Cosmopolitanism in one Kolleg
rnDuring a lively Fellows’ summer the director reveals he was a witness to historic events
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From the image of the father in the early days of West Germany and women’s rights in Iran to »cosmopolitanism in one country«: the themes explored of late at the Goethe University’s Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften have been almost as diverse as the group of scholars it has hosted. The range of research fields represented by Fellows and guest academics visiting the Institute over the past summer included philosophy, history, jurisprudence and political science. One visitor was Seyla Benhabib, Professor of Political Theory and Philosophy at Yale University, who last year received the Ernst Bloch Prize and was honored as a »political philosopher of international standing.« At times over the summer, the Forschungskolleg in Bad Homburg hosted more than ten Fellows simultaneously, and as a result the guesthouse was often filled to capacity.

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»We are heading in the right direction. I am very pleased to see so many interesting research projects and hear so many stimulating discussions,« says Professor Spiros Simitis, Director of the Forschungskolleg, which began operating as an Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in the spring of 2009. Professor Simitis is himself a legal scholar whose specialist fields include family law and he was able to contribute to a recent discussion at the Kolleg not only as an expert but also as a witness to historical events. The discussion in question took place in the context of a public lecture entitled »Madam Judge’s Smile—the end of patriarchy and the search for democracy in the early Federal Republic of Germany« held by Professor Till van Rahden, one of the Institute’s Fellows. The focus of this lecture was a judgment handed down by the West German Constitutional Court in 1959, which deemed the principle by which fathers were accorded ultimate decision-making power within the family—the so-called »paternal casting vote«—to be unconstitutional. At the time Simitis was working on the research staff of a group of jurists campaigning for the abolition of this paternal privilege.

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Kolleg Director Professor Spiros Simitis (right) gives a contemporary witness’s report during the lecture
rnby Professor Till van Rahden (left) on a ground-breaking decision by the German Constitutional Court.

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The analysis of this judgment from 1959 is part of a research project that Till van Rahden summarizes under the heading of »How Daddy Learned Democracy.« A historian at the University of Montreal, van Rahdan spent more than two months working in Bad Homburg at the invitation of the cluster of excellence »The Formation of Normative Orders.« The Iranian attorney and human rights activist Shadi Sadr was also a guest of the Institute for some six months, during which she was provided with financial support by the Hertie Foundation and the Stiftung zur Förderung der internationalen wissenschaftlichen Beziehungen der Goethe-Universität. Her work during this time focused on the relationship of the Iranian women’s movement to the so-called Green Movement, the protest and reform movement that emerged in 2009 as a reaction to disputed elections. Sadr has been arrested several times in Iran. She has received numerous awards, including the International Women of Courage Award from the American State Department.

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The political philosophers Professor David Owen from the University of Southampton and Professor Peter Niesen from the TU Darmstadt and member of the »Normative Orders« cluster of excellence spent several months working on a shared thematic field. The project, which is being funded by the cluster, has been given the general title of »Cosmopolitanism in One Country,« which refers to an idea that mediates between a world consisting of circumscribed states and the concept of a world state as an overarching political community. This type of cosmopolitanism would be characterized by an increasingly transnational movement involving the participation of all citizens, even in places where they are not recognized as national subjects. Currently existing municipal voting rights for local residents are already pointing in this direction.

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Apart from this cluster of excellence, it is above all the research group Justitia Amplificata that has been taking advantage of the possibilities offered by the Kolleg. Both groups extended invitations to Seyla Benhabib to come to Bad Homburg, and during her time there she also spoke at the cluster conference on human rights held at the university. Her stay was made possible by the financial support of the Alfons und Gertrud Kassel Stiftung. The Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften looks forward to future Fellows also providing impulses for research and teaching in Frankfurt. The first new guest scholars already arrived in September and from October onwards the Kolleg is again offering public lectures with its series »Commodity Aesthetics—new perspectives on consumption, culture and art.«

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Bernd Frye

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(UniReport - Goethe University - No. 5 - October 14, 2010)

(FKH - 14.10.2010)