Intercontinental Academia on Human Dignity

IIAS Jerusalem / ZiF Bielefeld 2016 / JIAS Johannesburg 2019

The Intercontinental Academia 2016 on Human Dignity was a summer school organized by the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS), Israel's only institute of advanced study, and the Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung (ZiF). The directors of the institutes, Michal Linial and Ulrike Davy, decided on the topic of the Intercontinental Academia, they launched the call for applications, and they were responsible for selecting the fellows and attracting the instructors of the Academia. During the preparatory stage, the IIAS and the ZiF were supported by other institutes of advanced study from around the world, connected through the network of the University-Based Institutes for Advanced Study (UBIAS) founded in 2010 in Freiburg. The young scholars who were eventually granted a fellowship to the Academia came from Brazil, Finland, Germany, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Romania, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The Intercontinental Academia on Human Dignity consisted of two phases. The first phase took place in Jerusalem at the IIAS from 6 through 18 March 2016, the second phase took place in Bielefeld at the ZiF from 1 through 11 August 2016. In Jerusalem, the masterclasses of the Academia focused on concepts of human dignity in philosophy and religion, in particular in Judaism, and questions of human dignity revolving around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Bielefeld, the emphasis was on the meaning of the human dignity clause contained in Article 1 Basic Law, as interpreted by the Federal Constitutional Court (masterclass 1), on the role of human dignity for the emergence of human rights in the eighteenth century (masterclass 2), and on the restoring of human dignity after neglect and denial, in particular in the context of the German post-war cultures of remembrance (masterclass 3). The instructors of masterclass 1 were Gertrude Lübbe-Wolff (Professor of constitutional and administrative law, Bielefeld University, former justice of the Federal Constitutional Court), Ralf Poscher (Professor of law and philosophy of law, University of Freiburg), and Ulrike Davy (Professor of constitutional and administrative law, Bielefeld University, former managing director of the ZiF). Masterclass 2 was headed by Lynn A. Hunt (Eugen Weber Professor of Modern European History, University of California, Los Angeles). Masterclass 3 was headed by Aleida Assmann (Professor of literary studies, University of Konstanz). The masterclasses were complemented by an exhibition of visual artist Anna Konik who presented a series of interviews with refugee women and participated in the masterclasses.

Each masterclass touched upon pertinent and, at times, emotionally charged issues. During masterclass 1, the fellows discussed a range of questions relating to the dignity of persons held in prison, the absolute character of the right to respect of human dignity under the German Basic Law, and the right to be provided with a subsistence minimum encapsulated in the dignity clause. During Masterclass 2, the fellows debated the role of pain (and the perception of pain) for the outlawing of torture and slavery, and the role of practices of comparison for the rise of secularism. During Masterclass 3, the fellows discussed how and when various cultures of remembrance (including cultures of deliberate non-remembrance) evolved in post-war Germany.

The main idea of the Intercontinental Academia 2016 on Human Dignity was to create a platform for intense academic exchange between outstanding young scholars and senior instructors over a lengthy period of time. The locations – Jerusalem in Israel and Bielefeld in Germany – promised to stimulate the most challenging and vexing questions regarding human dignity, given the countries' history and present. These were the expectations upfront, and the expectations were more than met. The fellows became a group and indeed friends who will continue to engage with questions relating to human dignity beyond 2016.

For the main arguments of presentations and discussions see


Stephanie Arel (Boston, USA), Aleida Assmann (Konstanz, GER), Guy Carmi (Tel Aviv, ISR), Levi Cooper (Zur Hadassa, ISR), Ulrike Davy (Bielefeld, GER), Caterina Drigo (Bologna, ITA), Johannes Eichenhofer (Bielefeld, GER), Vanessa Hellmann (Bielefeld, GER), Lynn A. Hunt (Los Angeles, USA), Akemi Kamimura (São Paulo, BRA), Sini Kangas (Tampere, FIN), Emily Kidd White (New York, USA), Michael Kolocek (Dortmund, GER), Anna Konik (Warschau, POL), Sima Kramer (Jerusalem, ISR), Manuela Lenzen (Bielefeld, GER), Gertrude Lübbe-Wolff (Bielefeld, GER), Omer Michaelis (Tel Aviv, ISR), Nadiv Mordechay (Jerusalem, ISR), Funlola Olojede (Stellenbosch, RSA), Britta Padberg (Bielefeld, GER), Ralf Poscher (Freiburg i.Br., GER), Anita von Poser (Berlin, GER), Ron Roth (Jerusalem, ISR), Marc Schalenberg (Bielefeld, GER), Lauren Ware (Stirling, GBR)