Leipzig University
#21 Overall Influence

Leipzig University

University in Leipzig, Germany

About This School

How does this school stack up?

By James Barham, PhD

As with several other universities on this list, the founding of the University of Leipzig occurred in the context of the gradual coalescence in Central Europe of numerous principalities out of the slow disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire. Numerous semi-autonomous duchies, principalities, and kingdoms (small, medium, and large) were brought into being by this historic political transformation, and many of the dukes, princes, and kings who governed them coveted the prestige of having a university on their own territory.

Charles University in Prague (in what is now the Czech Republic) led the way in 1348, followed in close succession by the Jagiellonian University in Kraków (in what is now Poland) in 1364; the University of Vienna (in what is now Austria) in 1365; the University of Heidelberg (in what is now Germany proper) in 1386; the University of Cologne (also in Germany) in 1388; the University of Budapest (in what is now Hungary) in 1395; and the University Würzburg (in Germany) in 1402. (Note that two other early universities—that of Pécs, in Hungary, founded in 1367, and that of Erfurt, in Germany, founded in 1379—later sustained long interruptions in their operation; for this reason, they are usually not considered continuous with the modern universities now located in those two cities.)

Being founded in 1409, Leipzig is thus merely (!) the eighth-oldest university in Central Europe, and the fourth-oldest on the soil of the modern, re-unified Federal Republic of Germany. It lies in the German state or Land of Saxony, along the upper reaches of the Elbe River is the southeastern part of the country, north of the Czech Republic. Between 1949 and 1990, it was a part of the Russian-dominated German People’s Republic (East Germany). During this period, the University of Leipzig was officially known as Karl-Marx University. The city of Leipzig, with a population of a little more than 500,000 souls, was the second-largest urban center in former East Germany; however, it now finds itself only the tenth-largest city in reunified Germany.

Nevertheless, the city of Leipzig, which has been a trans-European trading hub since medieval times, has made a relatively robust economic recovery from its former Communist condition. Today, it is a noted cultural center, with a venerable and thriving symphony orchestra (where J.S. Bach once worked) and a grand opera company dating back to 1693. Sometimes called the “boomtown” of Germany, in 2013 a well-known German marketing firm rated Leipzig Germany’s “best-loved” and “most-livable” city.

The University of Leipzig has an extraordinarily rich roster of eminent historical figures who either studied or taught within its walls. Even a very partial list ought not to omit the following.

During the sixteenth century, there were the astronomer Tycho Brahe and the mining engineer and metallurgist, Georgius Agricola (Georg Bauer).

During the seventeenth century, we find the scientist and inventor, Otto von Guericke; the jurist and legal theorist, Samuel von Pufendorf; and the philosophers Christian Thomasius and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

During the eighteenth century—the century of the Aufklärung (Enlightenment)—we have the:

  • Composers Georg Philipp Telemann & Johann Sebastian Bach’s sons, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
  • Playwright, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
  • Poet, Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock
  • Poet, Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg)
  • Poet, novelist, essayist, scientist, and foremost German man of letters, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

During the nineteenth century, we may mention the:

  • Composers, Robert Schumann & Richard Wagner
  • Novelist, Theodor Fontane
  • Philosophers, Gustav Fechner & Hermann Lotze
  • Psychologists, Wilhelm Wundt & Edward Titchener
  • Founder of academic sociology, Émile Durkheim
  • Philosophers, Ferdinand de Saussure & Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Mathematician, Felix Klein

During the twentieth century, this already highly distinguished list picks up even more steam, with such names as those of the:

  • Philosophers, Edmund Husserl, Arnold Gehlen, & Ernst Bloch
  • Psychologist and theoretical linguist, Karl Bühler
  • Painter, Hans Hartung
  • Poet, satirist, and children’s author, Erich Kästner
  • Memoirist and novelist, Hans Carossa
  • Novelists, Uwe Johnson & Sándor Márai
  • Physicists, Ludwig Boltzmann, Edward Teller, Julius Lilienfeld, & Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker
  • Pioneering Polish anthropologist, Bronisław Malinowski
  • Notable French historian, Marc Bloch
  • American classicist and popular author of works on Greek and Roman mythology, Edith Hamilton
  • Czech philosopher, statesman, and first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
  • Politician and Chancellor of Germany since 2005, Angela Merkel

Finally, Leipzig can boast of 18 Nobel Prize–winners, including:

  • Physicists, Werner Heisenberg, Isidor Rabi, & Sun-itiro Tomonaga
  • Chemists, Wilhelm Ostwald, Paul Debye, & Walther Nernst
  • Physiologist, Paul Ehrlich
  • Historian, Theodor Mommsen (for literature)

What is Leipzig University known for?

#8 World Rank
#8 World Rank
#9 World Rank
#10 World Rank
Religious Studies
#13 World Rank
#14 World Rank
#16 World Rank
#17 World Rank
#17 World Rank
#20 World Rank
#25 World Rank
Earth Sciences
#30 World Rank
#44 World Rank
#82 World Rank
Social Work
#83 World Rank
#87 World Rank
#97 World Rank
#114 World Rank
Computer Science
#130 World Rank
Political Science
#186 World Rank
Criminal Justice
#491 World Rank

Influential People

Who are Leipzig University's Most influential alumni?

Leipzig University's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Psychology, Sociology, and Philosophy. Leipzig University’s most academically influential people include Émile Durkheim, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Edmund Husserl.

Émile Durkheim
Émile Durkheim

French sociologist

view profile
Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche

German philosopher, poet, composer, cultural critic, and classical philologist

view profile
Edmund Husserl
Edmund Husserl

German philosopher, known as the father of phenomenology

view profile
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

German writer, artist and politician

view profile
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

German mathematician and philosopher

view profile
Bronisław Malinowski
Bronisław Malinowski

Polish anthropologist and ethnographer based in England and the USA

view profile
Edward Teller
Edward Teller

Hungarian-American nuclear physicist

view profile
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure

Swiss linguist

view profile
Tycho Brahe
Tycho Brahe

Danish astronomer and alchemist, 1546–1601

view profile
Ferdinand Tönnies
Ferdinand Tönnies

German sociologist

view profile
Max Müller
Max Müller

German-born philologist and orientalist

view profile
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling

German philosopher

view profile