Christoph Wulf

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Christoph Wulf
Wulf bild neu1.jpg
Christoph Wulf
BornAugust 4, 1944
Berlin, Germany
Academic background
Alma materFree University of Berlin, University of Marburg
Academic work
DisciplineAnthropology, Education Sciences

Christoph Wulf (born August 4, 1944, in Berlin, Germany) is a professor of Anthropology and Education at the Free University of Berlin.

Education and career[edit]

Wulf completed his studies of history, education sciences, philosophy, and literature studies at the Free University of Berlin in 1968. The next year, he commenced his studies for a PhD at the University of Marburg on a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation. Following educational travels throughout the US at the invitation of the US Department of Education, he completed research stays at the universities of Stanford, Los Angeles, Boulder and New York. Between 1970 and 1975, Wulf was a researcher at the German Institute for International Research in Education in Frankfurt. In 1973, he obtained his PhD, and in 1975 his habilitation from Marburg and was appointed Professor of Education at the University of Siegen. Wulf has held the position of Professor of Anthropology and Education at the Free University of Berlin since 1980. His other roles include: member of the Interdisciplinary Center for Historical Anthropology at the Free University of Berlin, past member of the post-graduate program "Körper-Inszenierungen" ("Stagings of the Body") (1997-2006), of the Collaborative Research Centre "Cultures of the Performative" (1999-2010), of the Cluster of Excellence "Languages of Emotion" (2007-2014; Principal Investigator) and of the post-graduate program "InterArts Studies" (2006-2015) at the same university. Since 1988 he has been a member and since 2008 a Vice President of the German Commission of UNESCO.[1] His books have been translated into 20 languages.[2]

In 1972 Wulf founded the Peace Education Commission of the International Peace Research Association, whose first secretary he served as, and he co-founded the commission on Pedagogical Anthropology of the German Educational Research Association. He was a member of the board of directors of the German Association for Peace and Conflict Research, the International Peace Research Association (Oslo), the Groupe d’Études et de Recherches sur les Mondialisations (Paris), the German Academic Exchange Service (Bonn), and the scientific advisory group for the Comprehensive School Experiment in North Rhine-Westphalia (Düsseldorf). He has served as the president of the Network Educational Science Amsterdam and on the scientific advisory boards of the Institut National de Recherche Pédagogique (Paris/Lyon) and the International Research Center for Cultural Studies (Vienna). The University of Bucharest awarded him the title "professor honoris causa" for his anthropological research.

Research stays and invited professorships have included the following locations: Stanford, Tokyo, Kyoto, Beijing, Shanghai, Mysore, Delhi, Paris, Lille, Strasbourg, Modena, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen, London, Vienna, Rome, Lisbon, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan; São Paulo.

In 1992, he founded and has since been the editor-in-chief of the international journal of historical anthropology "Paragrana"; he is also a co-editor of the "Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft" ("Journal of Educational Science") and a member of the scientific advisory board of numerous national and international journals and book series.


Wulf works in the areas of historical anthropology and educational anthropology, the focus being on people's knowledge in the globalized world of the Anthropocene. For this purpose, he employs historical and ethnographic methods, as well as philosophical reflections. His work is described in detail in a biography by Gabriele Weigand.[3]

Historical anthropology[edit]

Wulf's anthropological research builds on the insight that the philosophical and pedagogical anthropologies that were based on white Western or European males have lost their claim to universality and must be superseded by a polycentric, forward-looking anthropology.[4] Other cultures have the same right to make statements about humans from their perspective.[5] He thus calls for a historical and cultural relativization and differentiation of anthropology that at the same time avoids extreme relativism and arbitrariness while taking account of the increasing complexity that determines our living conditions in the globalized world of the Anthropocene.[6]

Logic and passion[edit]

The human body is the focus of his initial anthropological studies, which Wulf realized with Dietmar Kamper. The first product of this work, the book "The Return of the Body", opened up a central field in the humanities.[7] This research project comprised 10 international transdisciplinary studies and over 150 researchers and philosophers from 20 disciplines and more than 10 countries. After the end of normative anthropologies associated with the dominance of European/Western science, philosophy and culture, it was considered imperative to develop forms of anthropological thought and research that would do justice to the changing living and developmental conditions in the globalized world of the Anthropocene. Through transdisciplinary and transcultural research, a historical anthropology was created that centered on the human body, its senses, and cultural practices. For this research, the dual historicity of the researchers and of the phenomena under investigation was of constitutive significance. Besides the rediscovery of the body and of the senses, this research looked at the history of the soul and the unfathomability of the sacred, the mysteriousness of love and beauty, and the mystery of time and silence.[8]

Humankind and its cultures[edit]

The objective of this handbook of historical anthropology, which has been translated into several languages, was to reconstruct and to investigate 100 fundamental relations and relationships of human beings with the world.[9] The historical, cultural, and social localization and diagnosis was carried out in awareness of the dual historicity and culturality as well as the associated contingencies. While even the intensive interdisciplinary collaboration could not remedy the unavoidably fragmentary character of the anthropological investigations, this created the basis for a continuing investigation of social diversity[10] and improvement to how human beings see themselves and how cultures interpret themselves. The anthropological study of the world and self-relations grounded in history and culture yielded a new (reflexive) understanding of many everyday functional interrelationships. Today it is considered imperative to develop anthropology as a transdisciplinary and transcultural research field that combines general, global and local diachronic and synchronic perspectives to investigate the unitas multiplex of humankind. This concept of anthropology entails the creation of epistemological conditions which respond to the demands of anthropological research in the globalized world of the Anthropocene.[11]

The Berlin Study of Rituals and Gestures[edit]

Having for many years pursued mainly the diachronic perspective in his anthropological research,[12] since the turn of the century Wulf has increasingly also embraced synchronic anthropological studies. Thus, ethnographic research of the present gained significance; historical anthropology was expanded into historical-cultural anthropology. His work in this field has focused on rituals and gestures in the four central areas of socialization: school, family, peer groups, and the media. At the Collaborative Research Centre on "Cultures of the Performative", rituals in upbringing, education, and socialization were researched for 12 years. Supplementing previous attitudes on rituals, which tended to be critical, the work highlighted the productive effects of rituals. The study on an inner-city Berlin elementary school and its environment proved the importance of rituals for creating the social sphere, for learning and education, and to enable social structure and identity.[13] The research focused on the performance of rituals, the "how" of the mise-en-scene.[14] Rituals create transitions and generate memories; they have a magical component and facilitate the processing of difference; they promote mimetic learning processes,[15] assist in the development of practical knowledge, and contribute to the development of socially competent individuals.

The Berlin Study of Rituals and Gestures reconstructed in a variety of ways how the initiation and control of social and pedagogical processes is accomplished through gestures. It focused on performativity, investigating primarily the "how" of the staging and performance of gestures.[16] Wulf's research focuses on four aspects of gestures in particular: (1) gestures as movements of the body, (2) gestures as expression and presentation, (3) gestures as forms of upbringing and education, and (4) gestures as forms of interpretation.[17] This relates to the question of whether and to what extent gestures contain something that goes beyond their intentionality and that can only be experienced in mimetic reenactment.

Mimesis, imagination, and emotions[edit]

Cultural learning as mimetic learning[edit]

A study about the reconstruction of the mimetic phenomenon in culture, art and society was carried out in accordance with the concept of family resemblance (Wittgenstein) to investigate how mimesis and mimetic processes were understood in various eras and different contexts, from antiquity through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance into the modern era. It was found that the concept of mimesis is so rich because it has no narrowly delineated meaning but has instead evolved throughout history in the sense of family resemblance. There was a particular focus on reconstructing and analyzing the mimesis concepts of Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and Jacques Derrida.[18]

Mimetic processes also aim to assimilate works of art, allowing the work of art to remain as it is and giving the person who is behaving mimetically the opportunity to incorporate the work of art into their imagination. With this mimetic appropriation, something external is assimilated and incorporated into a person's imaginary world. This process also works in the opposite direction: mental images are brought to the outside and objectified in a mimetic process. This applies to artistic works just as to texts, actions and social behavior. Mimesis is a bridging process that converts the exterior world into the interior world and vice versa. In mimetic processes, we do not become the other, but we need the other so that we can develop in relation to them. These processes play a central role in the relationship between children and parents. To grow up, children must first become like their parents. Mimetic processes take place not just through seeing and hearing. Experiences of touch, smell and taste are also processed mimetically. Also, mimetic processes help to partially overcome the subject-object divide. In the mimetic process, the person emerges from herself and clings to an exterior. This often occurs pre-consciously and without thinking. This assimilation to the other is an important form of appropriation of something exterior, an alterity. These processes take place even before thinking and speaking develop. The mimetic movement aims to interpret a prior world that itself is already interpreted. This applies even to repetition. The gesture of repetition and reproduction creates structures of meaning that differ from what was previously given.[19]


Wulf's research shows that mimetic processes are enabled through imagination, which is a human condition.[20] By recourse to antiquity, imagination and fantasy can be described as the power that makes the world appear to people. The imagination is the energy that connects people with the world and the world with the people. It builds a bridge between the outside and the inside. It is chiastic and expresses its significance in this function. Without the imagination, there would be no memory and no projections of the future. The imagination is the ability to picture an object when it is not present; it allows us to be inventive and creative.[21] The creativity of the imagination is based on the act of inventio, which oscillates between actio and passio and is shifted to the subject.[22] The imagination shows itself not just in images, as the etymology of the term suggests. It is no less important for the perception and production of sounds. The senses of smell, taste, touch and motion rely on the imagination. The same applies to synesthesia and the sensus communis.


As the principal investigator in the "Languages of Emotion" cluster of excellence, Wulf increasingly turned his attention to research on a broad spectrum of emotions, in particular their historical and cultural character. The research concerned the connections between emotions and movement, emotions and memory, emotions and rituals, and emotions and the imagination.[23] Individual studies pertained to the happiness of the family in Germany and Japan,[24] emotions in the Muslim world,[25] feelings in schools, emotions as motion,[26] emotions and memory, emotions in rituals and performances,[27] emotion and imagination,[28] emotions in a transcultural world, especially in Arab and European Culture (Beirut), the formation of feelings,[29] and a special issue of the Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft on emotions.


Departing from the fact that nature and culture are our human heritage, Wulf has recently been studying the importance of the concept of the Anthropocene for the way humans understand the world and themselves.[30] The subjects of his study are the undesired effects of industrialization and modernization. They include climate change, the loss of biodiversity, disruption to biogeochemical cycles, ocean acidification, and pollution, which jeopardize the lives of humans, animals and plants.[31] Wulf also looks at the role of machines in this process, and especially developments from the steam engine and prosthetics to robotics. Equally important in this context are the digital culture and artificial intelligence (AI), and the question as to how these developments can facilitate sustainable development.[32] Similarly, genetic engineering, in particular CRISPR technology and the possibility to intervene in evolution, are clearly evidence of an escalation in the dynamics of the Anthropocene. These developments raise many anthropological questions to which there are no easy answers but which are of central importance to understanding human beings and their role on our planet in a way that reflects their history and culture.[33]

Selected publications[edit]

For a full list, see the personal website.


  • Human beings and their images. London, 2021.
  • Bildung als Wissen vom Menschen im Anthropozän. Weinheim, 2020.
  • Homo Imaginationis. Le radici estetiche dell'antropologia storico-culturale. Milano-Udine, 2018.
  • Anthropology. A Continental Perspective. Chicago, 2013.
  • Das Rätsel des Humanen. Eine Einführung in die Historische Anthropologie. Paderborn, 2013.
  • Une anthropologie historique et culturelle: Rituels, mimesis sociale et performativité. Paris, 2007.
  • Anthropologie kultureller Vielfalt. Interkulturelle Bildung in Zeiten der Globalisierung. Bielefeld, 2006.
  • Science of Education. Hermeneutics, Empirical Research, and Critical Theory. Münster, 2002.
  • Anthropologie der Erziehung. Eine Einführung. Weinheim, 2001
  • Spiel, Ritual, Geste. Mimetisches Handeln in der sozialen Welt. Reinbek, 1998 (with G. Gebauer).
  • Mimesis. Culture–Art–Society. Berkeley, 1995 (with G. Gebauer).
  • Das politisch-sozialwissenschaftliche Curriculum. Munich, 1973.

Project reports[edit]

  • with G. Kress, S. Selander, R. Saljö (eds.). Learning as Social Practice. Beyond Education as an Individual Enterprise. London, 2021.
  • with G. Brougère, L. Colin, C. Délory-Momberger, I. Kellermann, K. Lichau. A la rencontre de l’autre. Lieux, corps, sens dans les échanges scolaires. Paris, 2018.
  • with Gabriele Brandstetter, Michael B. Buchholz., Andreas Hamburger. Balance – Rhythmus – Resonanz. Paragrana 27 (2018) 1.
  • with S. Suzuki et al. Das Glück der Familie. Ethnographische Studien in Deutschland und Japan. Wiesbaden, 2011.
  • et al. Die Geste in Erziehung, Bildung und Sozialisation. Ethnographische Feldstudien. Wiesbaden, 2011.
  • et al. Ritual and Identity. The Staging and Performing of Rituals in the Lives of Young People. London, 2010.
  • et al. Geburt in Familie, Klinik und Medien. Eine qualitative Untersuchung. Opladen, 2008.
  • et al. Lernkulturen im Umbruch. Rituelle Praktiken in Schule, Medien, Familie und Jugend. Wiesbaden, 2007.
  • et al. Bildung im Ritual: Schule, Familie, Jugend, Medien. Wiesbaden, 2004.
  • et al. Grundlagen des Performativen. Eine Einführung in die Zusammenhänge von Sprache, Macht und Handeln. Munich, 2001.

Edited books[edit]

  • Science and Scientification. London, 2020 (with A. Michaels).
  • Repetition, Recurrence, Returns. How Cultural Renewal Works. Lanham, 2019 (with. J. R. Resina).
  • Global Youth in Digital Trajectories. London, 2017 (second edition, with M. Kontopodis, C. Varvantakis).
  • Exploring Alterity in the Globalized World. London, 2016.
  • Hazardous Future. Disaster, Representation, and the Assessment of Risk. Berlin, 2015 (with I. Capeloa Gil).
  • Handbuch Pädagogische Anthropologie. Wiesbaden, 2014 (with J. Zirfas).
  • Exploring the Senses. London, 2013 (with A. Michaels).
  • Emotions in Rituals and Performances. London, 2012 (with A. Michaels).
  • Children, Development and Education. Cultural, Historical, Anthropological Perspectives. Dordrecht, 2011 (with M. Kontopodis and B. Fichtner).
  • Der Mensch und seine Kultur. Hundert Beiträge zur Geschichte, Gegenwart und Zukunft des menschlichen Lebens. Cologne, 2010.
  • Dynamics and Performativity of Imagination. The Image between the Visible and the Invisible. New York, 2009 (with B. Huppauf).


  1. ^ "Über uns | Deutsche UNESCO-Kommission".
  2. ^ "Wulf, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Christoph". 30 March 2006.
  3. ^ Weigand, Gabriele (2011). Der Mensch in der globalisierten Welt. Münster.
  4. ^ Wulf, Christoph (2013). Anthropology: A Continental Perspective. Chicago.
  5. ^ Michaels, Alex; Wulf, Christoph, eds. (2020). Science and Scientification in South Asia and Europe. London. Michaels, Alex; Wulf, Christoph, eds. (2013). Exploring the Senses. London. Michaels, Alex; Wulf, Christoph, eds. (2012). Emotions in Rituals and Performances. London. Michaels, Alex; Wulf, Christoph, eds. (2011). Images of the Body in India. London.
  6. ^ Wallenhorst, Nathanael; Wulf, Christoph, eds. (2022). Handbook of the Anthropocene. London.
  7. ^ Kamper, Dietmar; Wulf, Christoph, eds. (1982). Die Wiederkehr des Körpers. Frankfurt/Main.
  8. ^ Wulf, Christoph; Kamper, Dietmar, eds. (2002). Logik und Leidenschaft. Berlin.
  9. ^ Wulf, Christoph, ed. (2010). Mensch und Kultur. Cologne.
  10. ^ Wulf, Christoph, ed. (2016). Exploring Alterity in a Globalized World. London.
  11. ^ Wulf, Christoph (2021). Education as Human Knowledge in the Anthropocene. London.
  12. ^ Gebauer, Gunter; Wulf, Christoph (1998). Spiel, Ritual, Geste. Mimetisches Handeln in der sozialen Welt. Reinbek.
  13. ^ Wulf, Christoph; et al. (2001). Das Soziale als Ritual. Opladen. Wulf, Christoph; et al. (2010). Ritual and Identity. The Staging and Performing of Rituals in the Lives of Young People. London. Wulf, Christoph; et al. (2004). Bildung im Ritual. Schule, Familien, Jugend, Medien. Wiesbaden. Wulf, Christoph; et al. (2007). Lernkulturen im Umbruch. Rituelle Praktiken in Schule, Medien, Familie und Jugend. Wiesbaden. Wulf, Christoph; et al. (2011). Die Geste in Erziehung, Bildung und Sozialisation. Wiesbaden.
  14. ^ Wulf, Christoph; Zirfas, Jörg, eds. (2007). Die Pädagogik des Performativen: Theorien, Methoden, Perspektiven. Weinheim.
  15. ^ Gebauer, Gunter; Wulf, Christoph (1995). Mimesis. Culture-Art-Society. Berkeley. Gebauer, Gunter; Wulf, Christoph (1998). Spiel, Ritual, Geste. Reinbek.
  16. ^ McNeill, David (2005). Gesture and Thought. Chicago.
  17. ^ "Art and Gesture". Paragrana. 23 (1). 2014.
  18. ^ Gebauer, Gunter; Wulf, Christoph (1995). Mimesis. Culture-Art-Society. Berkeley.
  19. ^ Resina, Joan Ramon; Wulf, Christoph, eds. (2019). Repetition, Recurrence, Returns. How Cultural Renewal Works. Lanham.
  20. ^ Wulf, Christoph (2021). Human Beings and Their Images. Imagination, Mimesis, Imaginary. London.
  21. ^ Huppauf, Bernd; Wulf, Christoph (2009). Dynamics and Performativity of Imagination. The Image between the Visible and the Invisible. New York.
  22. ^ "Handlung und Leidenschaft". Paragrana. 18 (1). 2009. "Medien-Körper-Imagination". Paragrana. 17 (1). 2008.
  23. ^ "Emotion-Bewegung-Körper". Paragrana. 19 (1). 2010.
  24. ^ Wulf, Christoph; et al. (2011). Das Glück der Familie. Ethnographische Studien in Deutschland und Japan. Wiesbaden. Klien, Susanne; Wulf, Christoph (2013). "Well-Being. Emotions, Rituals and Performances in Japan". Paragrana. 22 (1).
  25. ^ "Emotionen in einer transkulturellen Welt". Paragrana. 20 (2). 2011.
  26. ^ Wulf, Christoph; Savchuk, Valerij, eds. (2011). Emotion as Movement. Moscow.
  27. ^ Michaels, Axel; Wulf, Christoph, eds. (2012). Emotions in Rituals and Performances. London.
  28. ^ Wulf, Christoph; Baitello, Norval, eds. (2011). Emoção e Imaginação: Os Sentidos e as Imagens em Movimento. São Paulo.
  29. ^ "Bie Bildung der Gefühle". Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft. S16. 2012.
  30. ^ Wulf, Christoph (2020). Bildung als Wissen vom Menschen im Anthropozän. Weinheim.
  31. ^ Capeloa, Isabell Gil; Wulf, Christoph (2015). Hazardous Future. Disaster, Representation, and the Assessment of Risk. Berlin.
  32. ^ Wallenhorst, Nathanael; Wulf, Christoph, eds. (2021). Dictionnaire d'anthropologie prospective. Paris.
  33. ^ Wallenhorst, Nathanael; Wulf, Christoph, eds. (2022). Handbook of the Anthropocene. London.

External links[edit]