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University of Basel

27 November 2015

Dies Academicus: The University of Basel Awards Seven Honorary Doctorates

The University of Basel celebrated its Dies Academicus with a traditional ceremony in Basel’s St. Martin’s Church. (Image: University of Basel, Peter Schnetz)
The University of Basel celebrated its Dies Academicus with a traditional ceremony in Basel’s St. Martin’s Church. (Image: University of Basel, Peter Schnetz)

Today, Friday, November 27 2015, the University of Basel celebrated its Dies Academicus with a traditional ceremony in Basel’s St. Martin’s Church. Seven individuals were awarded honorary doctorates during the ceremony: Ghanaian theologian Mercy Amba Oduyoye, lawyer Thomas Geiser, doctor and researcher Philip Leder, publisher KD Wolff, evolutionary biologist Herbert Jäckle, economist Ernst R. Berndt and psychologist and placebo researcher Irving Kirsch.

At the ceremony in St. Martin’s Church, rector Prof. Andrea Schenker-Wicki made a speech to mark the university’s birthday in which she explored an idea taken from economics and social sciences, a discussion on the art of decision making. Drawing on findings from neuroeconomics, neuropsychology and medicine, she considered the issues that influence our decisions and decision-making processes and how to make good decisions.

One woman and six men

The central focus of the Dies Academicus was the conferral of honorary doctorates by the seven faculties of the University of Basel.

The Faculty of Theology bestowed an honorary doctoral degree on Ghanaian theologian and ecumenist Prof. Dr. Mercy Amba Oduyoye, founding director of the Institute of African Women in Religion and Culture at Trinity Theological Seminary in Legon (Ghana). Oduyoye is the founder, mentor and most prominent voice of an African feminist theology. She has inspired the creation of an African network of academic and critical female theologians, and bolstered African theological perspectives through her engagement in the ecumenical movement, and her publications and teaching.

The honorary doctorate awarded by the Faculty of Law went to Prof. Dr. Thomas Geiser, a professor of Private and Commercial Law at the University of St. Gallen, who also serves as a judge in the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland. As both an academic and judge, Geiser has strongly influenced labor and family law in Switzerland, and thanks to his wide-ranging engagement has strengthened the dialog between theory and practice.

The Faculty of Medicine awarded its honorary doctorate to Prof. Dr. Philip Leder of Harvard Medical School. Leder is a medical doctor and researcher known for his pivotal work in molecular biology and genetics research, and is one of the pioneers of modern molecular biomedicine. An inspirational mentor, he has trained an entire generation of scientists and given them the crucial first impulse that now lends their research momentum.

Publisher and developmental scientist honored

The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences’ honorary doctorate was conferred on publisher Karl Dietrich (KD) Wolff. Through his publishing house Stroemfeld/Roter Stern, based in Frankfurt am Main and Basel, Wolff has helped to shape the profound social regeneration of the last few decades. The developments in editorial practice initiated by him have led to a fundamental overhaul of how we view text. Through his work in publishing, and over a timespan of 45 years, Wolff has had a significant influence on debates in the humanities on scientific publishing and many other subject areas.

The Faculty of Science awarded an honorary doctorate to developmental biologist and former vice-president of the Max Planck Society Prof. Dr. Herbert Jäckle, who as an internationally recognized expert has made crucial insights into embryonic development. Jäckle has championed the improvement of the environment for scientific research through many national and international committees, and in particular has contributed significantly to the development of a strong location for the life sciences through his commitment on the advisory board of the Biozentrum of the University of Basel.

Honorary doctorates for econometrician and placebo researcher

Prof. Dr. Ernst R. Berndt received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Business and Economics for his work on the measurement of output and prices in economic sectors with high levels of technological development. Berndt advocates a practical teaching approach in econometrics that comprises a wide spectrum of topics, such as energy supply, healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry. Berndt has been active on numerous public and private advisory boards, and contributed in particular to the review of regulations on the approval of medicinal products.

With the conferral of an honorary doctorate, the Faculty of Psychology honored Prof. Dr. Irving Kirsch for his outstanding accomplishments in the study of the influence of expectations on the effects of treatment. He has contributed significantly to a definition of the main explanatory model of the placebo effect and its research in clinical and healthy populations. Furthermore, he has lobbied to make these findings available to the public and professionals in order to improve the treatment of psychiatric disorders.

University and faculty prizes

In addition to the honorary doctorates, a number of other accolades were granted at the Dies Academicus to junior researchers in recognition of outstanding theses. The Amerbach Prize, donated by the University of Basel, was given to Dr. Ridvan Askin for his dissertation titled ‘Narrative and Becoming: Differential Narratology’. The following faculty prizes were awarded:

  • the Faculty of Theology prize to Dr. Michael Jonas
  • the Faculty of Law prize to Dr. Linda Kubli
  • the Faculty of Medicine prize to Dr. Maria Rubini Gimenez
  • the Humanities Prize of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences to Dr. Sandra Schlumpf
  • the Faculty of Science prize to Dr. Christian Arquint, and the Irma-Tschudi-Steiner Prize to Dr. Julia Spöndlin Allen
  • the Faculty of Business and Economics prize to Dr. Markus Ludwig
  • the Steven Karger Prize of the Faculty of Psychology to Dr. Sebastian Gluth, Dr. Angela Heck and Dr. Janina Hoffmann

The Emilie-Louise-Frey Prize, which supports junior female scientists, went to Dr. Anna Petrig, and Esther Ineichen, MSc, was honored with the Young Talent Prize from the student association ‘Schwizerhüsli’.

Finally, the University’s Special Prize, sponsored by Basler Versicherung, was awarded to Simon Niepmann and Lucas Tramèr, who achieved several outstanding sporting successes in 2015 in the coxless fours rowing.

Alumni Prize awarded for the first time

Dr. Eva Herzog, councilor of the canton of Basel-Stadt and director of the department of finance, received the Alumni Prize of the University of Basel, awarded for the first time this year. Through this prize, AlumniBasel, the alumni association of the University of Basel will honor those alumni who have excelled through outstanding accomplishments in society, science, economics and culture, and who have thus contributed in a special way to the positive image of the University of Basel in the public eye. The prize is endowed with CHF 10,000 and will be awarded annually at the Dies Academicus of the University of Basel.


Further information

Matthias Geering, University of Basel, Head of Communications & Marketing, phone: +41 61 267 35 75, mobile: +41 79 269 70 71, email: matthias.geering@unibas.ch

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