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2017 Annual Humanities Horizons Lecture

Culture and Populism: The Crisis of the Humanities and the Crisis of Western Populism

The Trinity Long Room Hub Annual Humanities Horizons Lecture for 2017 will be delivered by Professor Joep Leerssen (Chair of European Studies and Modern European Literature, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands).


The contemporary political landscape experiences the rise of what is now becoming known as “illiberalism”. A political and ideological novum, illiberalism combines two things: autocratic strongman leadership (Putin, Erdoğan, Orbán, Trump) and ethnopopulism (which voices xenophobia in terms of anti-elitism and anti-elitism in terms of xenophobia). 

The rise of “illiberalism” in political life has been accompanied by the decline of the liberal arts and of the humanities in academic life. As deconstruction and critical theory have been transmogrified into post-truth and fact-free politics, the humanities see themselves confronted with their most urgent challenge since Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy (1869). At the same time, they face an unprecedented lack of authority in the academic and public spheres. How can we rise to this challenge?


Joep Leerssen, a comparatist and cutural historian, is Professor of European Studies at the University of Amsterdam. His research moves in two fields. One is imagology, the critical study of ideas of national character, national stereoypes and national self-images (Imagology, ed.  w. Manfred Beller, 2007; Spiegelpaleis Europa, 2011). The other is the transnational history of cultural nationalism.

This topic he first pursued with relation to Ireland (Mere Irish and Fíor-Ghael, 1986; Remembrance and imagination, 1996), and then in a wider European frame (National thought in Europe, 2006; De bronnen van het vaderland, 2011).  He is the editor of the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe (forthcoming in book form 2017)

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