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In my German class we were asked to deliver a little "Vortrag über ein wissenschaftliches Thema". I was surprised when more than the half of the students talked about themes which, in English, cannot precisely be deemed scientific. Does the word "Wissenschaft" posses a broader meaning than "science"?

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In Deutschland gilt Theologie als Wissenschaft. – user unknown Jun 15 '13 at 21:38
Note, that the English word science can also be used in a way that includes the humanities, social sciences and even theology. – Wrzlprmft Jun 15 '13 at 23:34
@user unknown: Die Aussage finde ich zu pauschal. Natürlich ist in der persönlichen, unreflektierten Definition vieler (z. B.: Wissenschaft ist, was an Universitäten betrieben wird) Theologie enthalten und historisch wurde es auch jahrhundertelang allgemein als Wissenschaft angesehen, aber ich wage schon zu behaupten, dass es heute nur noch sehr wenige gibt, die sich einmal mit einer sinnvollen Abgrenzung des Begriffs Wissenschaft auseinandergesetzt haben, und Theologie weiterhin hinzuzählen – ausgenommen solche, die sie nur als Wissenschaft einstufen, um sie an Universitäten zu halten. – Wrzlprmft Jun 15 '13 at 23:46
@Wrzlprmft: In erster Linie sind mal die gewählten Landespolitiker, die diese Propaganda weiter alimentieren zu nennen. In Deutschland ist Theologie also ganz offiziell Wissenschaft. Ausnahme sind die, die das anrüchig finden. – user unknown Jun 16 '13 at 15:58
@user unknown: Politiker entscheiden (zum Glück) nicht darüber, was man offiziell Wissenschaft nennen darf (oder generell über Begriffe), sondern höchstens, was an Hochschulen gelehrt wird (auch wenn das vielleicht einige als äquivalent ansehen). Es gibt überhaupt niemanden, der derartige Dinge offiziell festlegt. – Wrzlprmft Jun 16 '13 at 17:16

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

If you take the definition given in the english wikipedia

Science […] is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.

then the word science can be directly translated to Wissenschaft.

If you take a smaller definition, also given in wikipedia

It is often treated as synonymous with 'natural and physical science', and thus restricted to those branches of study that relate to the phenomena of the material universe and their laws, sometimes with implied exclusion of pure mathematics.

then the word science can be directly translated to Naturwissenschaft. (The inclusion of biology, medicine and its branches depends on the same interpretation in German and English.)

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It's illuminating indeed, however, I cannot ask everyone I speak German with, which is the definition that he or she takes. In the mean, what do people understand by "Wissenschaft", first or second definition? – c.p. Jun 16 '13 at 18:17
It’s all in the answer: The first definiton translates to Wissenschaft, the second to Naturwissenschaft. – Wrzlprmft Jun 16 '13 at 19:01
@c.p. If you encounter the words in German, it's relatively clear, what is meant. If you want to use them for yourself, you have to ask yourself what you want to express exactly and then choose accordingly. – Toscho Jun 17 '13 at 6:45
@c.p.: There are two different definitions provided in this answer for science in English. There is no ambiguity in German with Wissenschaft. – O. R. Mapper Mar 15 at 11:23

Wissenschaft is certainly much broader than science because wissenschaft includes humanities disciplines like history, anthropology, literature studies, religious studies, translation studies and so on. Humanities tend to have a relativistic approach to knowledge (truth is always relative to context) whereas sciences tend to have a positivistic approach (absolute truth exists and can be discovered).

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Yes, Wissenschaft comprises the humanities as well as the sciences. There is no exact equivalent to the term science in German; Wissenschaft is subdivided into overlapping fields such as Naturwissenschaften, Lebenswissenschaften, Gesellschaftswissenschaften, Geisteswissenschaften.

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Lebenswissenschaften are a subset of Naturwissenschaften. You just miss Mathematics and Informatics, which don't fall into any of these categories. The fields don't overlap, but single subjects fall into several fields. – Toscho Jun 17 '13 at 6:48
Well, computer science is a branch of mathematics, which in turn is considered a Geisteswissenschaft by some and a dedicated Formalwissenschaft by others. – chirlu Jun 17 '13 at 7:32
If you regard Mathematics as subjective, you can consider it a Geisteswissenschaft. If not, it's a field of itself, let's call it Formalwissenschaft. – Toscho Jun 17 '13 at 12:35
@Toscho... not really important nit pick... how do Geistenwissenschaften and for example Sozialwissenschaften not overlap? – Emanuel Jun 17 '13 at 16:21
@O.R.Mapper That's what I mean. If you regard mathematical objects as man-made models and as such subjective, yes, then it's Geisteswissenschaft. But if you regard mathematical relations as universal, human independant relations between mathematical (possibly man-made) objects that every human or other being can discover, then it's not a Geisteswissenschaft. – Toscho Mar 15 at 11:54

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