While Paul Pioda may have felt like a missionary bringing German to the Far West in 1869, our mission by contrast is a comparative and a critical one. We consider the study of a foreign language and literature to be one way of stepping outside one’s own linguistic and cultural province in order to see it from a critical distance.
There are, however, also a number of intrinsic reasons for studying German: the rich philosophical tradition that ranges from Kant, Hegel and Marx to Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Benjamin, and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School; the literary works not only of Kafka, Brecht, Mann, Rilke, Bachmann, Grass, Christa Wolf, Yoko Tawada, or Aras Ören, but also of Lessing, Goethe, Kleist, Hölderlin, Büchner, and Fontane; the deep spiritual tradition that runs from Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, and Luther to Buber and Bonhoeffer; and the many world-famous composers, painters, filmmakers, scientists, politicians, thinkers, saints, and madmen.
At present each of the German-speaking states faces the tremendous challenge of articulating its national identity within an increasingly multicultural society, a global economy, and an international media culture. These challenges are intriguing to observe and to analyze as they inevitably come to involve America. Asked about our mission, then, we might venture the following, at least for now: by studying and teaching German language, literature, culture, and linguistics, we seek to promote a sharper understanding of the history of our present, both German and American.