Professor Henk de Berg

School of Languages and Cultures

Professor of German, Head of Germanic Studies

Professor Henk de Berg
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Professor Henk de Berg
School of Languages and Cultures
Jessop West
1 Upper Hanover Street
S3 7RA

Born in Holland, I studied German and comparative literature in Leiden, at one of Europe’s oldest universities, and Siegen (in North Rhine-Westphalia, near Bonn). I came to Sheffield in 1996, after having taught comparative literature at Leiden for several years.

My specialist expertise is in German and French literary and cultural theory and the history of ideas. I am currently writing a book on political populism in Germany in the 1920s and the US today.

I am one of the two Directors (together with Prof Evgeny Dobrenko) of the Prokhorov Centre. The Centre organises the University’s Prokhorov Lectures, which are delivered by world-leading academics and public intellectuals. Previous speakers have ranged from Sir Christopher Clark to Lionel Shriver, and from John Lanchester to Dame Marina Warner.

I have given many lectures both in Britain and abroad, and I have held a short Visiting Professorship at the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg. My book on Freud, which has been translated into three European languages as well as Chinese, received a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Award.

Research interests

My research, which draws both on classical thinkers such as Hegel and Freud and on contemporary thinkers and debates, represents a cross-over between German studies, literary and cultural theory, and the history of ideas. 

I am the author of three books: a study of the problems of literary historiography (which includes a case study of Young Germany’s reception of Goethe); an introduction to Freud’s theory and its use in literary and cultural studies (described by Peter Gay as “as good an introductory text as one can possibly hope for”), which received a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Award and has been translated into three European languages as well as Chinese; and a comparative study of the concepts of the end of history and civil society in G. W. F. Hegel, Alexandre Kojève, and Francis Fukuyama.

I have also co-edited seven books on critical theory, including a 500-page Suhrkamp paperback on the reception of Niklas Luhmann’s sociology in the humanities. My reader on German thought from Kant to Habermas, edited with Duncan Large, includes ca. 100 pages of editorial introductions and annotations; the editors’ general introduction has been described by Joachim Whaley as “probably the best short account of the development of modern German philosophy”. My most recent edited volume is on the Bulgarian-born French thinker Tzvetan Todorov (2020; edited with Karine Zbinden).

I am currently writing a book exploring today’s trend towards “illiberal democracy” against the background of the rise of National Socialism in the 1920s and 1930s and the politico-rhetorical strategies employed by Hitler and the NSDAP. Its central focus is on questions of rhetoric and public discourse (propaganda, scapegoating, establishment-bashing, and so on).

Teaching interests
  • German intellectual history 
  • social thought 
  • literary and cultural theory
  • 18th- to 21st-century German literature and culture

Current undergraduate modules include the second-year option “The Restless Era”, which covers the social history of the Kaiserreich and the Weimar Republic, and the fourth-year option “Modern German Thought”. 

At postgraduate level, I co-teach the School-wide modules “Approaches to Literary and Cultural Studies I and II”. I offer MA, MPhil, and PhD supervision on any topic within my research area. Watch these videos of me teaching MA classes:

Professional activities and memberships

I am currently External Examiner for German at Nottingham, and for Dutch at Cambridge. I have been Internal or External Examiner for 15 PhD theses and 1 MPhil thesis.

I have acted as a referee for a variety of publishers (including Cambridge UP, Oxford UP, and Routledge) and international journals. I am on the editorial boards of the “Publications of the English Goethe Society” and “Convivium”.

Among the international conferences and colloquia I have organised are “Tzvetan Todorov” (2015; with Karine Zbinden) and “Constructing Europe(s): The Cultural Borders of Western and Eastern Europe Past, Present, and Future” (2017; with Evgeny Dobrenko).

Together with Prof Evgeny Dobrenko in Russian & Slavonic Studies and Prof Robert Stern in Philosophy, I organise the University of Sheffield’s Prokhorov Lectures, which are delivered by world-leading scholars and public intellectuals. Topics range from philosophy and literature to society and migration. The lectures focusing on religion take place in Sheffield Cathedral and are organised in collaboration with the Cathedral’s Dean and its Canon Misssioner.

I have conducted a number of YouTube interviews, mostly in the context of the Prokhorov Centre’s activities. 

Interview with Karen Armstrong, religious commentator

--on "A History of God", "The Case for God", and "Sacred Nature"

Interview with Miranda (MJ) Carter, biographer and novelist

--on art historian and spy Anthony Blunt

--on historical fiction

Interview with David Engels, Classical historian

--on the future of the European Union 1

--on the future of the European Union 2

Interview with Giles Fraser, Anglican priest and broadcaster

--on Nietzsche, Kundera, the Church, and Occupy London

Interview with John Gray, philosopher

--on the varieties of atheism

--on political populism

Interview with Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, literary and cultural theorist

--on Gumbrecht’s life and work, Stimmung, and Sartre’s “La Nausée”

Interview with John Lanchester, novelist and journalist

--on money, markets, and morals

Interview with Diarmaid MacCulloch (theologian) & Peter Bradley (Dean of Sheffield Cathedral)

--on the existence of God

--on the Church, gay marriage, and women priests

--on faith, violence, and terrorism

Interview with Alister McGrath, theologian and molecular biophysicist

--on the existence of God and Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion”

Interview with Audrey Niffenegger, author and visual artist

--on “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and its sequel 1

--on “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and its sequel 2

Interview with Peter Pomerantsev, writer and expert on propaganda strategies

--on "This Is Not Propaganda", disinformation, and fake news

Interview with Nina Power, feminist philosopher

--on “One-Dimensional Woman”

--on Feuerbach, Sartre, and the collective political subject

Interview with T. J. Reed, President of the English Goethe Society

--on Goethe and the Enlightenment

Interview with Lionel Shriver, novelist and journalist

--on identity politics

--on literature, freedom of speech, and cultural appropriation

Interview with Mona Siddiqui, Islamic theologian

--on “My Way: A Muslim Woman’s Journey”

--on the Quran, Mohammed, hadith, and Sunni and Shia

Interview (in French) with Tzvetan Todorov, literary and cultural theorist

--on his life and work

See also my eulogy (in French), “Todorov, spectateur engagé”

Interview with Marina Warner, author and literary and cultural theorist

--on myth

--on fairy tales

--on “The Leto Bundle”

--on narrative and the refugee crisis

Interview with Larry Wolff, intellectual historian

--on child abuse in Freud’s Vienna, J. M. Masson’s “The Assault on Truth”

--on “Inventing Eastern Europe”, Orientalism, Casanova, and Voltaire


1.12. Trump and Hitler: A Comparative Study in Lying (London: Palgrave Macmillan; in press).

1.11. Rethinking Ernst Bloch, eds. Henk de Berg and Cat Moir (Leiden: E. J. Brill; in press).

1.10. Tzvetan Todorov: Thinker and Humanist, eds. Henk de Berg and Karine Zbinden (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2020).

1.9. Modern German Thought from Kant to Habermas: An Annotated German-Language Reader, eds. Henk de Berg and Duncan Large (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012).

1.8. Das Ende der Geschichte und der bürgerliche Rechtsstaat. Hegel – Kojève – Fukuyama (Tübingen / Basel: Francke, 2007).

1.7. Freud’s Theory and Its Use in Literary and Cultural Studies: An Introduction (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2003; paperback edition 2004). 

1.7a. Chinese translation by Ji Guangmao: 弗洛伊德理论及其在文学研究与文化研究中的应用(Beijing: Gold Wall Press, 2010). 

1.7b. German translation by Stephan Dietrich: Freuds Psychoanalyse in der Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft. Eine Einführung (Tübingen / Basel: Francke / UTB, 2005; UTB 2661). 

1.7c. Polish translation by Maria Bralewska: Teorie Freuda a badania literaturoznawcze i kulturowe. Wprowadzenie do problematyk (Lask: Leksem, 2004).

1.7d. Dutch translation by Herman Van Den Haute: De mantel der zedelijkheid. Freud over psyche, literatuur en cultuur (Kampen: Klement, 2003). 

1.6. Rezeption und Reflexion. Zur Resonanz der Systemtheorie Niklas Luhmanns außerhalb der Soziologie, eds. Henk de Berg and Johannes Schmidt (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2000; stw 1501). 

1.5. Interpretation 2000: Positionen und Kontroversen. Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Horst Steinmetz, eds. Henk de Berg and Matthias Prangel (Heidelberg: Winter, 1999). 

1.4. Systemtheorie und Hermeneutik, eds. Henk de Berg and Matthias Prangel (Tübingen / Basel: Francke, 1997). 

1.3 Differenzen. Systemtheorie zwischen Dekonstruktion und Konstruktivismus, eds. Henk de Berg and Matthias Prangel (Tübingen / Basel: Francke, 1995). 

1.2. Kontext und Kontingenz. Kommunikationstheoretische Überlegungen zur Literaturhistoriographie. Mit einer Fallstudie zur Goethe-Rezeption des Jungen Deutschland (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1995).

1.1. Kommunikation und Differenz. Systemtheoretische Ansätze in der Literatur- und Kunstwissenschaft, eds. Henk de Berg and Matthias Prangel (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1993).