The 36-year-old specialist in English literature and theology is a researcher at the University of Bern. She has been recognised for her very original doctorate, which proposes a theological reading of ghost stories in English literature from the end of the 19th century. The Marie Heim-Vögtlin Prize, worth 25,000 Swiss francs, was presented at the end of the "Gender and Excellence in Research" conference.
"Killing the angel in the house"
The prize ceremony was introduced by Susan Gasser, Chair of the SNSF's Gender Equality Commission, in front of about 40 guests. She recalled the extraordinary career of Marie Heim-Vögtlin, whose memory is honoured by the prize; she was the first Swiss woman to study medicine and obtain a doctorate from the University of Zurich in 1873 as well as a champion of the rights of women to access higher education.
In her address, Susanna Burghartz, a specialist in women and gender history, as well as member of the Research Council and the SNSF's Specialised Committee Careers, underlined the laureate's dedication to her field of study and her determination to pursue an unsual path in her academic career. "Not only by joining two unusual fields of research but also in the way she managed to bring together her familial, job and study duties all at once namely by making use of the possibilities offered by the Open University." Quoting Virginia Woolf, she conjuered up the image of another phantom associated with the ideal of feminine devotion which continues to haunt women pursuing an academic career, that of the "angel in the house", a cliché that one needs to resist constantly.
In search of a common language for different disciplines
Sabine Schneider, member of the Research Council and Chair of the SNSF's Marie Heim-Vögtlin Commission for Humanities and Social Sciences presented the award to the prize winner with a speech praising her accomplishments: "Zoë Lehmann Imfeld, with her remarkable CV and scientific work, stands out as a bright and highly successful former MHV grantee." She recalled the laureate's trajectory and emphasized that "Zoë Lehmann was able to bring together in her thesis wide-ranging philosophical and theological competences with literary criticism and philological precision, opening the way for a new research paradigm. And it is a pleasure to read these original and fresh thoughts of a young colleague written in an elegant, ingenious and fluid style."
Zoë Lehmann Imfeld then provided an overview of her research, which spans literature, theology and philosophy.: "Theologians are well used to turning to literary texts to explore their theological ideas and problems, but literature scholars using theology as a tool ? In my experience it makes us uncomfortable. The problem with this is that when we read texts which are potentially full of fascinating and nuanced theological and philosophical ideas, we lack the working vocabulary to fully engage with those ideas. We are not reading them in the same way as they were written." Furthemore, she emphasized the funding she received for her research career: "Being awarded a MHV grant meant that I could contribute to supporting my family and do my PhD properly. The two were no longer in competition with each other. When I started the grant, I was just pleased that it would make it realistic for me to finish my PhD. I realise now that it was actually opening the door to my long term academic prospects."
Zoë Lehmann Imfeld conducts her interdisciplinary research at the University of Bern as a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Space and Habitability. She also lectures in the English department.
Press Release 4 May 2016