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Vanessa Rau
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Sociology alumna wins prestigious dissertation prize

Alumna Dr Vanessa Rau (PhD in Sociology 2016) has received the highly prestigious German Dissertation Award 2020 from the Körber Foundation.

The prize is awarded to young PhDs in Germany each year and is endowed with €5,000. It focuses on the broader social relevance of a particular piece of research and looks to encourage young scientists to highlight the value of their research to society.

Vanessa is now a post-doctoral research fellow at Max-Planck-Institut zur Erforschung multireligiöser und multiethnischer in the Socio-Cultural Diversity department.

She is part of the ZOMiDi project - Civil Society Organizations and the Challenges of Migration and Diversity: Agents of Change.

Before joining the Institute, Vanessa completed her PhD at Fitz in 2019, focusing on migration and diaspora, religion, secularities and the politics of identity in diverse urban spaces. She’s worked with different community and development organisations in many different parts of the world including the US, Chile and Rwanda.

Her dissertation Contesting the Secular and Converting Space in Berlin? Becoming Jewish in an Urban Scene examined a newly emerging Jewish-Hebrew scene in Berlin.

Based on fieldwork in Berlin and Israel, her study combined ethnography with biographical-narrative research from 60 interviews. It looked at migration and conversion as identity constructions and their entanglements with gender, sexuality, religion and aesthetic practices – particularly music – in a specific socio-political and historical setting.

Vanessa said: “My research interests include migration and diversity, the theory and politics of religion and secularism, identity and belonging, gender and sexuality as well as post-colonial approaches to race and ethnicity and the politics of difference.

“I was very pleased to win the award and intend to use part of the prize to visit Israel again to see friends and colleagues."

Every year, Körber-Stiftung presents the German Dissertation Award to the best of young German researchers. It awards prizes totalling more than €100,000 for significant and innovative research.

This makes the Dissertation Award one of the most highly endowed prizes awarded to young scientists in Germany.

The competition is usually presented in December by Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble but this year it remains uncertain whether the ceremony can take place in person.


Photo credit: David Ausserhofer

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