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Global Antiquities

Researchers: Professors Hans Beck and Griet Vankeerberghen


Globalization has changed the organization of research and teaching in the Humanities. The composition of the faculty and of the student body at our universities has diversified, and this process is accompanied by a transformation of research topics and teaching curricula. At many universities ‘Western civilization’ courses have given way to offerings that apply a more multi-facetted approach to history, society and culture. While these developments are well under way, it is only gradually that we have come to realize that the current re-negotiation of concepts and contents requires a new approach towards the cultural foundations of human society.

‘Global Antiquities’ is designed as an academic engine that helps us to pioneer through the various junctures of cultural reflection today. Our research group explores the history and social impact of cultural paradigms from a distinctly global perspective. We call for a sustained study of some of the most basic cultural foundations of the world. While aiming at the production of new academic knowledge, our team also seeks to employ the knowledge of past cultures and make the scholarly dialogue between them relevant to the intellectual and moral reflections that accompany the forces of globalization.

In its initial phase, ‘Global Antiquities’ explores the creative potential of juxtaposing the cultural foundations of the Mediterranean World (“the West”) and China (paradigmatically, “the East”). The research group embarks from the observation that ancient Greek, Roman, and Chinese societies were governed by the same features that were characteristic of other civilized pre-modern societies. In order to provide for a meaningful comparative methodology, we examine three topical clusters that are central to their political culture: people, places, performances. From our experience in the classroom we have learned how fascinated students are by cultural legacies other than their own. ‘Global Antiquities’ attempts to transform their, and our, academic curiosity into new intellectual discoveries. It is hoped that, in the long run, the comparative knowledge generated by ‘Global Antiquities’ will also help to generate a new type of social meaning.