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Mural in Berlin

Mural in Berlin
Image Credit: Michael Zalewski

Cause for celebration: This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Basic Law, Germany’s constitution. The law, passed in 1949, governs and safeguards the underpinnings of our democracy – from the fundamental rights of citizens and residents to the organization and functions of the state and beyond to matters of defense. Academic and scientific freedom is also enshrined in the Basic Law; Article 5 reads, “Arts and sciences, research and teaching shall be free.”

Within the Berlin network of excellence, scholars and scientists consider issues of democracy from a wide range of different perspectives. What risks does our liberal democracy face? How do we strengthen bonds within society? And what role does academic freedom play for researchers who are refugees from other countries? The examples presented here show that democracy is the foundation for a strong, tolerant, and peaceful society, but it is not self-evident. Science and academia can provide important insights into where the dangers lie and what mechanisms they are based on. The research sector benefits from open dialogue with society, which enriches researchers’ work and leads to new solutions and ideas.

Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS) cluster of excellence

Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS) is one of seven clusters of excellence in Berlin that are currently receiving funding as part of the German government’s Excellence Strategy. Researchers from the fields of social sciences, history, economics, education, Islamic studies, and philosophy have joined forces in the cluster to study current disputes surrounding the liberal order and its fundamental values of freedom, equality, justice, progress, and tolerance from a historical, global, and comparative perspective. They are investigating why societies founded on a liberal order are increasingly coming under pressure worldwide despite all their achievements. What are the root causes of current conflicts? How do they differ from past crises? And what consequences does this have for democracy and the global challenges of the 21st century? Further information

“Democracy under Pressure” salon fosters dialogue

Open Space salon series

Open Space salon series
Image Credit: Berlin University Alliance

Science and academia is one of the pillars of democracy – including, and especially, amid today’s growing populism, dis- and misinformation, and the widening gap between civil society and politics. #Open Space kicks off the Berlin University Alliance salon series, which invites broad-based dialogue among stakeholders from Berlin’s academic and research sectors, government, and civil society. The series will officially start on May 6, with the theme “Democracy under Pressure.” For the first event, to be held at the Senatssaal (Senate Room) at Humboldt-Universität, Michael Roth (member of the Bundestag), Prof. Heike Klüver (Professor and Chair of Comparative Political Behavior, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Prof. Thorsten Faas (Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science, Freie Universität Berlin), and Julia Friedländer (CEO of Atlantik-Brücke) are scheduled to discuss how academia and the research sector can strengthen democracy.

Research and science for democracy with society

Prof. Dr. Swen Hutter

Prof. Dr. Swen Hutter
Image Credit: David Ausserhofer

Prof. Swen Hutter is the Director of the Center for Civil Society Research and Lichtenberg Professor in Political Sociology at Freie Universität Berlin. Within the Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS) cluster of excellence, he studies political conflicts in modern democracies. He explains here how Berlin, as a hub of science, research, and scholarship, contributes daily to strengthening and preserving democracy.

Liberal democracy thrives on conflict, on the struggle to find appropriate solutions to the big societal challenges of our time. Civil society – from protest movements in the streets to traditional association structures – is one of the key spaces where these conflicts are articulated and where they play out. In my research, I am especially interested in how civil society can be strengthened so we can engage productively in these conflicts without strong feelings translating to intolerance, lack of cooperation and ability to compromise, or worse, hate speech and violence. Within the Berlin University Alliance, I work to ensure that research in this field is not merely research about society, but rather research with and for society. Collective, transdisciplinary research and sharing of knowledge as equals hold the key to how science and academia can make a crucial contribution to strengthening and further developing our democracy. Read more here.

“Society is made by all of us”

Prof. Manuela Bojadžijev studies questions of solidarity within the research group “Transforming Solidarities. Practices and Infrastructures in the Migration Society”

Prof. Manuela Bojadžijev studies questions of solidarity within the research group “Transforming Solidarities. Practices and Infrastructures in the Migration Society”
Image Credit: Stefan Klenke

How is solidarity negotiated, made possible – or prevented? What kinds of infrastructure does it require? And how do solidaristic practices change society? These research questions are being studied by a research group called “Transforming Solidarities. Practices and Infrastructures in the Migration Society”, which is funded by the Berlin University Alliance (BUA). Researchers from various disciplines are working on the project in three fields – work, health, and housing – within the Social Cohesion research focus of the BUA’s Grand Challenge initiative.

Manuela Bojadžijev, Professor of Immigration from a Global Perspective at the Institute for European Ethnology and the Berlin Institute for Empirical Integration and Migration Research (BIM) at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), presents her work in the research group in the second installment of the HU series “The BUA and me – notes from the network of excellence.” She explains here how solidarity is connected to healthcare, climate change, and digital infrastructure, and what the “Solidarity Kiosk” is all about.

Read “The BUA and me – episode 2” with Prof. Manuela Bojadžijev

Europe at a crossroads: Tarik Abou-Chadi studies voter behavior

Prof. Tarik Abou-Chadi

Prof. Tarik Abou-Chadi
Image Credit: Anne Linke

Tarik Abou-Chadi is a political scientist at Oxford University, where he studies politics in Europe. In the summer of 2023 he also became an Einstein BUA/Oxford Visiting Fellow affiliated with political scientist Prof. Heike Klüver at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where he is in charge of a small research group of his own. The two of them are studying change in party politics in Western Europe and voter behavior. His work also explores why many disappointed people turn toward right-wing populist parties, how established parties respond to the shift, and what ramifications this has for the political landscape.

The Einstein BUA/Oxford Visiting Fellowship is awarded to outstanding scholars and scientists by the Einstein Foundation Berlin. The fellowship program gives researchers from Oxford an opportunity to supervise a working group in Berlin for three years, working on topics under the BUA’s Grand Challenge initiative.

Read a detailed portrait of Tarik Abou-Chadi and his work

Bringing the hidden to light: stories of academic freedom

Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom
Image Credit: Pngwing

What does freedom mean to us? What are the various facets involved? And how stable and resilient is the foundation of our freedom – democracy – in the face of the many crises around us today? The theme of Science Year 2024 is freedom, which invites academia and the research sector, society at large, the media, and government to explore these issues in depth.

The “Hidden Research” project initiated by the BUA takes an unusual approach to this topic, using dramatic dialogues to tell the stories of scholars and scientists from all over the world who are at risk or have fled their home countries. Researchers and projects from the humanities, social sciences, and theater studies work closely with performance artists and theater professionals such as director Aldo Spahiu. Together, they connect discourses on academic freedom with the everyday lives of people in Berlin and the public conversation, bringing conflicts between science, academia, and freedom to life. The Berlin Center for Global Engagement (BCGE), part of the BUA, is coordinating the project closely with Co2libri, another BUA project. The SCRIPTS cluster of excellence and further initiatives are also supporting the project.

The performances are based on real-life interviews with researchers. They show that academic freedom is something that has to be fought for time and again – and what happens when that freedom is lacking. The project is aimed at a broad audience, but also at the academic community and the researchers affected by restrictions and persecutions, who can shine a light on their personal experiences.

“Hidden Research” is due to start in July with performances in public spaces and at academic and scientific events. Photos, videos, and texts will also be posted on the website set up for the project. A second series of events will follow in November.

Read more about the project

Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)

Lecture series on representation of diversity in democracies

Representation of diversity in democracies

Representation of diversity in democracies
Image Credit: Pixabay / MetsikGarden

How can diversity be represented appropriately in a democracy? That is the question addressed by a new lecture series titled “It’s representation, stupid?! The promise of equality in modern political democracies” from a variety of perspectives as part of the “Open Lecture Hall” series at Freie Universität. Researchers from different disciplines give talks about how diversity can be represented politically, how political institutions and processes need to change, and where language fits in as a factor. Podium discussions are also held with representatives of political parties.

The lectures will run from 6 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday through July 3, 2024. The venue is Lecture Hall A, Otto Suhr Institute, Ihnestrasse 21, 14195 Berlin.

Further information