The Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften: Events

Thursday, 18 February 2021
5 p.m. (CET), 11. a.m. (ET) Zoom meeting

Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften, Bad Homburg, and Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, Vienna
Panel discussion | Opening of the new research focus »Democratic Vistas« | Online

Masha Gessen (The New Yorker), Shalini Randeria (IWM), Sławomir Sierakowski (Krytyka Polityczna), Johannes Völz (Goethe Universtiy, Frankfurt a. M.)
»Democratic Vistas, Autocratic Specters: Must We Reinvent Democracy?«

Please find the recording of the event here.

Masha Gessen
Distinguished Writer in Residence, Bard College; Staff Writer, The New Yorker, author of Surviving Autocracy (Riverhead Books, 2020)
Shalini Randeria
Director, Institute for the Human Sciences Vienna (IWM); Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute Geneva. Host of the podcast »Democracy in Question.«
Sławomir Sierakowski
Founding Director of Krytyka Polityczna, Warsaw; senior fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations; contributor to The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Project Syndicate, etc.
Chair: Johannes Völz
Heisenberg-Professor of American Studies, Goethe University Frankfurt; Board Member, Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften Bad Homburg

About the discussion
Since the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, there no longer can be any doubt that liberal democracy is under attack. For at least a decade, one liberal-democratic state after another has begun to face pushback – and in many cases take-over – by illiberal populists committed to authoritarian rule. The specter of autocracy is no longer a hazy apparition; increasingly it is the face of power. Yet at the same time, democracy continues to mobilize movements fighting for progressive change both inside and outside the parliamentary process. Nearly overlooked by Western media, Belarus has been witnessing a forceful struggle for democracy, tirelessly pushed ahead by the collective will of irrepressible women activists. Their struggle has inspired a related movement against the illiberal government in Poland. Even in the United States, the picture is not all bleak. After all, January 6, 2021, also marks a triumph of multiracial democracy, with an African American and a Jewish American candidate winning the senatorial runoffs in the state of Georgia, and Congress certifying the election of a black woman of color as Vice President. In the blink of an eye, the specter of autocracy gives way to what the American poet Walt Whitman called »democratic vistas.«

Opening event of the new research focus
The Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften turns to this double vision by launching its new research focus »Democratic Vistas: Reflections on the Atlantic World« In the spirit of Walt Whitman, we approach the Atlantic World as a testing ground for democratic innovation and experimentation. We ask whether the current upheavals force us to reinvent democracy – and what such reinvention could look like.
For our opening event, we collaborate with Vienna’s Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM) and bring together an international group of leading scholars, intellectuals, and writers for a virtual panel discussion. In a Zoom session involving the widest possible public, Masha Gessen, Shalini Randeria, Sławomir Sierakowski, and Johannes Völz will discuss »Democratic Vistas, Autocratic Specters: Must We Reinvent Democracy?«

Please find more information (in English) about the research focus »Democratic Vistas: Reflections on the Atlantic World« here.

Weitere Informationen (auf deutsch) über den Forschungsschwerpunkt »Democratic Vistas: Reflections on the Atlantic World« finden Sie hier.

Please register by email at We will send you the Zoom link a couple of days before the event.

Information about the format and your participation
The event is set up as a Zoom meeting. After the panel discussion, there will be time for questions and answers. You will be able to ask a question after using the “raise hand” function in Zoom. For optimal service, we advise you to download the most recent version of Zoom (

Broadcast of recorded event on YouTube
Kindly note that the discussion will be recorded and posted online or rebroadcast on the Forschungskolleg’s YouTube channel. With your participation in the event you agree to the technical setting of the event, in particular to the recording and the subsequent broadcast on YouTube.

Iris Helene Koban, managing director of the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften (

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