The Lessing Society was founded in 1966 at the University of Cincinnati by Gottfried F. Merkel and Guy Stern as the American Lessing Society; in 1973 it was renamed the Lessing Society due to the internationality of its members. It was the first Lessing Society worldwide and at the same time one of the most prominent institutions of enlightenment research in the USA; one of its presidents was Ruth Klüger.
From the outset, the Society's goal was to deepen Lessing's understanding as the controversial critic and committed theater man, the European Enlightenment philosopher, and cosmopolitan. Thus she committed herself to keeping the work of this 'German Voltaire', who sought to assert the liberal values of the epoch in theory and practice, present and to constantly expose the living force of his thinking anew. Lessing's commitment to religious tolerance and his intellectual penetration of the idea of tolerance - "tolerance" understood in the sense of "recognition, respect" - played an essential role in this. A second aspect that shaped the work of society was and is the expansion of the concept of literature: The diversity of Lessing's intellectual interests, the entire spectrum of his scholarship were to be explored; not only his poetic work, but also his literary criticism, art theory and philosophical writings, his contributions to philology, medieval studies and archaeology, his work as a publicist and reviewer, his commitment to theatre and acting, in short: his multifaceted role in the debate culture of the Enlightenment. A third aspect is the opening of the focus beyond Lessing: from the very beginning, the Lessing Society devoted itself to the context of the European Enlightenment and paid attention not only to Lessing but also to other pioneering German-speaking authors of the epoch.
Today, the Lessing Society is an international scholarly association that aims to carry this tradition into the 21st century. Lessing, for whom the search for truth and the respect for the convictions of others belong inseparably together, meets the challenges of pluralistic postmodernism, thus the ideal horizon for the scientific work of the Society can be outlined. It supports and promotes research on Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and beyond that on the literature and culture of the Enlightenment. From there, the concrete tasks of society are determined: to disseminate scientific research on Lessing and his literary sphere of influence, research on the German (and European) Enlightenment and information on the state of scientific work in this field, as well as to create a discussion forum for research into the 18th century.
The Lessing Society is in contact with other organisations such as the Wolfenbüttel Lessing Academy, the Lessing Museum and the Lessing Reception Centre in Kamenz, the Lessing Society in Hamburg, the Society for Research into the 18th Century, the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, the German Studies Association and the Modern Language Association, and is thus in a position to establish links between scholars working in the field of German-language literature in the context of the European Enlightenment. She organizes lecture series and international scientific symposia. She has been publishing the Lessing Yearbook since 1969; the Yearbook has been accompanied by numerous conference proceedings which are recognised as milestones in Lessing philology and trendsetters in the development of the current Lessing image.
The members of the Lessing Society receive - at irregular intervals - the Newsletter Notes & Notices, which informs about the activities and current concerns of the Society and in which Calls for Papers are published.
Prof. Dr. Monika Fick: President of the Lessing Society 2008-2012; Managing Officer and editor of the Lessing Yearbook 2011-2016; Board member and member of the editorial board since 2017.
Further information and an application form can be found on the homepage of the Lessing Society.
The management of the Lessing Society 2011-2016 was supported by:
proRWTH - Friends and Sponsors of the RWTH Aachen e.V.