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Center for Advanced Latin American Studies (CALAS)

New Merian Centre not just on but also in Latin America

Bielefeld University and University of Kassel head major academic policy project with up to 20 million Euros of funding

A new research centre with its headquarters in Guadalajara, Mexico will be studying how Latin American societies solve crises. Bielefeld University and the University of Kassel are setting up the second Merian Centre in the world in cooperation with the University of Hannover and the University of Jena. The University of Guadalajara’s inspiration when founding the institute comes from Bielefeld University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF). The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will be funding each Merian Centre for up to twelve years with up to 20 million Euros. This makes the new centre the most highly funded research project on Latin America currently being sponsored by Germany.

The new institute is called the ‘Maria Sibylla Merian Centre for Advanced Latin American Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences' (CALAS). It will be set up with funds from the BMBF’s Maria Sybilla Merian Programme. By establishing the international research schools known as ‘Maria Sibylla Merian Centres’, the BMBF aims to promote the internationalization of the humanities, cultural studies, and social sciences in Germany through close bi- and multilateral cooperation projects located in other countries. Work on the first Merian Centre in Delhi (India) commenced in July 2015. A further Merian Centre will start in April at the Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil). Above that, another centre should be founded in a sub-Saharan African country.

For the Latin American centre CALAS, the main location in Guadalajara will be supplemented by regional centres in Argentina, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. The historian Professor Dr. Olaf Kaltmeier from Bielefeld University’s Center for InterAmerican Studies (CIAS) is the Director of CALAS and the Speaker for the German university consortium: ‘This project places Bielefeld University among the forerunners in both German and international research on the Americas.’

The main research approach at CALAS is to address social crises from four perspectives: ‘socio-ecological transformation’, ‘social inequalities’, ‘violence and conflict resolution’, and ‘identity and region’. ‘We want to learn from the world region of Latin America and find out how they master crises,’ says Kaltmeier. Starting in 2019, changing groups of up to twenty ‘Fellows’ (i.e. international guest scientists) should work in research groups and there should also be doctoral students in graduate programmes.

‘A central goal of CALAS is to carry out research together with academics from Latin America – and not to carry it out over their heads,’ says Kaltmeier. Latin America produces remarkable solutions to crises. ‘In light of socio-ecological change, for example, the Latin American idea of “Buen Vivir”, the good life, offers an excellent model. The concept draws on the values of the native cultures of the Andes,’ says Kaltmeier. ‘Another unconventional example deals with the resolution of conflicts. Several countries, and most recently Columbia, have developed the principle of the truth commission and applied it successfully to process the injustice of civil wars and dictatorships.’

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For further Information see www.calas.lat