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Research Focus: The Liberal Script Under Pressure

The liberal script is defined as ideas and institutional prescriptions about the organisation of society based on the core principle of individual self-determination.

The foundation of the liberal script rests upon implied universal values such as freedom, equality, justice, progress, and tolerance. Its manifestations range from human rights and the rule of law to free market capitalism.

The term script originates from the theatre playbook as a terminological concept for “social order“ or “social system”. As a generic concept, it is not geographically or culturally confined to the so-called “West”. Moreover, the term allows for describing not only liberal but also competing scripts, given that the liberal script has been in competition with alternative scripts for organising societies, such as fascism, communism, authoritarianism, or Islamic fundamentalism. Through these interactions, the script has been shaped and redefined.

The world has experienced a series of political shocks in the last two decades. Among them were transnational terrorism, unexpected right-wing populist electoral gains, a rise of fundamentalist religious movements and the success of state capitalism in China.

Nation-states that are committed to liberal models of political and social order are challenged both internationally and domestically. In consequence, contemporary liberal societies face a loss of confidence in the ability of their core institutions to provide solutions to an array of challenges, which lie at the heart of prominent domestic and international conflicts in the early 21st century.

Astonishingly, this has happened despite huge economic and social achievements: from a decreasing number of interstate wars to economic growth and a decline of absolute poverty in many places. SCRIPTS was established to investigate this puzzle of an increasing number and frequency of contestations of the liberal script.

Research Questions

1. To what extent do current challengers target the liberal script?

Are alternative concepts of political and social order that claim universal validity on the rise or are they varieties of existing liberal ideas?

2. What are the causes of these contestations?

Under which conditions does the liberal script lose or gain attractiveness, and what are the drivers of the rise of alternative scripts? To what extent are the causes of current contestations different from earlier ones?

3. What are the consequences of the intensified contestations of the liberal script?

What are the implications of the potential rise of the alternatives for politics, society and individuals, and for the challenges facing the world in the 21st century?

SCRIPTS Research Units (RU)

Cluster Professorships

Four professorships were established with SCRIPTS funding to strengthen the SCRIPTS-related disciplines through the duration of the project and beyond. Each of these positions complements the expertise of the Principal Investigators in research fields, such as Islam in Europe, that are of increasing importance in international research. Thus, the interconnection among SCRIPTS, its affiliated universities, and participating institutions is enhanced, while also anchoring the corresponding research topics within academic scholarship.

Junior Research Groups

Two Junior Research Groups (JRG) at SCRIPTS are dedicated to help young scholars make their way to a tenured position in the longer term. Each group is headed by a postdoc leader (postdoctoral researcher) assisted by two doctoral researchers.

Theory Network

The Theory Network is a Cross-Cutting Work Unit that cuts across the four topical Research Units of Borders, Orders, (Re-)Allocation, and Temporalities to foster interdisciplinary research. The network’s overall responsibility lies in strengthening the ties between these four Research Units.

Data and Methodology Center

SCRIPTS is a research consortium that builds on the systematic collaboration of scholars from disciplines across the social sciences, area studies, and humanities. This methodological pluralism and critical reflection about data and methods is one of the features, and strengths, of SCRIPTS.