HERA Joint Research Programme ‘Cultural Encounters’

We are delighted to launch ‘Cultural Encounters’, HERA’s new and exciting transnational joint research programme.

The theme of Cultural Encounters enables us to investigate some of the most fundamental aspects of human history and society – for example, the fact that we exist through and within culture, with its myriad of events, and the fact that we are migratory and exploratory beings who do not exist in isolation or stasis. The cultures we develop and inhabit necessarily come into contact with other cultures as we move or are obliged to move, a situation that produces a wide range of powerful effects and consequences. Cultural encounters are always challenging; they force a recognition and even a re-evaluation of one’s own cultural norms and values. Sometimes these encounters are accompanied by friction and conflict – they may involve the mobilisation of political force and contests over power and resources, and they may cause a crisis situation within a culture that is forced to defend or re-think its own traditions and values. We need to study such situations to see precisely how cultural conflicts arise, what the dynamics are that drive them, and how they are resolved, if and when this is the case. However, we also need to understand the ways that cultural encounters can be catalysts for creative and productive change – how encounters with others often stimulate growth, development, innovation and renewal. We need to look at historical and theoretical models for the interactions among cultural groups within societies as well as between societies, and how cultural encounters relate to the concepts and practices of justice, respect, tolerance and identity. Cultural encounters are inevitably complex and multi-dimensional, but they have been an essential part of the human story from its very beginnings to the present day.

The projects now underway in this research programme will do much to develop our understanding of these complicated issues. Each project focuses on specific types or moments of cultural encounter, thus drawing attention to the conditions and consequences of particular cases. Yet one of the benefits of the programme will be the degree to which it will enable comparative analysis of cultural encounters, either within projects or between them, helping us to see the patterns and models that characterise such encounters in general. Through understanding the dynamics of culture in the past and present in this way, it may be possible to better anticipate our own possible futures.

The launch of this programme is a tribute to the vision and effort of the HERA partners who, by pooling financial resources and national expertise, demonstrate their commitment to building a vibrant and strong European humanities research community. Since HERA was launched in 2004, it has been committed to the vision of European researchers working across countries and across disciplines to address large-scale societal, cultural, historical and philosophical issues in ways not normally possible within conventional national programmes or at the level of the individual researcher. The benefits of this are becoming clearer as we move forward; HERA projects funded under its first joint research programme from 2008 to 2013 have not only produced important innovative research, but have also built new networks for future projects, have trained a cohort of new researchers and have promoted knowledge exchange between the humanities and the wider domains of the arts, industry, cultural institutions, education and media. We look forward to continuing to develop this mission with ‘Cultural Encounters’.

Congratulations to all those with successful projects who are about to embark on this programme. We look forward to following your progress over the next three years and to learning much from your experiences and your scholarship.

 Professor Sean RyderIrish Research Council,

Chair of the HERA JRP Board