social and political controversies and give insight into player’s personal values and value conflicts (between players, but also between players and the games and other actors). Research in video games and religion has shown that this is not an isolated phenomenon, but exemplary for the significance of video games for their player’s value expression and negotiation beyond the context of pop culture.

In my project, I investigate these value-formations by actors more closely in the vicinity of video games (gamevironements). I examine how negotiations of values ​​take place through different interrelated contexts (USK age-rating, journalistic reception, social media discourse, gaming practice) in the German-speaking context: Which values ​​and value conflicts appear most prominently? How do groups of actors differ in their value-formations? Which communicative practices are dominant in these contexts? - All of this will be executed along a comparison between the two games, framed as one discourse by their connection as a franchise. The time frame of eight years (2013-2020) with special regard to the social and political crises during that time, makes potential changes in values observable. Therefore, changes in values and changes in value negotiation practices in this increasingly mediatized field are also objects of investigation. This project will describe and theorize value-formations using a video game franchise as an example. Additionally, the benefit of an investigation of values compared to an investigation of religion for research on video games and religion will be tested and reflected upon. 

Gaming the Nation. An Intersectional Investigation of Nation, Identity and Video Gaming

Dr. Kathrin Trattner, Post-Doc Project

Kriegsstrategisches Brettspiel

The research project addresses the multiple interrelations between video gaming and constructions of national identity by connecting two often juxtaposed research perspectives – media aesthetics and communication studies. It does so by investigating a) how nations and national identities are represented and made experienceable through audio-visual, narrative, spatial and procedural structures of the medium, and b) how these constructions are negotiated by gamers. The focus is on AAA video games with historical settings. Particular attention is paid to how notions of national identity not only formulate a sense of ‘us’, but also frame ‘others’ in demarcation thereto in order to find out whether or how video games’ constructions of the nation may serve to pass on and possibly consolidate social inequalities in times of deep mediatization. In theoretical terms, the project aims to further develop Anderson’s notion of nations as ‘imagined communities’ in the context of theories of deep mediatization by applying it through the theoretical lens of ‘gamevironments’ and extending it through an intersectional perspective. The project’s essential innovative value lies in its combination of media-aesthetic and actor-centered perspectives. The primary objective is, hence, to systematically explore the interrelation between video gaming and constructions of national identities on the levels of the games and the gamers and thereby not only contribute significantly to the development of the research field of nation, identity, and video gaming, but also, on a metalevel, to serve as an example of how to productively connect two research perspectives that are often juxtaposed.