Bo Stråth


Bo Stråth (Curriculum Vitae) was 2007-2014 Finnish Academy Distinguished Professor in Nordic, European and World History and Director of Research at the Department of World Cultures / Centre of Nordic Studies (CENS), University of Helsinki. 1997-2007 he was Professor of Contemporary History at the European University Institute in Florence, and 1991-1996 Professor in History at the University of Gothenburg. He is a member of The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

Europe’s Cultural Heritage Reconsidered

by | Jan 1, 2006 | Seminars and Discussion Groups, Curriculum vitae

Europe’s “cultural heritage” reconsidered rupture and continuity in European cultural orientations. An interdisciplinary seminar

Organisers: Bo Strath and Peter Wagner (SPS)
Date: Oct 2005-Mar 2006
Place & time: Seminario II (Badia Fiesolana), Thursday 11.00-13.00
Registration: Liz Webb or Malgorzata Pakier

Was Du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast,
erwirb es, um es zu besitzen.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust I

For a long time, the centre of attention in the analysis of European integration was placed on, first, market-making and, second, polity-building. But, increasing emphasis has recently been given to the question of European cultural commonality. While ‘European identity’ or ‘European cultural heritage’ are the key terms of this debate, recent work in sociology and history questions the idea, which is implicit in these concepts, of stable cultural orientations persisting over long periods.
In this light, the specific identity of Europe cannot be sought in any cultural heritage, ready for use in the present, but through a sequence of socio-historical transformations in which basic issues of self-understanding were ever newly interpreted. The research programme will analyse selected such transformations in European history – two founding ones and two recent ones – as well as two transversal themes of the debate about the European heritage – the question of European liberty and the question of European unity – to apply recent theoretical innovations in the social and historical sciences to the analysis of European society and history.

The seminar’s main objective is to elaborate a more adequate understanding of the cultural specificity of Europe. In other words, we do sustain the idea that there is a European cultural specificity but hold at the same time that it is most often misconceptualized and, consequently, not well grasped in its main components.

The current debate is divided between, on the one side, those scholars who try to identify a common identity of Europe, connected to images of a common past and, on the other side, those – mostly younger – scholars who insist on diversity and plurality of cultural orientations and, moreover, ever-shifting cultural practices within Europe. This is a rather barren debate, based more on theoretical presuppositions than actual historical or sociological insight.

Our own perspective would start out from the latter emphasis on cultural practices. Recent work in sociology and history, as well as in anthropology and philosophy, has convincingly questioned the idea of stable cultural orientations persisting over long periods, both theoretically and based on empirical investigations. However, much of the research work that is inspired by these insights now adopts a small-scale, short-term perspective and, thus, loses out of sight any form of persistence of cultural orientations.

The innovative move we are proposing is the application of the recent insights about the rooting of cultural orientations in experiences; in interpretations of those experiences; and in practices built on those interpretations to analyse large-scale, long-term phenomena such as, in our case, ‘Europe’.

In the sociology of modernity as well as in modern history, it was long held that the modernity of Europe was brought about and acquired its specificity through one great rupture in European history, the beginning of modern times (Neuzeit), at best conceived as a succession of related, mono-directional ruptures. The emphasis, as is well known, was placed on the scientific, democratic and industrial revolutions and the European global expansion, bringing in their sum the unique ‘modern society’, which allegedly became a model to follow worldwide. In contrast, our seminar and research programme aimed at a re-reading of European history as a sequence of transformations in which basic issues of self-understanding and self-interpretation were taken up and ever newly interpreted, leading to a series of institutional sedimentations across European history, without arriving at a single superior solution.

Geschichte, Erfahrung und Kontingenz  (pdf)
30 Sept-1 Oct 2005

Liberalism in the European Politics: Identity, Practices, Prospects/
Le libéralisme dans la politique européenne: identité, pratiques, prospective
7-8 Oct 2005

The Question of European Heritage: Europe between Christianity and Enlightenment, the Critique of Scriptural Religion

A seminar series organised by Gopal Balakrishnan, Bo Stråth and Peter Wagner

This seminar will explore a current in European political thought in which Christianity, Scriptural religion more generally, is subject to various lines of critique: as an ecclesiastic order, as history, as a moral code and as theology. The authors under consideration wrote at a time when it was exceedingly perilous to formulate some of these lines of criticism openly and thus often touched these matters obliquely. The objective of this seminar will be to identify this anti-Christian dimension of their politico-theoretical agendas: What role did the authors envision for religion in a properly constituted polity? To what extent did they think Christianity could be reformed? Did any of them foresee the onset of a post-Christian era in European history? What were the limits of public enlightenment? And, lastly, was an atheist society really possible? These questions are relevant today in an intellectual context. In this respect, the problem of a post-national European identity is often addressed within the frame of shared Christian cultural heritage, the problem of multiculturalism within the frame of inter-communal relations. Returning to the foundational texts of modern political thought can open a critical perspective on the perimeters of the contemporary problem field of European identity by clarifying its ambivalent relationship to the conflicting poles of religion and enlightenment.

The series format is oriented towards bringing researchers and professors together in what is closer to a reflection or study group than a teaching seminar. Active participation based upon careful consideration of the texts is assumed. The reading list itself, however, is limited, as is indicated below.

Readers are available upon request from

Session 1, 27 March, 17.00-19.00, Sala Europa


Session 2, 10 April, 17.00-19.00, Sala Europa
Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, p. 23-37
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince Discourses, chapters 8 and 11
Francis Bacon, An Advertisement Touching on aHoly War
The Great Instauration, preface
The Essays, ‘Of Unity in Religion’, ‘Of Atheism’ and ‘Of Superstition’

Session 3, 8 May, 11.00-13.00, Sala Europa
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Book II ‘Of a Christian Commonwealth’ and III ‘Of the Kingdom of Darkness’

Session 4, 22 May 17.00-19.00, Sala Europa
Baruch Spinoza, A Theological-Political Treatise, Preface, Chapters 1, 6, 15, 18, 19, 20,
A Political Treatise, Chapter 2

Pierre Bayle,: Dictionaire historique et critique, Entries ‘Socinus (Faustus)’, ‘Xenophanes’ and ‘On Atheists’


  • Monographs
  • Anthologies
Creating Community and Ordering the World
A European Memory
A European Memory?
European Solidarities
European Solidarities
Reflections on Europe
Reflections on Europe
The Economy as a Polity
The Economy As a Polity
A European Social Citizenship
A European Social Citizenship?
Representations of Europe and the Nation in Current and Prospective Member States
States and Citizens History Theory Prospects
States and Citizens
The Meaning of Europe
The Meaning of Europe
From the Werner Plan to the EMU
From the Werner Plan to the EMU
Europe and the Other and Europe as the Other
Europe and the Other and Europe as the Other
Myth and Memory in the Construction of Community
Myth and Memory in the Construction of Community
AFTER FULL EMPLOYMENT European Discources on Work and Flexibility
After Full Employment
Enlightenment and Genocide Contradictions of Modernity
Enlightenment and Genocide, Contradictions of Modernity
Department of History and Civilization Nationalism and Modernity EUI Working Papers
Nationalism and Modernity
The Postmodern Challenge Perspectives East and West
The Postmodern Challenge
The Cultural Construction of Norden
The Cultural Construction of Norden
Comparativ Wohnungsbau im Internationalen Vergleich Heft 3-1996
Wohnungsbau im internationalen Vergleich
Language and the Construction of Class Identities
Language and the Construction of Class Identities
Idylle oder Aufbruch
Idylle oder Aufbruch?
Democratisation in Scandinavia in Comparison