The Stavros Niarchos Foundation has announced a commitment of $150 million for a joint effort with Johns Hopkins University to address the deterioration of civic engagement worldwide and facilitate open and inclusive discourse, the cornerstone of healthy democracies.
The gift will establish the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins, a forum for experts in a range of fields, including political science, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, ethics, sociology, and history. Taking their inspiration from the agora of ancient Greece — a central market space that became a hub of social interaction and debate — full-time faculty and experts in residence at the institute will examine the dynamics of societal, cultural, and political polarization; design and test mechanisms for strengthening democracy through dialogue and social engagement; and develop approaches aimed at improving decision making and civic discourse. In the coming weeks, the institute will recruit a director and core faculty of ten, who will be joined by ten distinguished visiting scholars each year.
"In the U.S. and around the world, the rise in division, distrust, and alienation presents a daunting and urgent challenge," said Johns Hopkins president Ronald J. Daniels. "Today, cutting-edge research across a range of disciplines — coupled with a commitment to strengthen civic dialogue — can give us new insight into these trends and new opportunities for productive policy making and problem solving. The Agora Institute represents an extraordinary commitment to these aims, through a unique combination of scholarship, laboratory, and place making."
"The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is committed to exploring issues that improve the functioning of civil societies today, and the connection to the Greek agora makes this particularly profound for us, since the agora was the heart of civic life, a common space for people to coexist as citizens rather than individuals," said SNF co-president Andreas Dracopoulos. "We are very excited to partner with Johns Hopkins and strongly believe in the importance of civil discourse, informed leadership, and the role of educational institutions in restoring a more fair and productive democracy."