What is it in the world today that is making populist and authoritarian approaches to government more attractive than democracy?

This is one of the core questions at the heart of our 18-month Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute (GHI) project funded by the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI) and the A.W. Mellon Foundation.

The Crises of Democracy GHI brings together a consortium of humanities scholars spanning four continents to explore various threats to democracy through the lens of cultural trauma from a comparative global perspective. The Institute is led by the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute in partnership with the University of São Paulo, Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of Zagreb, and the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University.

Crises of democracy do not arise out of nowhere. Countries that presently find their political systems in crisis can in most cases find causes by looking back to specific times, events and experiences in the collective lives of the culture. By turning to the past, they can determine conditions and patterns of responses and influences that have contributed to current crises. 

One construct that has proven particularly useful in tracing these crises to their roots has been that of cultural trauma. Developed as a concept by the Yale University Centre for Cultural Sociology, the theory of cultural trauma is related to, but also differs from, the study of individual trauma, in that it focuses on shocks to the collective tissue of a society.  Examples of events that both induce and respond to cultural trauma, and that thereby produce crises in democracy,  include: racialized  persecution, violence and forced displacement;  war and genocide;  colonialism and decolonization; nationalism, ethnocentrism and revisionist interpretations of national heroic traditions;  terrorism,  fundamentalism and distorted nationalism; revolution; radical economic change, and market collapse; climate disaster, demographic shifts and more.

The CHCI-Mellon Crises of Democracy GHI has three phases: a Dublin planning meeting, a nine-day summer school in Dubrovnik, and a workshop at the Columbia Global Center in Rio de Janeiro.


  • Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University
  • Institute of Advanced Study, University of São Paulo
  • Jawaharlal Nehru University
  • University of Zagreb