A United Nations University delegation headed by Rector Konrad Osterwalder traveled to Barcelona, Spain, in early June to participate in an international scoping conference for the planned UNU International Institute for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNU-IIAOC). The purpose of the conference was to identify relevant research, training and knowledge transfer priorities for the new institute, which will launch operations in 2012.
During the three-day conference (1 to 3 June), more than 35 leading academics, researchers and policy practitioners took stock of the research challenges shaping debates on the Alliance of Civilizations. Specific discussions centred on migration and intercultural dialogue, education and youth, and media and communications.
In his opening remarks, Rector Osterwalder noted the important role that UNU-IIAOC will play in analysing, researching and helping to resolve pressing challenges to global cross-cultural understanding and cooperation, as well as in supporting the overarching promotion of good governance, cultural diversity, democracy and human rights.
The scoping conference helped to refine the upcoming agenda of UNU-IIAOC by identifying major academic debates, theoretical and methodological research gaps, possible research priorities, topics for postgraduate training, and opportunities for collaboration with academic and civil institutions.
Further highlights of the conference included insights shared by high-profile presenters from around the globe, and the opportunity this afforded participants to forge new research and academic networks.
Prof. Peter Katzenstein, an acclaimed international studies expert from Cornell University, gave a keynote address on “The Alliance of Civilizations as a research challenge”. Katzenstein, who recently served (2008-2009) as President of the American Political Science Association, shared insights from his research on the intersection of international relations and comparative politics and the politics of civilizational states.
Egyptian philosopher Hassan Hanafi, Honorary Professor of Philosophy at Cairo University, presented the second keynote on “Culture and civilizations: in conflict or dialogue?” Hanafi, an authority on modern Islam who has been a visiting professor at universities in the USA, Kuwait and Europe, helped bring a global perspective to discussions on intercultural tolerance and understanding.
Other keynotes aimed at generating debate included presentations on “Migration: a dialogue between strangers” by Yolanda Onghena, Senior Research Fellow at the CIDOB Foundation; “Media and mistrust: identifying the problems and inviting the solutions” by Abdallah Schleifer, Professor Emeritus and Senior Fellow, The American University in Cairo; and “Educational and youth work from an intercultural perspective” by Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Director General of Education, Culture and Heritage, Youth and Sport, Council of Europe.
The statute of the UNU International Institute for the Alliance of Civilizations was adopted by the UNU Council at its 56th session in December 2009. To be located in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed building Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau in Barcelona, Spain, UNU-IIAOC is well positioned to deepen links and dialogue throughout the Mediterranean, Europe, the Middle East and further afield.
The June Scoping Conference will help inform UNU-IIAOC priorities and guide the Institute’s new drector, who will be appointed later this year. In addition to collaborating with other institutions and universities throughout the world in research and education, UNU-IIAOC will contribute to achieving the goals of the United Nations High-Level Group for the Alliance of Civilizations, which aims to improve understanding and cooperative relations among nations and people’s across cultures and religions.