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Liberalism header picture
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Van Leer Institute logo
Emile Zola Chair
Course date
July 12–23, 2021
Application deadline
Application for this course is closed
ECTS Credits
Political theory
Socio-legal studies
SUN Packages
Tuition Waiver

The Covid-19 pandemic erupted amidst a deeper crisis facing liberal democracies and simultaneously extenuated it. The course extends an invitation to reflect on this crisis and rethink the building blocks of modern political and socio-legal theory. 

This invitation, grounded in an interdisciplinary theoretical inquiry and critical reflection on the crisis within the crisis (of liberal democracies – both states' institutions and civil societies - dealing with the pandemic crisis) thus transforms the predicament into an opportunity to re-examine basic assumptions and to propose new paths for living together, in a way that seeks to replace exclusionary populism with a vision of inclusive democracy.

That the vision of liberal democracy is undergoing a crisis is by now self-evident: the rise of nationalism, populism, the politics of polarization and the ensuing upsurge of "illiberal democracies" and their construction of new "enemies of the people" (in diverse regions like the U.S, Brazil, Hungary, Poland and Israel), the refugee crisis, the widening economic gaps and social polarization have been undermining the values of liberalism and liberal institutions – the judicial system, communications, culture, and the academic world.

Liberalism has come to be considered a sectarian position, and those who champion it are thought to be advancing particularistic interests, suited to their own Weltanschauung and lifestyle. It appears somewhat ironic that liberalism, that propounds a universal vision of equality and freedom, has come to be considered particularistic. There is, however, some logic in this: in a society that has such profound cultural and values-driven diversity, it is difficult for liberal values, including universalism, equality, freedom of the individual from tradition and authority, and the very principle of the rule of law, to serve as a common springboard for a shared life.

The course will return to foundational questions of liberal democracy through the perspective of the new global pandemic, an event which may be understood as both a metaphor for and as a crystallization of the malaise of liberal democracies. The fundamental questions accentuated by our experience with and management of the pandemic include, individual freedom vs. collective attachments; expert knowledge vs. populist sentiments; rule vs. exception; economic concerns understood in terms of growth vs. general welfare; and, indeed, questions arising from the very notion of the social contract and the role of the state. 

The course will comprise three parts: (a) An exposition in which students will reflect in a structured way on their experience in facing the pandemic on a personal, professional, and national level (e.g., anxiety, economic insecurity, care, pause from daily routines, solidarity, different forms of isolation, intimacy and social interaction; (mis)trust); (b) The main part, which will be comprised of a sustained discussion of the major building blocks of the "social contract" and include relating the broad theory to their personal experiences. The discussion is designed to explore both historical/imaginative narratives of plagues and the extent to which some of the existing political, social and legal theories – particularly of human rights discourse and its critics - capture or fail to exhaust the experience of the pandemic in its multiplicity; (c) And a final exercise, in which students working in small groups and, playing with these building blocks will develop their own thought and voice to generate a policy for addressing not only the emergence of a future critical situation but the on-going crisis of liberal democracy. 

Online course format

The first week of the course will be dedicated to preparatory readings and assignments, while most of the Zoom meetings will take place during the second week between 13:00 – 18:00 CET (no more than 180 min. a day). We will do our best to accommodate the different time zones of international students. 

Target Group

The course is designed for graduate students from relevant disciplines. We also invite applications from advanced undergraduate students who have adequate prior study or experience on the subject and make a compelling case in their application/statement of interest.

We are aiming for a highly diversified group of 20-30 students from different  regions, social   and   cultural  backgrounds and academic disciplines. This diversity is integral to the course's concept. The student body includes a group of 11 Israeli students in an LL.M program, titled  "Law  and  other  Languages" which  focuses on  the  crisis of  liberal  democracies. They reflect the deep diversity of the Israeli society. Focusing on this crisis in the context of the experience with the pandemic shared with students from other  states, cultures and disciplines, provides a fertile ground for reflecting on and hopefully facilitating the emergence of new democratic politics.  


The course is designed primarily for intellectually adventurous graduate students in the social sciences and law, open for an interdisciplinary experience in a diversified learning community. Excellent, advanced undergraduates are welcomed to apply as well.

Language requirements

The language of instruction is English; thus all applicants have to demonstrate a strong command of spoken and written English to be able to participate actively in discussions at seminars and workshops. Some of the shortlisted applicants may be contacted for a telephone interview.

Please read the following directions carefully. 
Below is the list of the documents you need to prepare or arrange for submission:

  1. Completed online SUN Application Form (see notes below)
  2. Full curriculum vitae or resume, including a list of publications, if any
    Please upload your Curriculum Vitae or resume, including a list of publications, if any.
  3. Statement of purpose (max. 1 page) 
    In the Statement of Purpose, please describe how the course is relevant to your teaching, research, or professional work, and in what way you expect to benefit from it. Please list relevant courses in the field you have taken previously during your studies.
    Please provide a name, contact email, and phone number of a person (a faculty member, job supervisor, etc.) who can be contacted by the course directors to attest to your abilities, qualifications, and academic/professional performance.
  4. Proof of English proficiency
    As proof of your English language proficiency, please upload a copy of any of the following: graduate or post-graduate degree earned in a program whose official language is English; recent English language proficiency certificate (e.g. TOEFL).  

Optional attachments:

You can upload further optional documents on the Qualifications page such as academic documents that you think may be relevant to support your application in the 'Other Supporting Documents' section. All documents should be merged into a single PDF file not exceeding the size 2 MB. No passwords and encryption are allowed.

Completed CEU Summer University Application Form

We strongly advise the use of Google Chrome to enable the full functionality of the form.


  • You may apply to a maximum of two summer courses. In case of being admitted, you can only attend both if the two courses do not overlap in time. Financial aid, if available, is only granted to attend one course.
  • If you applied to CEU before, please use your existing login and password to start a new application. If you do not remember your password from last year click on Forgotten Password. With technical problems, bugs, or errors related to the online application forms please contact the CEU IT Help Desk.
  • Right after login, please select ”Summer University” radiobutton from the "Type of course" list, and leave all other fields empty.
  • All application materials must be submitted with the online application form(s). Materials sent by postal mail, electronic mail, or fax are not considered.
  • The maximum allowable file size for upload is 2MB per file and the acceptable file formats are PDF, JPG, and JPEG. Ensure all security features (e.g. passwords and encryption) are removed from the documents before uploading them.
  • Applications cannot be edited after submission. Please submit your application only when it is 100% final and complete.
  • Further user instructions for the online application are included in the form itself. Should you have questions regarding the application form, check the relevant Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Applications submitted after the deadline will be considered on a case-by-case basis.


If you need help or more information during the application process, please feel free to contact the SUN staff via email.


The SUN Office will notify applicants about the selection results in April. Please check the 'Dates and deadlines' section on the relevant course websites for notification deadlines planned earlier or later. The final decision is not open to appeal.