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Sarah Wolff: 'Doing research and teaching are inseparable'

Sarah Wolff has been professor of International Studies and Global Politics since 8 January. Time for a brief introduction about her field and academic interests.

'There are two subject areas that I’m involved in,' Wolff explains. 'The first is migration. When I started my research in 2004, migrants tried to jump the fences of Spanish enclaves in Morocco. That incident got me interested in how countries like Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt deal with migration, and what their cooperation is like with European countries.'

In doing so, she now looks at other cultural aspects of both Europe and North Africa. 'I became fascinated by the role of religion and secularism in international relations. Member states of the European Union often have a secular outlook, which means that in their international relations they sometimes try to direct or moderate believers. An example of this can be seen in Tunisia, where EU policy focuses primarily on the country's secular feminist movement. At the same time, this focus can exclude women in rural areas because their position is constrained by religious arguments that legitimise patriarchal structures.’

Inside and outside Europe

On top of that, within the European Union alone there are 27 different definitions of the separation of religion and state. 'So how does religion affect international relations?’ wonders Wolff. 'It is important that not only our students but also the general public learn more about this. Scientific research can help with this, so I will continue to focus on these kinds of issues.'

In doing so, she emphatically turns her gaze to the world outside Europe. 'The social model of European countries is no longer the prime model. Countries like China and Russia are competing for the biggest role on the international stage. It’s important to question why that European model is so contested. Why was European statehood the "normative power" 20 years ago, but not any longer? If we want to stay relevant, we need to start researching that.'

Lectures and research

The importance of research is also reflected in Wolff's lectures. She sees doing research and lecturing as inseparable. ‘Through my research, I learn how to become a better lecturer. It also allows me to train my students better in their research skills. This is useful not only for a possible academic career, but for any professional path they may take. One of the goals I have set for myself is to empower students to learn to know and understand the world better. It doesn’t matter to me if they are doing fieldwork, conducting interviews or learning a new language. I want to give students every possible skill that helped me during my own research. For example, I want to teach them to engage not only with Europe, but also with the world beyond. That way, I hope to learn from the research of my students who ask the right critical question and use different research methods.’

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