UCSIA Chair at the University of Antwerp

UCSIA finances a teaching chair at the University of Antwerp which fulfils the objectives of UCSIA and at the same time respects the principle of academic freedom.

The chair is offered to foreign scholars of international renown specialising in topics that deepen the ideological or philosophical discourse and increase societal commitment of science. The guest lecturers teach one or more masterclasses, they can take part in scientific research via a doctoral seminar and they read a public lecture, followed by a panel debate. In this manner, UCSIA contributes to the education and research at the University of Antwerp.

It was held by:

Ben Groom (2015-2016)

UCSIA organized this chair from 21–24 November 2016 in collaboration with the biology, economic and engineering management departments, the research group Environment and Society, and the Antwerp Centre of Evolutionary Demography of the University of Antwerp. This debate fit with the BASF Deloitte Elia Seminar about sustainable development from the Antwerp Management School. UCSIA was also able to count on the support from the IA/BE Instituut van Actuarissen in Belgium, Trends and VITO (Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek).

In a master class, a public lecture with panel discussion, a doctoral seminar and a luncheon seminar, environmental and development economist Ben Groom presented his research on how society allows the current costs of large public projects to outweigh future collective costs and benefits until very far into the future. As examples, he named the choice of a new nuclear power plant vs. renewable energy, the actions involving prevention of loss of biodiversity, and the approach to the increasing antimicrobial resistance.

At what ‘social discount rate’ – backward interest – does a project become socially profitable? In 1928 British economist Frank Ramsey thought up three determining factors: (1) impatience to postpone consumption, (2) aversion to inequality linked to the expected growth of the economy and prosperity, and (3) the assessment of potential risks or catastrophies in the far future.

Who should decide such a discount rate: the financial market through the interest rate? The people via a referendum or poll? Scientific experts? Most European governments – not the governments in Belgium – determine an official social discount rate that varies between 3.5% and 6%, depending on the different weights of the components. The famous debate between Nicolas Stern and William Nordhaus demonstrates why the chosen rate is important. Nordhaus holds to a social discount rate of 6% and thus eliminates future benefits from climate efforts, thereby proposing that it is not worth incurring these costs today. Stern, by contrast, advocates a discount rate of 1.4%, making it permissible today to dedicate great resources to work against global warming.

Ben Groom disagrees with leaving the choice of a discount rate solely to experts, due to the large discrepancy between their opinions. In the doctoral seminar he tested a new instrument that can derive an implicit social discount rate from a simple set of multiple choice questions. He will develop it further so that various groups such as politicians, philosophers or the general public can be questioned. Masters and doctoral students from a variety of disciplines took part in this learning experience: economics and environmental economics, ecology and soil remediation, product development or evolutionary demography (University of Antwerp, KU Leuven, Hasselt University, Ghent University).

The public debate showed that different groups use complementary methods for large strategic projects because they doubt that any concerns can be summarized in a single figure, such as is the case in a cost-benefit analysis and discounting. Wouter De Geest explained how his company (BASF Antwerp) uses ‘scenario thinking’ to support decisions on its future product range as well as the research and the investments that are needed; they base this technique on respect for ‘people, profit and planet’. Professors Verbruggen and Meire questioned whether discounting on its own provides a sufficient foundation for major long-term challenges such as biodiversity or nuclear power, due to the essentially structural changes involved.

Stephen Castles (2014-2015)

In cooperation with the Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies (CeMIS, University of Antwerp), UCSIA invited Prof. Dr. Stephen Castles in October 2014.  His public lecture, at the same time conceived of as the inaugural lesson of the new course Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Migration and Integration, examined judgments and prejudices concerning migration. In the course of a doctoral seminar, he examined the formulation of theories on migration from the perspective of the ‘social transformation theory’.

Migrants do not flood the world and their share of the world population has declined to 3%. In the more developed countries, they account for 9% of the population, in Belgium 10%. In the 1960s and 1970s, national migration policies attracted low-skilled migrants to work in factories, construction or basic services. Since the global economic crisis of 2008, migration continues due to family reunion.

Migration and cultural difference is often linked up with insecurity, collapsing social cohesion and threats to national identity, but a lack of human security and precarious living conditions in the global South are causes of migration in their own right. A policy that officially prohibits low-skilled migration, but tacitly accepts millions of irregular migrants to fill the labour-market gaps in agriculture and personal services, creates precariousness. All too often, inequality and difference are looked at with a racist bias. However, destination countries cannot deny the disadvantages of migrants in the labour market and in education.

Remittances by far exceed official development aid and migrants bring home technological skills and knowledge through brain circulation and, sometimes, the experience of democracy. But, bleu card immigration that only admits highly skilled professionals, often turns out to result in an inverse solidarity. Public funds invested by the poorer countries in education are lost and potential taxpayers leave the country. Tens of thousands of Indian or Philippine doctors and nurses leave for industrialised countries. In some African countries facing epidemics, up to one third of trained medical staff emigrates.

Today’s migrants to Belgium or other European countries are on average better trained than local workers. Work, income and family reunion remain important motives for migration, but new flows of migration have come into being. After going through a temporary stay for study, youngsters frequently migrate ‘for good’. Older people settle in a warmer climate for a more relaxed life at lower living costs. All over the world, marriage migration is developing.

Prof. Castles also examined a form of involuntary and non-economic migration: the world has 45 million displaced persons, an increasing number. Richer countries are quite eager to admit millions of migrants – regular or irregular – but each year accept a maximum of 80.000 refugees. Asylum seekers and refugees are at the bottom of the migration ladder.

Migration should be considered as a normal ingredient of global change and human development. It requires a judicious policy, cooperation and consultation with all those involved including the migrants themselves and suitable global institutions and agreements.
Vice-rector Prof. Dr. Johan Meeusen tied this analysis to the University of Antwerp. The city of Antwerp is host to 170 nationalities, one third of its inhabitants have a foreign origin and this share will increase to four fifths in 2030. The university and the associated schools of higher education will have to respond to this increasing diversity sooner than their counterparts elsewhere in Flanders, its active pluralism being a trump card because it stands for respect, critical reflection and dialogue.

Contributors: Prof. Dr. Stephen Castles (universities of Oxford & Sydney), Prof. Dr. Johan Meeusen (Vice-Rector University of Antwerp) and Prof. Dr. Christiane Timmerman (CeMIS, University of Antwerp).

Ha-Joon Chang (2013-2014)

In cooperation with the Faculty of Applied Economics and the Institute of Development Policy and Management, UCSIA invited Prof. Dr. Ha-Joon Chang of the University of Cambridge. He made an audience consisting of both scholars and a broader, interested public reflect critically on established views on the economy, economic science and economic policy.

In a master class he pleaded for pluralism in economic science. The neoclassical interpretation of economic problems – even narrowed down to one of its research methods, i.e. rational choice theory – remains relevant, however, it is not the one and only truth. Each and every school and tradition that has come into being in the last two centuries allows us to gain valuable insights into economic problems; they cross-fertilize into new powerful, hybrid theories.

In a public lecture, Prof. Chang questioned the common belief in a linear relationship between more higher education and greater productivity and economic growth. University education is valuable in itself, but it does not necessarily give us direct access to the purported blessings of the knowledge economy. During a doctoral seminar, the guest lecturer and researchers of several universities discussed the impact of institutions such as property rights and free markets on economic development.

Contributors: Ha-Joon Chang (University of Cambridge), Tom De Herdt (University of Antwerp), Rudy Martens (University of Antwerp), Walter Nonneman (University of Antwerp).

Allan C. Hutchinson (2012-2013)

Guest lecturer prof. dr. Allan C. Hutchinson had to cancel his visit due to health issues.

Allan C. Hutchinson is a full-time faculty member of Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Canada.

He is a Bachelor of Laws (London), Master of Laws (Manchester), Doctor of Laws (Manchester). He is Barrister of Gray’s Inn, and of the Bar of Ontario. A member of Osgoode’s faculty since 1982, Professor Allan Hutchinson  served as Associate Dean from 1994 to 1996 and later, in 2003, he was named Associate Dean (Research, Graduate Studies and External Relations). Professor Hutchinson is a legal theorist with an international reputation for his original and provocative writings.

Hutchinson was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2004 and named a Distinguished Research Professor by York University in 2006. In 2007, he received the University-wide Teaching Award and was a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School.

His research interests are law and politics; legal theory; legal ethics; constitutional law; torts; civil procedure; racism and law. As well as publishing in most of the common law leading law journals, he has written or edited many books. Much of his work has been devoted to examining the failure of law to live up to its democratic promise.

Paul Collier (2010-2011)

On 15 and 16 November 2010, Prof. Dr. Paul Collier gave a public lecture, taught a master class and moderated a doctoral seminar. He is the Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies (University of Oxford). His scholarly work brought him considerable influence with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and many governments. He became well-known with the general public through his book The Bottom Billion. Why are the poorest countries failing and what can be done about it. More recent books such as Wars, Guns and Votes and The Plundered Planet give proof of an original perspective on development, leaving behind conventional ideas. Professor Collier relies on scientific research underpinned by econometrics, and works with a multidisciplinary team of scholars.

A panel debate elucidated the relevance of his vision for Belgian development policy. Professor Robrecht Renard, President of the Institute for Development Policy of the University of Antwerp moderated the exchange between Paul Collier and Nadia Molenaers (I.O.B.), Bogdan Vanden Berghe (11.11.11), Renier Nijskens (ambassador, FOD Foreign Affairs) and John Vandaele (MO*Magazine).

Willem Frijhoff (2008-2009)

In 2008–2009, Professor Willem Frijhoff held the UCSIA-Chair. He is Professor of Modern History and former Dean of the Faculty of Arts of the Free University of Amsterdam. At the University of Antwerp, he taught two courses: “Heroes and Saints” (bachelors) and “Europe’s Identity: Remembrance and Future” (masters).

On 7 May, he read an inaugural lecture on freedom of religion and conscience throughout sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe, with Dutch religious tolerance as a focal point. Article XIII of the Union of Utrecht – a founding document of the Dutch republic – of 1579 gave guarantees concerning freedom of religious conscience. Even though this was not a license to publicly confess to apostate beliefs, it was nevertheless a revolutionary decision. Even today, permissiveness is seen as a key element of Dutch society. The guest lecturer qualified this with some important observations, which made clear that freedom of conscience is not at all the same thing as freedom of belief.

Erik-Jan Zürcher (2007-2008)

Prof. dr. Erik-Jan Zürcher held the UCSIA Chair in 2007-2008.

He studied Arab, Turkish and New-Persian and promoted in 1984 as an expert on Turkey at the University of Leiden. His area of expertise is the political and social history of the Late-Ottoman Empire and the young Turkish Republic. 
He is a Director of the International Institute of Social History at Amsterdam. 

As part of his assignment at the UCSIA-Chair, he held a lecture on 14th May 2008 on the “Historical Roots of Modern Turkey”.

Jürgen Friedrichs (2006-2007)

During the second semester of the 2006 -2007 academic year, Prof. Jürgen FRIEDRICHS occupied the UCSIA chair at the University of Antwerp. Prof. Friedrichs is a Doctor of Sociology and the Director of the Institute for Applied Social Research at the University of Cologne. He also taught as a visiting professor at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and at the universities of Utrecht and Hamburg.

At the University of Antwerp, he presented an inter-faculty Bachelor’s course on globalisation and a Master’s course on poverty and social exclusion in an urban context. He also taught a number of guest lectures in the course on the “Sociology of Inequality” (Prof. J. Vranken).

His inaugural lecture on 23 May 2007 focused on social and religious problems in relation to the integration of immigrants into German society.

René Rémond (2004-2005)

During the second semester of the 2004-2005 academic year, the UCSIA chair at University of Antwerp was held by Prof. René Rémond (1918 – 2007), a leading French historian who was regarded as an authority on modern religious and political history.

He was the author of, among other texts, “Réligion et société en Europe aux XIXième et XXième siècles. Essai sur la sécularisation » (Le Seuil, 1998), « Le Christianisme en accusation » (Desclée de Brouwer, 2000), « De mur de Berlin aux tours de New York : douze années pour changer de siècle » (together with François Azouvi, Bayard, 2002) and « La république souveraine » (Fayard, 2002). He was President of the University of Nanterre, Chairman of the « Centre catholique des intellectuels français », a member of the Académie Française, member of the High Council of the Magistrates and a political commentator in the French media.

René Rémond taught two courses from February till May 2005. Bachelors resp. masters gained insight in the relation between religion and society. He defined the contents of his courses as follows: « Mes enseignements aux deux niveaux, candidature et licence, traiteront du même sujet défini par l’intitulé : Religion et société en Europe aux XIXè et XXè siècles. Ils porteront essentiellement sur les relations entre ces deux termes. On s’attachera largement à définir le premier : qu’est-ce que la religion? S’agit-il d’un phénomène spécifique ? Peut-on l’étudier objectivement? Comment en apprécier l’importance ? On s’intéressera à la société civile autant qu’à la société politique. C’est dire que l’objet d’étude sera beaucoup plus large que l’histoire traditionnelle des rapports de pouvoir entre les Églises et les États. »

Sadik Al-Azm (2003-2004)

During the second semester of the 2003-2004 academic year, the chair was held by the Syrian professor, Dr. Sadik Al-Azm (°1934, Damascus). He holds a Doctorate in Philosophy from Yale and is an Emeritus Professor of Modern European Philosophy with the University of Damascus. He has taught as a visiting professor at various Arab, European and American universities (incl. Beirut, Kile, Harvard, Princeton) and is an expert on (Islamic) fundamentalism and the relationship between the West and the Arab world. During his stay in Antwerp, he was granted the prestigious Leopold Lucas Award (Tübingen) and the Erasmus Award (The Netherlands).

Prof. Al-Azm is considered to be one of the most self-critical voices within the Arabic world. He does not shy away from controversy. After the Six-Day War (1967), he wrote a remarkable book in which he criticised the then Arab leaders. Shortly after, he published a criticism of the obscurantism of Islamic traditionalism. He was accused of incitement, but was eventually acquitted, probably in part thanks to his noble birth (Al-Azm belongs to an old and respected Syrian family). As a result, he gradually gained the status of an independent critic – which uniquely enabled him, as an Arab Intellectual, to publicly defend Salman Rushdie.

Prof. Al-Azm taught an introductory course on “Islam in the 20th Century” and an advanced course on “Issues in Contemporary Arab Social and Political Thought”. On 28 April 2004, he presented an inaugural address entitled “Two Years After 9/11: Some Stocktaking”. On the occasion of the granting of the Leopold Lucas Award by the University of Tübingen, the renowned German Islamologist Prof. Josef Van Ess presented an introduction to this lecture that dealt with secularism and interfaith dialogue in the Middle East.

During his stay in Antwerp, Prof. Al-Azm also presented about a dozen lectures at University of Antwerp, VUB, KULeuven and RUG. He was a frequent guest speaker at various events and was extensively interviewed by the media (Tertio, Knack, Klara, …).

UCSIA assisted in the publication of his book on “Het maatschappelijke debat in de Arabische wereld” (Dutch).

You can find the report on the lecture “Two Years After 9/11: Some Stocktaking” in Dialogue Series II, Islam and Secularism.

In memoriam: Sadiq Jalal al-Azm

Sadiq Jalal al-Azm (1934) passed away on 11 December 2016. The University Centre Saint Ignatius Antwerp honors the life and contribution of this outstanding philosopher and citizen of the world.

Rational argument underpinned by high-quality scholarship lies at the root of accurate insight into complex political and societal issues that have deep historic roots. As an interdisciplinary scholarly forum, UCSIA endeavours to weave fine threads of better understanding and dialogue among scholars, professionals and citizens – which may in turn ultimately help to overcome prejudices, launch debates and reach solutions.

As the first scholar to hold the UCSIA Teaching Chair position at the University of Antwerp, Sadiq al-Azm helped UCSIA to actualize this important mission during its earliest years in 2004. He earned our everlasting respect for his impressive intellectual contribution, humane approach and warm companionship.


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