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Research Plan

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Existing scholarship has identified various psychosocial and material-institutional factors responsible for populism’s rise. But the focus has been on domestic political and social milieus, contributing to the widespread perception of the parochial and inward orientation of populist regimes—as a reaction to cosmopolitanism and globalization. Our geographically and disciplinarily cross-cutting research network will move beyond the national framework and approach authoritarian populism as an externally networked, world-oriented formation, and study how the ideological, intellectual, and cultural infrastructures of civilizational discourse enable populist world-making. We will map the various relays and connections between internal and external political arenas that are forged and deepened by authoritarian populist regimes. We will compare how worldly imaginations and transnationally networked institutional infrastructures legitimate and consolidate populist power in different states and world regions. The transregional and multidisciplinary character of our research network brings a distinctive comparative approach to the study of new civilizationalisms and allows us to identify global patterns and convergences of the civilizational zeitgeist as well as the fine-grained contextual distinctions of civilizational imaginations that flourish in different parts of the world.

This is an ambitious, “big-picture” project that will span multiple years and entail both scholarly and public-facing engagements. The former will include academic conferences, small working group discussions, and summer seminars. The centerpiece of our public humanities endeavor is this comprehensive website called “The Civilizationism Project” (modeled on the University of Chicago’s influential, albeit analog, “The Fundamentalism Project”). This website will serve as a hub of multimedia resources designed to inform and engage the scholarly community, educational professionals, and the broad public. Specifically, we envision a podcast program that features a series of audio documentaries set in different regions of the world that offer critical perspectives on the variety of civilizationisms and their fantasies of global hierarchy; an online sourcebook collecting translations of speeches, documents, articles, and artifacts; an opinion blog featuring short commentaries on timely and timeless topics by network participants and guest contributors; a ‘conceptual dictionary’ with entries on key terms relating to civilizationist discourse in different parts of the world, among other contents.

Much of the conversation across the world about civilizational power, heritage and identity take place in public debates and in ‘para-academic’ fora such as popular history writing, think-tanks, and international networks devoted to intercultural dialogues. We believe that there is tremendous value in bringing together and aggregating the deep expertise of the scholars in our network in order to critically intervene and play an active role in such debates. It is our ambition that our website, podcast series, events, public talks and publications become a real resource for opinion leaders, students and policy makers in many parts of the world in the future.