Global Interaction of Civilizations and Languages

The 21st century calls for a truly global approach in the Humanities and the Social Sciences.

This profile theme addresses debates on globalisation and its history, on linguistic and cultural diversity and convergence, and on heritage and innovation. By comparing in time and space, we aim to pinpoint the conditions under which present-day global mobility will spur the development of innovative and inclusive societies or conversely lead to conflict, inequality, language loss or ecological disaster. Our view is that the discourse should shift from ‘clashes of civilizations’ to the notion of constant global interaction.


Given the complexity of the phenomenon of globalisation, a multidisciplinary approach is essential. The Leiden Faculties of Humanities, Archaeology, and Social and Behavioural Sciences (particularly Anthropology) form the ideal network community to study global interactions, not least through the University’s partnerships with renowned libraries and museums. Researchers and lecturers at Leiden University have cutting-edge experience in the field of international transfers of linguistic, cultural and social practices and traditions throughout the ages and in all regions of the world.

In-depth linguistic and cultural knowledge

We believe that the discourse should shift from ‘clashes of civilizations’ to the notion of constant global interaction, and the conditions under which such interaction leads to the production and dissemination of wealth, knowledge and innovation; or, conversely, to conflict and the endangerment of core human values and heritage – local or global. Deep linguistic and cultural knowledge of societies worldwide is crucial to the study of these developments.

The future of Europe

In addition to global interactions per se, we have built a tradition of studying the particular mix of factors and conditions that has created Europe’s combination of civil society, public sphere traditions and economic success, in constant interaction with the rest of the world. We need this knowledge to take steps to secure the future of Europe.


One of our focus areas is the study of migration. An important starting point is constituted by comparative knowledge on processes of openness and interaction, on the one hand through migration, urbanisation, and the constant exchange of ideas, technologies and world views – and through isolationist and inward-looking trends, on the other. We need this knowledge to understand the present, and to develop pro-active policies for the future.


Of all six thousand languages spoken worldwide, the large majority will probably die out in the course of the 21st century. The extinction of these languages means that complete knowledge systems will be lost. At the same time, globalisation has generated new, shared cultures of communication and language use. In Leiden, we combine our multidisciplinary linguistic expertise in the field of Africa, Indian America, Asia, Eurasia and Europe to study these developments and their significance for society at large.

Global heritage

We re-examine problematic concepts of value, custodianship and authenticity in ‘World Heritage’ rhetoric, and study how heritage is mobilized within globalizing issues such as development, poverty, human rights, governance, citizenship, and transnational activism.


We promote co-operation and exchange with museums and other centres of excellence, both locally within Leiden University and the city of Leiden, and further afield in may different regions across the globe. We cherish our relationships with lay counterparts, discussants and informants all over the world, who offer us their views on our shared global experience, and grant us access to their languages and cultures.

Launched as a central part of  Leiden University's research strategy, Global Interaction of Civilizations and Languages is an institution-wide profile theme.

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Description of the Global Interaction of Civilizations and Languages research profile (in Dutch)

Last Modified: 09-05-2012