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Project Statement

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Over the past two decades, authoritarian populist governments have come to power in many different regions of the world. This period has also seen the resurgence of civilizational discourses that define the people in terms of their unique civilizational identity and call for states to refurbish their timeless civilizational glory. These interconnected developments both draw on and react against an older, Enlightenment inspired, and Eurocentric notion of civilization. On the right, the vague and anodyne idea of civilization allows authoritarian populist regimes to gain international recognition by mainstreaming or translating their ethno-majoritarian projects into globally acceptable registers. On the left, civilizationism speaks the language of postcolonial critique, anti- globalization, and decolonial movements. At the same time, the hierarchical and exclusionary contours of civilizational thought and the languages of victimhood and resistance—the call for “wounded civilizations” to undo the dominance of the western liberal nation-state—express the core populist themes of Manichean antagonism, victimhood, and angry redemption.

This international research network sets out to map the varied discourses, agents, and institutional infrastructures of new civilizationisms. Comprised of twenty scholars located in institutions of higher education in North America, Europe, and Asia and spanning a wide range of humanities and social science disciplines, we aim to investigate how the trope of civilization mainstreams, normalizes, and obfuscates the authoritarian and ethno-majoritarian commitments of contemporary strongman regimes. Specifically, we intend to investigate 1) the intellectual genealogies, themes, sources, and key texts of new civilizationisms; 2) agents, networks, and infrastructures that sustain, spread, and normalize these ideas (e.g. think tanks, intellectuals and para-academic spaces and activities; transnational networks and forums; media and cultural practices); 3) civilizational worldmaking, or the foreign policy and geopolitical ambitions and implications of civilizational ideas 4) state projects and ideologies of neo-Ottomanism (Turkey), Indic civilizationism (India), Pharaonic civilizations (Egypt), Slavic civilizationism (Russia), Confucian-socialist civilizationism (China), white Christian nationalism (U.S.), “Eurowhiteness” (Europe) etc. We ask the following questions: How has authoritarian populism become mainstreamed through the discursive shifts from religion and nation to civilization? What are the intellectual genealogies and academic matrices of neo-civilizational thought across the globe? How are civilizationist ideas disseminated and popularized through transnational networks and new media technologies and platforms? How do new civiliationalisms reimagine geopolitical hierarchies and world order?