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Dies academicus 2023: the University of Basel awards seven honorary doctorates

Andrea Schenker-Wicki, President of the University of Basel, during her speech at the Dies academicus 2023.
“We want to use teaching, research and dialogue with society to ensure that we can all benefit from the advantages of AI.” The President Prof. Andrea Schenker-Wicki during her speech at the Dies academicus 2023. (Photo: University of Basel, Christian Flierl)

At the Dies Academicus, the University of Basel awarded honorary doctorates to seven figures from academia and society. These figures include the pastor and human rights activist Hans Lutz, the lawyer Ursula Cassani Bossy, the molecular biologist Stephan Urban and the scholar of literary studies Sigrid Weigel. Further honorary doctorates were awarded to the malaria researcher Kelly Chibale, the economist Kai A. Konrad and the social psychologist Vincent Yzerbyt.

24 November 2023

Andrea Schenker-Wicki, President of the University of Basel, during her speech at the Dies academicus 2023.
“We want to use teaching, research and dialogue with society to ensure that we can all benefit from the advantages of AI.” The President Prof. Andrea Schenker-Wicki during her speech at the Dies academicus 2023. (Photo: University of Basel, Christian Flierl)

The Faculty of Theology awarded an honorary doctorate to Pastor Hans Lutz. In his more than 50 years at the Basel Mission and its successor organization Mission 21 in Hong Kong, he has worked tirelessly as a bridge-builder within global Christianity, using his presence as an advocate in the world of work to highlight the relevance of the Christian message for social justice.

The Faculty of Law awarded its honorary doctorate to the Geneva emeritus professor Professor Ursula Cassani Bossy, who, throughout her professional life, has made an outstanding contribution to the dogmatic reappraisal, penetration and development of Swiss and international economic crime law.

The Faculty of Medicine awarded an honorary doctorate to the microbiologist Professor Stephan Urban, whose ground-breaking discoveries on the molecular virology of the Hepatitis B and D viruses led to the development of the first drug for chronic Hepatitis D.

The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences awarded an honorary doctorate to the scholar of literary studies Professor Sigrid Weigel, thus recognizing her as one of the driving forces of cultural studies today. She has made a crucial contribution to the removal of methodological and professional barriers in German studies while embodying in exemplary fashion the role of the politically and socially engaged intellectual.

The Faculty of Science awarded an honorary doctorate to the Zambian chemist Professor Kelly Chibale, one of the most influential scientists in the research and development of new drugs for malaria, tuberculosis and understudied tropical diseases. The researcher, who is currently working in South Africa, was part of the Next Generation Scientist program run by Novartis and the University of Basel for over a decade.

German economist Professor Kai A. Konrad was pleased to accept the honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Business and Economics. He was recognized for his fundamental contributions to strategy in the context of tournaments, with applications in industrial and political economics. He was also honored for his work as an economic policy advisor on topics including European national debt and the federal organization of Germany.

The Faculty of Psychology awarded its honorary doctorate to Professor Vincent Yzerbyt. In his research on social cognition, the relationship between groups, and statistics, the Belgian social psychologist demonstrated the influence of group affiliations and majority-minority constellations on our thoughts, feelings and behavior.

Dies talk on intelligences

President Professor Andrea Schenker-Wicki’s speech for the Dies Academicus focused on “intelligences” – a topic that, with the advent of easily available AI applications, such as chatbots, poses numerous challenges. The president urged universities to allow their researchers, students and staff to embrace the potential of artificial intelligence, while also stressing the need for accelerated research into the ethical, legal, economic and social issues relating to the application of AI and the development of use standards.

Alumni Prize for Niklaus Peter

Niklaus Peter
Rev. Dr. Niklaus Peter receives the Alumni Award 2023 from Dr. Roland Bühlmann, President of AlumniBasel. (Photo: University of Basel, Christian Flierl)

The University of Basel’s Alumni Prize 2023 was awarded to Dr. Niklaus Peter, now widely known as the pastor of the Fraumünster in Zurich, the presenter of “Wort zum Sonntag” on Swiss TV and a columnist for the magazine of the Tages-Anzeiger paper.

Peter received the prize for his many years as an outstanding mediator between theology studies, the reformed church, culture and intellectual education in Switzerland.

University of Basel prizes

Katharina Merian
Dr. des. Katharina Merian was awarded this year's Amerbach Prize. (Photo: University of Basel, Christian Flierl)

A number of other honors were conferred at the Dies Academicus. The Amerbach Prize, sponsored by the University of Basel, was awarded at the recommendation of the Faculty of Theology to Dr. Katharina Merian. She received the prize for her doctoral thesis on the life and work of the Brazilian human rights activist and city councilor Marielle Franco, who was murdered in 2018.

The University of Basel’s Sports Prize, sponsored by Baloise, went to Madlaina Matter, a master’s student of human medicine at the University of Basel. For many years, Matter has played in the Volleyball National League A for Sm’Aesch Pfeffingen; she is also a member of the Elite National Team, which qualified for the round of 16 at the European Championship in 2023, the first time in the team’s history.

Dr. Djamila Batache received the Emilie Louise Frey Prize for the promotion of young female scientists, sponsored by the Basel chapter of the Swiss Association of University Women (SVA), for her doctoral dissertation titled “Artificial Intelligence in Medicine from the Perspective of Criminal Liability” at the Faculty of Law.

Faculty prizes

The following faculty prizes were presented to a number of junior researchers for outstanding dissertations and studies:

  • The Faculty of Theology prize to Dr. Florence Isabelle Häneke
  • The Faculty of Law Prize, sponsored by the law firm Vischer, to Dr. Lorenz Lauer
  • The Faculty of Medicine Prize for the best PhD dissertation, sponsored by the Margot and Erich Goldschmidt & Peter René Jacobson Foundation, to Dr. Alexandros Polymeris; the Faculty of Medicine Prize for best dissertation written to obtain a medical doctorate, sponsored by the University Hospitals, to Dr. Joan Elias Walter
  • The Humanities Prize of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, sponsored by the L. and Th. La Roche Foundation, to Dr. Sina Dell‘Anno
  • The Faculty of Science prize, sponsored by Adobe Research (Schweiz) AG, to Dr. Gustavo Aguilar Ortega and Dr. Katharina Laubscher
  • The Faculty of Business and Economics prize, sponsored by the Basler Kantonalbank Foundation for the promotion of economics research and teaching at the University of Basel, to Dr. Julia Lisa Starzetz
  • The Faculty of Psychology’s Steven Karger Prize, sponsored by the medical and scientific publisher Karger, to Christiane Büttner, MSc

Other honors

Dr. Céline Stäuble received the prize sponsored by Professor lrma Tschudi-Steiner for the best pharmaceutical dissertation written by a scientist.

The Young Talent Prize of the student association “Schwizerhüsli”, sponsored by the Ferdinand Neeracher-Pfrunder Foundation, was awarded to Isabel Altmann, MTh, MLaw, of the Faculty of Theology.

Further information

Matthias Geering, University of Basel, Head of Communications & Marketing, phone: +41 61 207 35 75, mobile: +41 79 269 70 71, email: matthias.geering@unibas.ch


Photos of the ceremony at Basel’s Martinskirche will be available in the Media Database from Friday afternoon, 24 November 2023.

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