The Engelsberg seminar
The annual Engelsberg Seminar is a Swedish institution with international hallmarks. Since 1999, the foundation has brought together world-leading scholars and thinkers to discuss history, the age we live in and the future.
With the end of the Cold War and the triumph of globalisation, many believed that nationalism was a thing of the past: instead, the opposite is true. Today, we can see nationalism spreading across the world, as populistic and anti-democratic movements grow stronger. How can unity be achieved in a society with a diverse population?
It wasn’t so long ago that a notion gained currency suggesting we have reached ‘the end of history’, that humanity’s socio-cultural evolution had advanced to a point beyond which it could not develop much further. A quarter of a century later the optimism seems to have vanished. Instead, we are witnessing the return of geopolitics.
According to Herodotus, the Persians taught their sons three things only: “riding and archery and truthtelling”. There could be no empire without warriors. This seminar will deal with war as both creator and demolisher of civilisation, and investigate the driving forces of armed conflict through a long historical perspective. What role does war play in the creation of societies?
This conference investigated the role religion plays in society today and in the past. We examined religion in relation to the human condition and religion as individual experience.
What are the roots of civilisation and how did particular civilisations emerge in the ancient world? What do we today have in common with early civilisations, and what values do we still uphold that have their origins in the ancient world?
This conference sought to probe Europe’s historical antecedents, and to establish the self-perceptions of Europeans across a wide range of its past. When did Europeans start to identify as European? Why has European unity been so elusive in history?
Where are we heading in the global political landscape? Will old ideologies disappear, fade away or be reborn, and if the former is the case, what will the new ideological landscape look like and how will it affect the conditions of political life? The death of ideology has been predicted repeatedly over the years, but time and time again we have also seen old ideologies return under new covers.
What does the future of capitalism look like? Will the successful variety of capitalism from the past few decades that we call globalisation continue or will regional and perhaps even strong national forces gain ground in the international arena on economic matters?
Can America remain the top dog and should it? Are we beginning to see the beginning of the end or is it still only the beginning of the American era? In this conference, we tried to gain a clearer understanding of the original ideas and sources for what is known as the American idea, examine how this idea is nurtured in the US today and received elsewhere in the world, and consider the question of whether we are now approaching a “post-American world”.
In this conference we addressed a number of issues, focusing on the following broad themes: continuity and change in Russian history and the Russian self-image, recent economic developments, the “near-abroad”, and the implications of the resurgence of the strong Russian state.
After a life lived in India, Rudyard Kipling famously remarked that East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. But now they do: through immigration, through travel, through globalisation. But are the terms West and East merely a mental map that creates boundaries where none should exist?
In this conference a number of issues were discussed in a threefold manner: first the historical forces behind the emergence of the secular state and society are outlined, and then the threats to secular society considering Europe and Islam are discussed taking examples from different European countries, and finally the future of multicultural society is addressed.
The seminar invited participants to discuss the subject of empire and world order from both historical and present perspectives. Is for instance the United States an empire? If it is, are its population and elite prepared to shoulder such a burden? Can an empire play a positive role in creating a stable, liberal and democratic order?
What mind creates the symbiosis between media and mentality? Power over opinion has always been an important dimension in politics, but today the dramaturgy of the media probably has more influence than ever before. How does it affect politicians and the thrust of politics?
Europe in recent decades has been increasingly characterised by an ethnic and cultural diversity with a growing non-European element. The conflicts and problems arising in this connection are perhaps to be viewed as a species of teething trouble on the road to a fruitful hybrid culture. Coupled with a growth of socio-economic stratification, they can also mark the beginning of a profound fragmentation whereby ethnic subcultures, instead of being integrated with European societies, reject the values and norms of the dominant culture.
Does scientific research exist for man, as we understand him today, or is man something that exists for research, in its endeavour to realise the new man? Friedrich Nietzsche prophesied about this a little more than a hundred years ago, but where do we stand today?
Why does religion matter? Many answers have been put forth including that it grounds values, creates purpose and gives meaning in an ontological sense to our existence. Often science turns religious experience into an epiphenomenon but unfortunately offers nothing in return. How can modern society deal with this deficit of meaning?
The 20th century came to an unexpected ending. For a long time during the Cold War, two evenly balanced blocs appeared to be confronting each other, but suddenly the communist empires collapsed, at the same time as capitalist societies introduced a revolution in information technology, the further consequences of which we can, at present, only guess at. Meanwhile, the outlines are appearing of a genetic engineering revolution which is probably going to change the world even more than the IT revolution has done already.
The modern project promises that man can create the world anew. Sweden in the 20th century was a supreme embodiment of that promise. During that century it evolved from a minor state on the fringes of northern Europe – with no foreign policy function in the European system of states (other than as a potential ally of Germany against Russia) and with a population many of whom dreamed of getting out of the country as soon as possible – to a world ideological alternative.