Call for Research Ideas of Groundbreaking Originality in the Humanities and Cultural Studies: "Original – isn’t it?"

New Options for the Humanities and Cultural Studies

The funding initiative aims to promote the exploration of research ideas of groundbreaking originality in the humanities and cultural studies.

"Originality" is a crucial criterion of quality in the humanities and cultural studies. The specific nature of the themes belonging to the humanities and cultural sciences, though, makes it extremely difficult to say precisely what constitutes "original", "new", or "innovative". It may encompass anything that contradicts the established knowledge or generally accepted intuition; or just as well the development of a new approach to research, a new hypothesis, a new theory, observation of a new phenomenon, and discovery of knowledge gaps.

With this new funding offer the Foundation wishes to encourage scholars in the humanities and cultural studies to embark on projects of groundbreaking originality. Funding will be made available for initial exploration of the research idea.

With this funding initiative the Foundation is also treading new paths concerning the application and selection procedure – in at least three different ways: In order to expedite processing and enable decisions in between 4 to 5 months, the selection procedure has been trimmed and made as straightforward as possible. There is also an innovative review process, combining pre-selection on the part of the Volkswagen Foundation, and final selection by a panel of experts. Anonymized review ensures that the originality of the idea remains the sole selection criterion.

Scope of Funding

The funding initiative comprises two funding lines:

Funding Line 1 "Komm! ins Offene..." (Hölderlin)

This funding line takes its title from a Hölderlin poem. It addresses the individual researcher, offering them a possibility to develop a new idea, a new hypothesis or a new topic in the form of an essay or treatise (80-120 pages): In other words, in a genre that reveals the author’s intellectual exploratory thrust and demonstrates the particular suitability of the topic for explorative investigation and new approaches.

This initiative does explicitly not aim at comprehensive books. It’s rather all about unusual, intelligent and comprehensible, clearly formulated insights designed to rivet the attention of the readers – be they experts, members of academia, or of the general public.

Projects can be funded with up to 80,000 euros over a funding period of up to 1 year.

Funding Line 2 "Constellations"

The title of this funding line is inspired by Walter Benjamin who used the term in various contexts. It addresses researchers who wish to  join in small teams of up to four partners to follow up on new research ideas and put their feasibility to the test in an exploratory phase.

Here, too, the main criterion is the potential for groundbreaking originality.

The project results are to be gathered in a co-authored publication (article, essay, book) under formulation of a common agenda, including the development of coherent terminologies or (sets of) methods. Teams comprising partners drawn from the social sciences, life sciences, natural sciences, or engineering are particularly welcome, although – depending on the respective agenda – this is not in any way a requirement.

Projects can be funded with up to 150,000 euros over a funding period of up to 1.5 years.

A total of approximately 20 projects will be funded per call. If you are interested in projects that have been granted before within this initiative, please see our website under “Project-Persons-Search”.

General Conditions

The funding initiative is open to scientists at all career levels after the PhD working in the humanities or cultural studies. Scientists working in theoretical social sciences are also eligible to apply.

The main applicant has to be employed at a scientific institution in Germany. Researchers from foreign institutions are welcome to apply as co-applicants in funding line 2.

Funding can be allocated in a flexible manner to cover the costs of resources and staffing. This could include costs arising from the integration of project partners within Germany and abroad, research stays at outside institutions, workshops or the costs of employing a deputy during an additional sabbatical. Translation costs may also be applied for.

In funding line 1 there is no provision for staffing with post-docs other than for the applicants themselves.

Funding will be allocated on a lump-sum basis, i.e. there is no need for the individual applicant to adhere to a firm budget plan. This is to enable a flexible reallocation of funds in accordance with the course of the project.

The following costs cannot be considered:

  • Overheads
  • Financing of doctoral studies
  • Child care

It is a condition that projects should commence in a timely manner, normaly in the semester after the award of the grant. However, it is also possible to start the project earlier. The grantees of both funding lines are to present their project results at a forum to be held in Herrenhausen Palace. Every project is invited to present their preliminary findings in the form of a talk and/or poster presentation.

Application and Selection Procedure

Applications must include a 3-page project description and a 1-page self-assessment (see Application Checklist). Depending on the working language of the discipline, applications should be written in English or German.

The selection procedure is designed as a two-stage process. First all the submitted short proposals will be reviewed internally by the Foundation in order to arrive at a comprehensive shortlist.

The final selection will be carried out by a jury comprising international researchers drawn from different disciplines.

The members of the jury will receive the application documents in anonymized form.

Following criteria are important for the selection procedure:

  • Potential for groundbreaking originality: What is the aspect of surprise? What is the aspect that rivets the eye?
  • Relevance of the topic for science, the general public and society as a whole
  • How the project fits in with the funding format
  • Appeal of the expected results for the respective target groups
  • Lack of funds at applicants’ own institutions or possibilities of funding from other sources.

In view of the short processing time (5 to 6 months) and the large number of applications it is, unfortunately, not possible to give reasons for the rejection of proposals or to obtain feedback from the jury.

Application Checklist

Please submit a short proposal online via the Volkswagen Foundation’s electronic application system, where you can upload the following information as attachments (pdf files):

Short proposal (max. 1,200 words in all, approx. 3 pages, see ‚‘Short Proposal sheet‘)

  • clear and focused research questions, e.g. illustrated with an example
  • current state of research with up to 20 bibliographical references that are not included in the word count

Summaries of the project in German and in English (max. 200 words each)

The proposal itself should be anonymous and omit the applicant’s name, their institute’s name, and any references by the applicant’s group.

Self-assessment answering the following questions (max. 300 words, approx. 1 page, see ‘Self-assessment sheet’):

  • Where do you perceive “the originality” and “the new” in your proposed project?
  • Why are you applying within the context of this funding initiative and not at your university or another funding organization?
  • Are there any difficulties or counter arguments you would like to address at the outset?
  • Where do you intend to publish your essay/treatise (funding line 1)? Where do you intend to publish your article/book (funding line 2)?

Your self-assessment should also take into account the anonymity of the evaluation process.

Short CVs of all applicants (max. 2 pages per applicant), including the position you hold at your institution, and a list of five selected publications (in funding line 2, please submit all CVs in one file). The CV will only be used for the internal pre-selection process and will NOT be made accessible to members of the jury.

Cover sheet downloaded from the application system

  • in funding line 1: Signed by the applicant.
  • in funding line 2: Signed by all applicants.

In the event of applications from different institutions or locations, it is possible to use more than one cover sheet. All the cover sheets must be uploaded, duly signed.

Miscellaneous (optional)

Any other documents that may be submitted will NOT be made accessible to members of the jury.

Please enter an approximate budget plan in the application system. In case you apply for personnel costs, please specify if the costs are for your own position, a substitute or other personnel costs. In funding line 2 please enter the budget plans for each applicant separately.


The funding initiative "Original – isn’t it?" New Options for the Humanities and Cultural Sciences was established in 2014. Until now 52 projects have been funded: 17 out of 387 in 2015, 18 out of 213 in 2016, and 17 out of 174 applications in 2017.

Application date
Up to 18 months
Social sciences : Information and Communication Sciences