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State Minister Sibler presents Federal Service Cross to Professor Barbara Zehnpfennig

In Munich on 7 July 2021, Minister of Science Bernd Sibler handed over the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to the political scientist Professor Barbara Zehnpfennig. She had been awarded the honour by Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier for her great service to research and teaching on democracy and the constitutional state, and to the public discourse about these pivotal topics.

Wissenschaftsminister Bernd Sibler und Frau Prof. Dr. Barbara Zehnpfennig (Foto: StMWK/Axel König)

Minister of Science Bernd Sibler and Professor Barbara Zehnpfennig, Photo: StMWK/Axel König

'Again and again, in many topics, it becomes abundantly clear that societal discussion on the basis of a scientifically sound debate is one of the keystones of a functioning democracy. You have been exemplifying that correlation in your professional activity for many years: your contributions to current debates about political and theory-of-democracy problems are available to a large section of the general public. You thus make an intensive contribution to the dialogue researchers carry on with policymakers and society', emphasised Minister of Science and the Arts Bernd Sibler in his eulogy.

University President Professor Ulrich Bartosch added: 'Both on behalf of the University of Passau and on a very personal level, I would like to express my hearty congratulations to our colleague Professor Zehnpfennig on her Federal Service Cross. It is a very apt, honourable award for this thoroughly committed researcher. As an excellent scientist, Professor Zehnpfennig does not shy away from intervening in the public political discourse and helping people to understand the fundamentals of our constitutional democracy. We are grateful to have her in our ranks here at the University of Passau.'

Having studied philosophy, sociology, German studies and history in Berlin, Professor Barbara Zehnpfennig obtained her doctor's degree in 1983 with a thesis on Plato and Fichte. In 1999 she did her post-doctoral thesis at the Helmut Schmidt University of the Federal Armed Forces in Hamburg with a treatise on Hitler's Mein Kampf. After various teaching posts, she was appointed in 1999 to a professorship of political science, political theory and history of ideas at the University of Passau, and she has held that post until today. In 2017 she was appointed a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BadW).

The emphases in Professor Zehnpfennig's research are on ancient philosophy, American constitutional thinking, totalitarianism and extremism, and above all National Socialism. Other topics are cultural, educational and legal philosophy. For many years, until 2015, she was chairwoman of the German Society for the Investigation of Political Thinking, and also one of the editors of the periodical "Political Thinking".

Great commitment against extremism and racism

'At all times, you have campaigned with great commitment against extremism and racism and in favour of democracy and human dignity', emphasised State Minister Sibler. He said that this could be seen particularly clearly in Professor Zehnpfennig's studies of Plato's political thinking and Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, and in view of her memberships of the scientific advisory committee at the Hannah Arendt Institute for Research into Totalitarianism (until July 2017) and the advisory committee of the memorial at Berlin-Hohenschönhausen (2017 - 2018).

He also underlined the impact Professor Zehnpfennig had on young people as a role model. 'Your research and teaching on democracy and the constitutional state have also made an impression on students at the University of Passau and scholars at the German Academic Scholarship Foundation', he said. 'The impact you have in research, teaching and transfer is more than just awesome!'

Source: Press release of the Bavarian State Government from July 7th, 2021

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