Testimony/Bearing Witness. Current Controversies and Historical Perspectives

January 15, 2015 - January 17, 2015
Freie Universität Berlin and Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin

Department of Philosophy, Conference room in the former library of the department
Habelschwerdter Allee 30
Berlin 14195


  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)


José Brunner
Tel Aviv University
Miranda Fricker
University of Sheffield
Axel Gelfert
National University of Singapore
François Hartog
John Durham Peters
University of Iowa


Sybille Krämer
Freie Universität Berlin
Sigrid Weigel
Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin

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International Conference

Testimony/Bearing Witness.Current Controversies and Historical Perspectives

Berlin, January 15–17, 2015

Testimony and bearing witness are key figures in cultural and epistemological practices. Within current debates in the humanities both have turned into controversial concepts that convey seemingly incommensurate claims: On the one hand, testimony is seen as a reliable source of information and knowledge, as a piece of evidence promising objectivity (predominantly in discourses of epistemology and law). On the other hand, bearing witness carries ethical and political reflections in terms of memory and history (for instance in the testimonies of survivors of genocide and extreme violence). We are even confronted with diverse epistemological ambitions and methodological trajectories:  At one end of the spectrum a general concept of testimony as knowledge through the words of others, is reflected; at the other end, there is a skepticism towards general definitions, combined with the desire to shape figures of bearing witness by tracing their manifold sources in religion and cultural history.

This conference aims to channel the debate on bearing witness and giving testimony especially towards those aspects that appear precarious and controversial between philosophy and cultural history: What are the opportunities and limits involved in communicating epistemological and ethical, philosophical and cultural-historical, past and present perspectives on the phenomenon and concept of testimony and bearing witness?

The conference is organized by the research project “Zeugenschaft” (“Testimony/Bearing Witness”) and sponsored by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG). The project is led by Sybille Krämer (Institute of Philosophy, Freie Universität Berlin) and Sigrid Weigel (Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin); collaborating researchers are Aurélia Kalisky, Heike Schlie (both ZfL Berlin), and Sibylle Schmidt (FU Berlin).

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