What is it in the world today that is making populist and authoritarian approaches to government more attractive than democracy? This is one of the core questions that will be examined by the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute, in partnership with four other leading universities and research institutes around the world, in a project on ‘Crises of Democracy through the Prism of Cultural Trauma’.
The project is one of two selected for US Mellon Foundation funding from 17 submissions to the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, a global network joining over 200 humanities centres, research libraries and related organisations.
The project leader is Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub. The other partners are the Center for the Study of Ethnicity, Citizenship and Migration at the University of Zagreb (Croatia), the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of São Paolo (Brazil), the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University (US) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (India).
Professor Ohlmeyer commented: “We are delighted to receive this very prestigious grant from the Mellon Foundation to support a project that is so relevant to the modern world. At the crux of this project are the beliefs that crises of democracy do not arise out of nowhere; that the root causes can often be traced back to ‘cultural trauma’, defined as a ‘radical and comprehensive shock to the cultural tissue of a society’; and that if a society acknowledges and addresses cultural trauma effectively it may help to sustain democracy.”
Events that both induce and respond to cultural trauma include: racialized persecution, violence and forced displacement; war and genocide; colonialism and decolonisation; nationalism, ethnocentrism and revisionist interpretations of national heroic traditions; terrorism, fundamentalism and distorted nationalism; revolution; radical economic change and market collapse; climate disaster and demographic shifts.
Given this range, the project has a broad scope as well as a contemporary frame of reference and involves non-academic as well as academic players across many disciplines including anthropology, history, cultural studies, peace studies and law. The aim is to develop ways for the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes and its member humanities centres around the world to contribute effectively to government and societal responses to the crises filling the headlines today.
Earlier this summer, participants from all five partner institutions gathered for the initial meeting at the Trinity Long Room Hub. The group also participated in a tour of Belfast and met with representatives from both traditions who discussed their own experience of cultural trauma.
Two more congregating events will be held in 2019: a cross-disciplinary summer school at the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik from 15-24 July 2019, and the concluding meeting at the Columbia Global Centre in Rio de Janeiro in December 2019.
The Dubrovnik summer school will offer 20 early career researchers from around the world the opportunity to examine the roots of historical and contemporary crises of democracy and will incorporate visits to relevant sites including Sarajevo, Srebrenica and Mostar. The call for applications to the summer school is now open and will close on 8 October 2018.
At the Rio de Janeiro meeting delegates from the partner institutions will discuss how the knowledge and skills developed over the course of the project can be embedded in their institutions, as well as disseminated in wider society, with plans to date including an open online syllabus, publications and a documentary film.