The Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften: Projects

»Democratic Vistas: Reflections on the Atlantic World«
begining 2021

For the past one hundred years, the Atlantic World and democracy have been twinned concepts. In 1917, just before the United States of America entered the Great War, the American journalist Walter Lippmann coined the term »Atlantic World« to conjure a transatlantic community committed to democracy and freedom. The democratic Atlantic originally served as a bulwark against an aggressive Germany that had started the First World War and was soon to begin a second one. After 1945, the idea of the Atlantic World offered a path for (West) Germany into an international community based on the very ideals Germany had tried to destroy.

Meanwhile, »the West« began to reflect on its legacies of enslavement and colonization. The result was a shattered self-image, its broken pieces bespeaking a history of violence, exploitation, and exclusion. From its ashes emerged a more sober self-understanding of the Atlantic World. No longer limited to the alliance between Western Europe and North America, the Atlantic World is finally grasped to comprise a North-South axis as well as an East-West axis. Yet, despite this reckoning, the original idea still stands: understood as a project, the Atlantic World remains committed to the idea of democracy.

In recent years, democracy has come under stress. The forces of illiberalism are undermining democracy’s norms, forms, and institutions. On both sides of the Atlantic, democracy turns out to be more fragile than many had come to believe. Between 1990 and now, we have moved from starry-eyed visions of a liberal-democratic »end of history« to the fear that the age of liberal democracy may be coming to its end.

The FKH research focus, »Democratic Vistas: Reflections on the Atlantic World,« responds to these challenges by exploring the Atlantic World’s potentials and limitations in addressing the future of democracy. We take as our guide the American poet Walt Whitman, who, in his 1871 essay Democratic Vistas, recognized democracy’s contingency. Democracy is an experiment in the pursuit of freedom and equality. Yet experiments can go wrong. The specter of tyranny is the flipside of the collective self-making that is democracy. We conceive of the Atlantic World as a testing ground for democratic innovation and experimentation.

»Democratic Vistas« brings together an interdisciplinary group of Goethe University scholars and international and regional affiliates from the fields of history, international relations, law, literature, media studies, philosophy, political theory, religious studies, social psychology, and sociology. Their joint research addresses

– Varieties of Democratic Experience
– Atlantic Democracy in the Anthropocene
– Digital Publics at the Limits of Democracy
– Democracy and Inequality

You may find an extended version of the project description here.

List of participants
Heads of Program
Johannes Voelz (American Studies)
Gunther Hellmann (International Relations)

Barbara Alge (Musicology)
Beatrice Brunhöber (Law)
Christoph Burchard (Law)
Nicole Deitelhoff (Peace Research, International Relations)
Heinz Drügh (German Studies)
Thomas Duve (Legal History)
Astrid Erll (Anglophone Literatures and Cultures)
Andreas Fahrmeir (Modern History)
Rainer Forst (Political Theory and Philosophy)
Achim Geisenhanslüke (Comparative Literature)
Klaus Günther (Law)
Vinzenz Hediger (Film and Media Studies)
Vera King (Social psychology)
Antje Krause-Wahl (Art History)
Sophie Loidolt (Philosophy; TU Darmstadt)
Matthias Lutz-Bachmann (Philosophy)
Pavan Malreddy (Anglophone Literatures and Cultures)
Darrel Moellendorf (Political Theory, Philosophy)
Hanna Pfeifer (Political Science)
Juliane Rebentisch (Philosophy, Aesthetics; HfG Offenbach/IfS)
Martin Saar (Philosophy)
Thomas Schmidt (Philosophy of Religion)
Till van Rahden (Modern History; Université de Montréal/FKH Senior Fellow)
Greta Wagner (Sociology; TU Darmstadt)
Christian Wiese (Jewish Philosophy of Religion)
Zhiyi Yang (Sinology)

February 18, 2021
Panel discussion | Online
»Democratic Vistas, Autocratic Specters: Must We Reinvent Democracy?«
with Masha Gessen (The New Yorker), Shalini Randeria (IWM Vienna), Slawomir Sierakowski (Krytyka Polityczna Warsaw), Johannes Voelz (chair: Goethe University)

June 10, 2021, 9 p.m.
Panel discussion | Online
Democratic Vistas at the Tel Aviv Night of Philosophy:
»Do democracies need the non-political?
with Aliénor Ballangé (political theory), Sophie Loidolt (philosophy), Martin Saar (philosophy), Johannes Völz (American studies, chair)

July 7, 2021
Panel discussion | Online
»Multilateralism, Atlantic Democracies and Global Order«
with Stéphane Dion (Canadian Ambassador to Germany), Anne-Marie Slaughter (Princeton University), Gunther Hellmann (chair: Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main)

November 3, 2021
Lecture | Online
»The EU’s International Climate Policy and Transatlantic Relations«
Artur Runge-Metzler (Former Director, DG CLIMA, European Commission), Darrel Moellendorf (Moderation: Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main)

Interviews and Podcasts
February 4, 2021, Deutschlandfunk »Kultur heute«
 »Democratic Vistas: Reflections on the Atlantic World«. Anja Reinahrdt in conversation with Johannes Voelz about the new research focus at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften. You can find the interview (in German) here.

February 18, 2021, Hessischer Rundfunk, hr2 »Am Nachmittag«
»Was ist los mit unserer Demokratie?« Catherine Mundt in conversation with Johannes Voelz about the new research focus »Democratic Vistas. Reflections on the Atlantic World«. You can find the interview (in German) here.