New institute provides scientific advice to solve social challenges


Hannah Arendt Institute sees UAntwerpen and VUB join forces to help leaders tackle diversity, citizenship and radicalisation

Plurality and dialogue

Two Flemish universities have joined forces to create the Hannah Arendt Institute on diversity, urbanism and citizenship. The new institute, in Mechelen, will translate academic insights on issues such as migration, discrimination and radicalisation into practical advice for action against concrete challenges in society.

The institute is a joint project by Antwerp University (UAntwerpen) and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). The initiative came from VUB rector Caroline Pauwels, who was inspired by the Hannah Arendt Center in New York. Arendt, a German-born Jewish American political theorist, is considered one of the most influential political thinkers of the 20th century. Among her work, she emphasised the importance of plurality and dialogue in democracy.

In December, VUB and UAntwerpen founded a knowledge platform on Diversity, Urbanism and Citizenship, which will function as the institute’s scientific pillar. The second pillar is a training centre, which will bridge the gap between academics and professionals who need hands-on guidance and the broad public. The two universities will also reach out to other organisations that want to work with them.

Integration issues

Among the institute’s specific target groups are policymakers such as mayors and civil servants working on diversity and radicalisation. Its experts can offer policy recommendations, guidelines and training, and may also organise public events.

It could, for example, offer advice to the mayor of a municipality where a new asylum centre is being set up, on actions to avoid tensions arising in the local community. It can also provide scientific expertise and training on buddy networks that help newcomers to integrate in society, which are organised all over Flanders.

There are many people who identify the problems, but I want to work on the solutions

- Bart Somers

The institute’s headquarters are at the city hall in Mechelen. The project is supported not only by the current mayor of Mechelen, Alexander Vandersmissen, but also by the city’s former mayor Bart Somers, now Flemish minister of civic integration and equal opportunities. Somers was has been involved from the beginning of the initiative.

“Topics such as diversity, urbanism and citizenship cause a lot of polarisation,” Somers said. “There are many people who identify the problems, but I want to work on the solutions, with the universities. We need to expand the existing knowledge and come up with concrete policy proposals to make the future a success.”

The daily coordination of the institute will be overseen by Christophe Busch, who until recently led the Kazerne Dossin Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights, also in Mechelen. He left Kazerne Dossin because of a conflict with its board, which preferred to focus on the Holocaust, while Busch wanted to cover broader human rights issues.

Photo: The founders at the launch of the Hannah Arendt Institute on 27 May
© Tomas Jansen