Democracy researchers to participate in literature festival
22 March 2023
War, crime and literature as a path to reconciliation is the theme of the Uppsala International Literature Festival on March 23–25. One of the organisers is the Democracy and Higher Education research programme at Uppsala University. Christina Kullberg, Professor of French, will give the opening address.
Why are you helping to organise the festival?
“Kholod Saghir, the driving force behind the festival, is actually an alumnus of Uppsala University, but above all this is a collaborative event. An important part of Democracy and Higher Education is about precisely that, collaboration; not only communicating research results but also collaborating and exchanging forms of knowledge. It’s interesting to come into contact with another form of knowledge about democracy which literature has the potential to convey.”
The theme of the festival is war and peace, with a particular focus on Russia and Ukraine, but authors from Turkey and Iran are also participating. What is Uppsala University's contribution?
“Democracy and Higher Education will participate in two events: the opening event on Friday and an event at Uppsala Art Museum on Saturday. In addition to my opening address, Maria Engström, Professor of Russian, will give a presentation on the “neo-Soviet myth” in Russian narratives today. On Saturday, the State Institute for Racial Biology in Uppsala will be the subject of a discussion between poet Burcu Sahin, author Ola Larsmo and Sven Widmalm, docent in History of Science and Ideas.”
You will give an introductory speech on what literature can teach us about reconciliation and democratisation. Is literature important for democracy?
“Democracy is not just a type of government or form of governance, but something that is shaped by all of society. Literature can shed a different light on such processes and highlight other perspectives. Historically, it is interesting that what we consider to be modern literature, that is, from the 17th and 18th centuries onwards, coincides with and paves the way for the development of our democratic society. So it's all connected, including the dark sides of our democratic society, such as colonialism.”
You are a project manager in the Democracy and Higher Education programme responsible for the theme “Universities and the global democratisation of nations”. What role do universities play in global democratisation?
“Higher education is not necessarily linked to democracy. Universities can be a conservative force, as they are often a public authority linked to a government. So, for example, it can be very difficult for dissidents in Russia today to operate within a university. They risk all sorts of sanctions unless they flee. It is the same in Iran, both for students and teachers.
At the same time, universities are a place where many people gather and where knowledge and ideas are shared. That creates the potential for questioning things. Another democratic force is the notion of ‘creating knowledge’ and critical thinking itself. We both manage knowledge and produce new knowledge for the benefit of society.”
The Democracy and Higher Education research programme was launched in 2022. Are your activities well under way?
“We have been running for about a year now, and our priority has been to allocate research funding to both senior and junior researchers at the University. We have had three calls for applications, with the third occasion producing a lot of applications. Things are starting to take off now, which is really exciting. We are interdisciplinary by nature and award grants to all the humanities and social science disciplines, so it is important for there to be a wide distribution.
We also work on events. Recently, a half-day symposium on the role of science in democracy and the use of expertise was held on the occasion of the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU.”
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