Published on 19.12.2022

4 SNSF Starting Grants 2022 obtained at UniFR!

The University of Fribourg is proud to have been selected as the host institution in four successful SNSF Starting Grant applications. Researchers having chosen the UniFR had a slightly higher success rate than the overall average of applicants, which is cause for celebration and is a testament to our University’s attractiveness for exciting, innovative research. The SNSF Starting Grant was implemented as a transitional measure to make up for Switzerland’s non-association with the Horizon Europe programme, and therefore researchers’ inability to apply for an ERC Starting Grant if they chose a Swiss university as their preferred host institution.

The SNSF Starting Grant 2022 was an integrative call regrouping applications for early career researchers who wanted to apply either for the ERC Starting Grant or the SNSF Eccellenza career funding. SNSF Starting Grants are aimed at very promising academics who already have postdoctoral experience in leading independent research (2-8 years after the PhD), and whose research already has had a significant impact on their field. It involves 5-year projects with a budget of up to CHF 1.8 Mio. The talented recipients of this grant at Fribourg come from a variety of horizons, from Zoology to Theology, by way of Physical Chemistry and French literature. The following lines map out two of these projects and introduce their principal investigator: Dr Nesina Grütter and Dr Timothée Léchot. 

Dr Nesina Grütter will join the Department of Biblical Studies’ renowned Dominique Barthélemy Institute in August 2023 with her team. Dr Grütter holds a PhD/ThD in Science of Religion / Hebrew Bible and Semitic Philology from the Universities of Strasbourg and Basel, and is an expert in Biblical translation from Hebrew to Ancient Greek and other Semitic languages, as well as Digital Humanities. Her project is sweeping in its diachronic span: she and her team will collect into a database and analyse chains of translations of the Septuagint —The Greek Old Testament — from the Hebrew to Ancient Greek (3rd century BCE), and on to Ethiopic and Syriac (4th-7th century CE). This is a tall order, and she proposes to make this project feasible by restricting the focus of her analysis on animal imagery and how it is translated from one culture to the other, a translation that often reveals much about the culture, traditions, and social values from which it arises and which it perpetuates. 

The digitized textual criticism of translations is a particularly arduous task when it concerns the Bible, notably due to the great number of manuscripts extant, the many various readings they offer, and the often-sensitive nature of the contents for religio-historical research and for diverse religious communities who are still influenced by these texts (in this case Beta Israel, to some extant Rabbinic Judaism, as well as Greek and Oriental Orthodox Christians). Not only this, but the technological difficulty is extreme, as Dr Grütter’s research will need to tackle three different alphabets with different systems of accentuation, a syllabic system numbering more than 200 signs, as well as two opposing writing directions, and different traditions of scientific transcriptions. She will therefore need to develop innovative technology and methodologies to process the amount and complexity of the data that her team’s will generate, notably by implementing digital data aggregation. This project is timely, too, as it is only in the past few years that several breakthroughs have permitted an in-depth digital treatment of these sources (e.g. the advances in optical handwriting recognition of Syriac manuscript or the Unicode encoding of Ethiopian languages).

Her project’s anchoring at the University of Fribourg came as an evidence: Dr Grütter will collaborate with the UniFR’s Institute of Antiquity and Byzantium and the Department of Informatics as well as the BIBLE + ORIENT Museum, with whom a special exhibition will be staged on the fruitful dialogue between material culture and the manifold changes in the translation of animal imagery. 

Dr Timothée Léchot, on his part, will begin his Starting Grant project entitled “Le Mercure de France et l’institution littéraire (1720-1820)” in January 2024 at the French Department. Dr Léchot’s expertise lies in the press of the Ancien Régime, 18th century French poetry, francophone Switzerland’s cultural and literary history, as well as, fascinatingly, the botanical activities of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who obviously was interested in all aspects of rearing, whether it be children or plants. 

Dr Léchot’s team will investigate one of France’s longest lived and most widely read periodical, the Mercure de France, through a period of political and social upheaval from the end of the Régence to the beginning of the Bourbon Restoration. This will be the first comprehensive analysis of this monthly publication. Léchot will reflect upon the intimate relationship and interdependence of journalism, literature, politics, and economics. He will adopt methodologies drawn from history, literature, and sociology, to consider the Mercure de France as a hub which had, at the same time, close ties with the royal power, but also constituted a place of dialogue between literary figures and their readers. Indeed, prominent authors of the day, such as Rousseau, Voltaire or Chateaubriand published in the Mercure, but its pages also boasted the contributions of thousands of anonymous or little-known men and women of letters. 

Dr Léchot’s goal will be to assess the functioning of such a literary institution before, during, and after the Revolution, but it will also reflect upon other key questions: what role did censorship play in shaping this publication’s contents? What relationship did the periodical entertain with the literary social landscape of the time, such as salons and academies? His research project will involve, as that of Dr Grütter, the creation of an ambitious database, which will regroup both articles and contributors to the Mercure de France, making no less than 90’000 articles available to readers. Although based at the French Department, his project will also involve sustained collaboration with the History Department. 

These researchers and their innovative projects will not only enrich the University of Fribourg's academic landscape, but also the future of their respective fields, by developing methodologies and building up databases which will be of crucial interest for their peers. We are looking forward to welcoming them. 

Interested in applying for an SNSF Starting Grant 2023? The deadline for this scheme is 1st February 2023, and the Research Promotion Service will be thrilled to assist you in any way it can during the application process, from advising you on budget and DMP to going over your research proposal. Do not hesitate to contact us at!