The Modernity of Europe. A Comparative-historical and Politico-philosophical Reassessment

Organiser: Bo Strath (HEC) and Peter Wagner (SPS) 
Date: started in 2002 
Place: European University Institute, HEC and SPS Department

Europe (and, more broadly, the West) has long been regarded as the birthplace of both modernity and of modern social theory and political philosophy. The parallel advent of successful 'modernization' of non-Western countries such as Japan; of a kind of postcolonialism that sees itself as a radical alternative to, rather than merely a liberation from, Western dominance; and of postmodernism as a cultural-intellectual challenge within the West has, however, cast doubts on at least any simple versions of the story of the rise of Western modernity. The new start of European integration, at the same time, has brought the differences between Western versions of modernity, such as between Europe and the US, which were widely debated during the inter-war period, back to the centre of attention, not least in the form of the question about 'European identity'.


It is in this context that the concept of 'European modernity', not as a principally superior mode of social organization, but as one among a variety of institutional interpretations of a broader programme of modernity emerged. A number of attempts have recently been made in the historical and social sciences to develop perspectives in theory and research that address this new situation.

The aims of this project are twofold: First, it aims at deepening the understanding of the specificity of the European variety of modernity both in terms of its historical development and in terms of its institutional form and interpretative self-understanding. Second, to explore the broader background to the first question, it aims to unite some of the attempts, which are often still being separately developed, for a long-term and comparative historical and theoretical reassessment of modernity in all its permutations, in which European modernity is seen in a global context. 

A detailed description of the objectives (pdf) of the project.

See also the related seminar series on "The modernity of Europe" since October 2004.