The Centre for Enlightenment, Critical Thinking, and Plurality provides an organisational hub for inter- and transdisciplinary exchange within and across the four faculties of the University of Lucerne. The aim is to enhance the visibility of already existing, current, and future research. Its overarching substantive vision is, firstly, to foster and develop new critical perspectives on pressing issues of today’s digital and plural society, and, secondly, to facilitate ongoing reflection on the role of critical thinking in this world.
The Centre occupies a unique position within the shifting landscape of the humanities by taking a particular focus on exploring the heritage of the historical Enlightenment and its contemporary social, political and cultural relevance. This stems from a core belief that issues, themes and perspectives associated with the Enlightenment are once again up for discussion, and that the texts of the classical Enlightenment supply useful guidance for confronting and responding to modern global challenges.
In the context of current debates on the legacy and relevance of Enlightenment thinking, two main lines of response predominate. The first lies in debunking the Enlightenment in its entirety as a failed project that has run its course and is now redundant in terms of effectively confronting current social and political challenges. The second reflects in strident – and frequently simplistic – calls for a return to, and renewal of, core ‘Enlightenment values’ as a basis for a modern emancipatory politics.
The Centre for Enlightenment, Critical Thinking, and Plurality proceeds from the view that both of these approaches fail to do justice to the stakes involved in rethinking the relevance of the Enlightenment today. It takes as its starting point two leading premises: (i) that a critical re-engagement with the heritage of Enlightenment is vital to both furthering our understanding of (post-)modern global phenomena and working towards new solutions to current problems; and (ii) that such an undertaking must take full and proper account of the historical Enlightenment’s relative, diverse and complex traditions.
Led by a dynamic group of humanities scholars at the University of Lucerne, the Centre will cut across, and pool insights from, sociology, history, politics, philosophy, theology, law, literary and cultural studies. Such cross-disciplinary exchange is integral to the Centre’s approach and activities, and is considered vital to the accomplishment of general aims and objectives. The core emphasis on the humanities is, meanwhile, driven by a belief that humanistic perspectives and understandings of the world matter profoundly in the development of policy: the overarching ambition of the Centre for Enlightenment, Critical Thinking, and Plurality is to mobilise the critical and analytical tools of the humanities to help solve the pressing issues of today’s global society.
At institutional level, the Centre for Enlightenment, Critical Thinking, and Plurality will harness and intensify the University of Lucerne’s current strengths as a centre for forward-thinking, humanities-based research, and establish it as a leading national and international hub for cutting-edge work in interdisciplinary and public humanities. This will be achieved via the development of various sustainable infrastructures that enhance capacity for teaching and research innovation, for building ‘digital’, ‘economic’, ‘cultural’, ‘ecological’ literacy capabilities, and for enabling new modes of public engagement and outreach.
The aim of the Centre for Enlightenment, Critical Thinking, and Plurality is to incubate and coordinate research and educational initiatives within and across the diverse disciplines represented in the faculties of the University Lucerne – based on a broad interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to the study of Enlightenment and Plurality.
In particular, the Centre for Enlightenment, Critical Thinking, and Plurality proposes to:
- Develop interdisciplinary research in studies of Enlightenment within the diverse scientific disciplines
- Develop interdisciplinary research in studies of Plurality within the diverse scientific disciplines
- Develop (interdisciplinary and interfaculty) teaching initiatives
- Facilitate collaboration with other national and international stakeholders
- Create international networks within the field of Enlightenment and Plurality research
- Pursue a close critical focus on the opportunities and challenges of digitalization
- Initiate and support applications for external funding for research projects in Enlightenment and Plurality studies
- Organise conferences, workshops and colloquia to promote academic exchange and disseminate research findings
- Establish new fora to stimulate public awareness and discussion of key social and political issues
- Support the publication of research results
In 2015, the University of Lucerne was able to attract two new SNSF Professorships with a particular research and teaching focus in the domain of Enlightenment and Plurality studies. Christine Abbt’s research team explores the importance attributed to the ‘non-identical’ for democratic societies in the philosophy and literature of antiquity, the Enlightenment and the present, and, on this basis, seeks to formulate modern criteria for a binding pluralism. Boris Previšić’s team, meanwhile, focuses on the musical paradigm of polyphony in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature and culture, and its present-day uptake and updating.
In addition, the University has also recently appointed a number of further professors who share a central interest in exploring the contemporary relevance and complexity of Enlightenment perspectives and concerns. These include:
- Rana Alsoufi (Assistant Professor of Islamic Theology)
- Malte-Christian Gruber (Professor of Legal Philosophy)
- Peter Kirchschläger (Professor of Theological Ethics)
- Sophie Mützel (Professor of Sociology)
- Daniel Speich Chassé (Titular Professor for Global History)
Since 2015, these new appointees have come together with other professors and researchers active across the faculties to form an interdisciplinary and interfaculty research group that seeks to critically examine the challenges of a modern world in flux. These include:
- Joachim Blatter (Professor of Political Sciences)
- Thomas Forrer (Senior teaching and research assistant, Cultural Sciences)
- Martin Hartmann (Professor of Philosophy)
- Steven Howe (Associate Director and Research Fellow, Institute Lucernaiuris)
- Johannes Schulz (Lecturer, Political Sciences)
- Marianne Sommer (Professor of Cultural Sciences)
Digitalization, climate change, questions of fundamental rights, the relationship between inequality and injustice, migration, the distribution of goods – these are just some of the keywords that characterise present-day transformations. The research activities at the Centre for Enlightenment, Critical Thinking, and Plurality are arranged in a number of thematic sub-groups. The Centre also intends to publicise other, relevant research projects being undertaken at the University.
The Centre for Enlightenment, Critical Thinking, and Plurality is headed by a Steering Committee consisting of representatives from three faculties of University of Lucerne. The Steering Committee is responsible for the overall administration of the Centre, including budget management and the organisation of common activities. Christine Abbt, Boris Previšić and Daniel Speich Chassé serve as chairs. The Centre secretary supports the Steering Committee, the chairs and the Centre’s various networks with administrative tasks. Steven Howe is the Centre Coordinator.
Steering Committee: Christine Abbt, Christian-Malte Gruber, Martin Hartmann, Steven Howe, Peter G. Kirchschläger, Sophie Mützel, Boris Previsic, Daniel Speich Chassé
Chairs: Christine Abbt, Boris Previšić, Daniel Speich Chassé
Coordinator: Steven Howe
In order to ensure a multifaceted and active research network, the Center for Enlightenment, Critical Thinking, and Plurality coordinates research groups, within which a variety of activities take place. The research groups focus on different fields.
The groups are all open to participants, including both participant researchers and external researchers. In addition to the research groups, which organize a majority of the research activities, the Center for Enlightenment, Critical Thinking, and Plurality also provides funding opportunities for research activities independent of the research groups.