Dhe historian Samuel Moyn once described the human rights idea as a minimalist utopia that emerged from the ruins of totalitarian ideologies. According to Moyn, it is not directly linked to the French Enlightenment, which subordinated individual rights to the nation state. It was not until the 1970s that it formed a global movement and, particularly through the United Nations, influenced international jurisprudence.
Since then, individual rights have also been defended against states. Despite all the emphasis, human rights remain a fragile utopia. Nations and associations exploit them for their own purposes, religions take up the cause or refuse to do so. State constitutions must balance the tensions that arise between religious, state and individual claims. The associated conflicts shape the public debate.
Aroused protest and amazement worldwide
A research group at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg of the University of Göttingen is working on this constellation. It builds on studies on historical enlightenment carried out at the college, which also examine what standards the Enlightenment has set worldwide and which crimes have been committed in its name. A humanities that combines awareness of the problem, relevance to the present and historical depth in such a way is what every university will want.
Each? The university presidium wants to close the college in September 2021. After the failure of the application for excellence and the persistent leadership crisis following the failed presidential election, the university came under pressure. To this end, the state ministry significantly cut university budgets at the beginning of the year and announced another round of savings for 2021. Reinhard Jahn’s interim board of directors now has to decide what to do with the institutes that were built with the millions of excellence without being able to set long-term priorities. One of the victims of savings is said to be the Lichtenberg College, which was launched in 2009 with, among other things, excellence funds.
The decision, which was largely made without discussion, aroused protests and amazement worldwide. Institutes for advanced studies are places of longing for bureaucratic scientists. In contrast to comparable institutes, the Lichtenberg-Kolleg has also brought young scientists to Göttingen for research stays of several years and has built up a dense network, especially in Israel, over the years. Since the young scholars hardly take notice of German-language literature, the college is a link for a humanities that threatens to lose its international connection.
According to the British Advisory Board member Ivan Gaskell, a “lighthouse of enlightenment” is up for grabs. Göttingen, which in the eighteenth century was a model university that was imitated worldwide and still attracted streams of scientific pilgrims from the United States in the nineteenth century, is still a magnet today, at least for research into the historical enlightenment. The university houses important sources and collections from this period. The college is thus a bridge to the glorious days of the university.
Reasons for closure of a purely financial nature
Last but not least, it is one of the most beautiful institutes. It is located in the former workplace of Carl Friedrich Gauß, the Royal Observatory, which was built between 1803 and 1816 based on designs by the university architect Georg Heinrich Borheck. The building is praised as setting standards in comfort, strength and beauty. Since the historical construction was supposed to guarantee the vibration-free installation of physical measuring devices, it offers an ideal refuge for concentrated studies.
When the college was closed, the Modern Jewish Studies at the college were also lost. Institute director Martin van Gelderen is working on a scientific edition of Anne Frank’s diaries. It aims to eliminate the distortions caused by the incorrect transcription of the Dutch original and translated into several languages. Nobody knows today whether and how the project can be ended without the support of the institute.
The Presidium gives purely financial reasons for the planned closure. The annual savings potential, estimated at around 400,000 euros, is modest, however. The final decision lies with the university’s Senate and Board of Trustees.