Background Funding Initiative Democracy

Over the last few years, a previously somewhat abstract finding has become an empirical fact: Democracy is not a given. The rule of law, the separation of powers, freedom of expression, and a commitment to the common good have all lost some of their binding effect even in core democratic countries, and have been relativized, called into question, and restricted. Nevertheless, the development is subject to constant fluctuations. Hence, for some time now within Europe there has been a shift in political weighting away from a primarily pro-European stance towards an anti-European discourse, yet in the global crisis resulting from the Corona pandemic, it seems that alongside the return to national decision-making, stronger hopes and expectations have emerged that European cooperation will be able to contribute some positives to the management of the crisis and its resulting problems. At the same time, however, there are still challenges from populist movements, amongst others, which not only question democracy as a political order but indeed also the independent role of science and the research findings it produces.

Taking this present-day experience as a starting point, the Gerda Henkel Foundation has established a new funding initiative for democracy, which is divided into two subsections with different perspectives:

  • The first, historically oriented subsection on the topic of Democracy as a Utopia, Experience and Threats aims at placing the aforementioned problematic issues in the broader historical context and considering the history of conflicts over the foundation of the social order.
  • The second subsection, which is oriented towards analysis of the present situation and predictions for the future, focuses on Transformations of Democracy? Or: The Contours of Future Democratic Society. It represents an invitation to venture contributions, speculations and assertions so that we might learn to better understand the complex present-day situation and the processes of profound transformation that are taking shape while also trying to trace the contours of future society.

Call for applications for subsection 1: Democracy as Utopia, Experience and Threat

“Democracy”, as an overriding concept of this historically-oriented funding programme spanning different eras, may be simply a search direction, a heuristic guideline, and not a universalization of any – for example, our current – social and political system. The focus here is on the history of confrontation concerning the basic principles of social order, whereby there is a clash of demands for enhanced participation, for greater scope for self-organization, for more justice, or for the dismantling of hierarchies on the one hand, and on the other the value systems of those who consider the relevant status quo worthy of preservation or who see entirely different objectives of fairness, freedom and hierarchization as worth fighting for. These confrontations took place and continue to take place from ancient times until today, sometimes with and sometimes without application of any concept of democracy. What they can provide information about is the diversity of the value systems, the preconceptions of justice, and the ideals of a good society that are brought to the field by the conflicting sides.

These sorts of histories of conflict over a just order, good leadership and participation in both therefore make it necessary for the preconceptions of values and order of all the conflicting sides to be taken into account. Only this way does it become possible to historicize the diverse histories of conflict over good order, and thus to understand them in their relevant historical context: It can’t just be about the proponents of enhanced participation or a more comprehensive form of justice, not only about social movements and their hierarchies or criticism of the elite. After all, the relevant proponents of limited participation, selective socialization concepts and preconceptions of justice and freedom that cannot be universalized are equally important. The examination of conflict histories within societies that see themselves as democratic requires just this multiperspectivity: There is an interplay between the social movements and protests that critically oppose the relevant established forms of democracy and defenders of the established order and their preconceptions of participation, justice and freedom.

With the triad of concepts “utopia, experience and threat”, three of the key references to conflicting social value systems from ancient times to today are touched upon: Social movements inspired by utopias determine ideal preconceptions of politics, religion and society and fight for their realization. In societies that see themselves as democracies, people have experiences, which they mobilize in a way that is critical of democracy – be it against democracy as such or against specific aspects of the relevant established democratic order. The historically – and currently – frequently found references to conflicting social value systems is the impression of threat, as a result of which, for example, ruling elites deploy their law enforcement forces against social movements, various social groups fight for re-order and new order, religiously based preconceptions of society or justice come into conflict, or social inequality becomes a political issue. All three points of reference can be utilized for historical research into conflict histories surrounding the correct order and just society. They expand the theme of the funding programme beyond the classic fields of protest and revolutionary history, or the history of constitutions, elections and political parties – which are likewise part of it all – to include a multiperspectival history of conflict and culture surrounding the right order in society and politics.

The Board of Trustees decides on the applications on the basis of a recommendation from the members of the Academic Advisory Council.

Call for applications for subsection 2: Contours of Future Democratic Society

Talking about “future” society means describing what is new and unfamiliar in the form of a society that is only just taking shape and whose initial elements and structures we are only just starting to experience. This new form may not be entirely novel and in many regards will stem from the old one. Which fault lines and threshold points define these transformations is a question to be addressed analytically by the humanities and social sciences, whereby there is not yet any preconceived notion as to whether such changes will represent losses or gains, progress or regression at the end of the day.

Points of reference for a number of transformation processes can be identified with relative clarity within three major, extensively interwoven areas:

  1. The much-maligned crisis of democracy as we know it – liberal, constitutional, representative – is manifested in the political sphere. The new forms of populism have not only called into question the self-evidence of who constitutes “the people” and who can represent them, but have also cast democratic institutions and authorities radically into question, which has sown seeds of doubt about these agencies, and about whether and how legitimate political decisions can actually be made within large collectives at all. Here, complex questions arise concerning the conditions of resilience and renewal of democratic forces in the age of marred political authorities and legitimation, as does the question regarding the evidently changing relationship between emotions and politics, argumentative discourse and emotional rhetoric. It seems clear that many traditional forms of democratic consensus-building have reached their limits, since the places and media for sensible, informed discussion are increasingly fragmented or undermined. The influence of international acts of sabotage of discourses, and this involving meddling in elections and opinion-formation processes by means of manipulation and propaganda, is also hampering democratic consensus-building.
  2. Rapid technological change in virtually all areas of life poses challenges on an almost unforeseeable scale for human coexistence. The fact that almost all communication is conveyed through media and the ultra-fast and omnipresent interconnectedness of previously distant contexts are profoundly changing what it means to be in one place at one time, to share living spaces and habits with others, to be private or public. These transformations create problems and challenges that arise from the technologies and digitization themselves: the exploitable nature of information differences, new forms of surveillance and control – in a nutshell new forms of digital power or technical dominion. Research must be carried out into the ways our societies are finding to deal with these challenges, which norms and criteria, which ideals and models in the entirely mediatized and largely data-encapsulated world promise guidance and shelter, which skills and critical capacities individuals in this world need, and in which areas the old “natural” intelligence is perhaps a few steps ahead of its new “artificial” counterpart.
  3. It is more than clear that from a social perspective the world which is emerging recognizes, creates and condones distortions and inequalities, whereby these are not sufficiently captured by the old terms of ‘class’ or ‘social stratum’. After all, being ‘left behind’ in the present day is not measured merely by economic or sociocultural status, but rather also depends on the often now almost imperceptible practices of symbolic exclusion, fate-determining attribution of identity characteristics, or a lack of access to knowledge and education. The emerging form of society appears to be traversed by new and complex kinds of stratifications and divisions, some of which appear flexible and negotiable while the old class divisions were not, yet others appear to have a harshness and persistence that seem almost inconceivably rigid. Here, questions arise with regard to the mechanisms and techniques of such exclusions, the vectors and levels of these new fault lines – and possible strategies for overcoming them.

These three dimensions (political, technological, social) indicate only roughly which direction one might look towards in order to trace the contours of a future society. In no one direction is there anything entirely new, yet in all of them one can identify processes of profound transformation that could be grasped and interpreted in research by way of a small contribution to shaping the future. The Foundation is looking for innovative research questions and ways of working that tackle these challenges and make initial forays into descriptive, explanatory or even prognostic propositions.

The Foundation’s Board of Trustees decides on the applications on the basis of recommendation by an Advisory Committee.

Prof. Dr. Regina Kreide | Giessen
Prof. Dr. Armin Nassehi | Munich
Prof. Dr. Martin Saar | Frankfurt/Main
Prof. Dr. Véronique Zanetti | Bielefeld



Applications are open to post-doctoral researchers with links to a university from the entire spectrum of humanities and social sciences. The proposed projects must address focal themes that are being examined by a research group, which the Foundation understands to mean teams of at least two scholars actively taking part in the project work, who are to be funded by grants from the Foundation and are researching shared topics. Only post-doctoral or research grants will be considered. Applications for a research grant for the applicant (project leader) are also permitted. In total, a maximum of three grants plus funds for travel and equipment may be applied for by each research group. The prerequisite for funding is an assurance that those working on the project will produce their own research output that will be published under their names. Other people who are not funded by grants may also be involved in the project. Applications for individual grants outside of a research group are not permitted. The funding program also provides for the project partners to participate in a public “workshop discussion on democracy” or “workshop discussion on future society” organized annually by the Foundation.

The maximum duration is 36 months.

The applicants must be actively involved in the research work of the project.

Project staff on research projects may only be financed by PhD or research grants. A fundamental prerequisite for a grant is that project staff conduct their own research, which is published under their name. The simultaneous receipt of salary or retirement pension and a research scholarship is not possible.

Application Documents

The necessary application documents can be uploaded in the electronic application form.

Proposals will only be accepted in German or English language and should include:

  • description of the research proposal (max. 8 pages) 
    • plus bibliography if necessary (in addition to the max. 8-10 pages)
    • documents printed on one side only, at least font size 11 and line spacing 1.5 
    • please choose a readable font, e.g. Arial 11 pt. or Times New Roman 12 pt. (We kindly ask you to keep to the formal requirements on how to compile application documents)
  • work plan and time schedule, travel itinerary (if needed)
  • detailed cost calculation
    • specific funds being applied for must be precisely defined
    • no college or tuition fees
    • no overhead costs
  • curriculum vitae and list of publications of the applicant(s)
  • if needed, curriculum vitae and list of publications of the proposed project participant(s)
  • if needed, academic certificates of the project participant(s) (Masters, PhD, professorship, etc.; please do not send Bachelor certificates)

If also a scholarship for the applicant is planned:

  • academic certificates of the applicant (Masters, PhD, professorship, etc.; please do not send Bachelor certificates)

Please do not additionally send the documents by email or postal mail.


Application for scholarships as part of a research project

Project staff on research projects may only be financed by PhD or research grants. A fundamental prerequisite for a grant is that project staff conduct their own research, which is published under their name. The period of support for Foundation stipend holders working on Ph.D. or research projects can be extended by up to 12 months if the holder becomes a parent during the period covered by the stipend and has an entitlement to maternity or parental leave. Individual arrangements must be discussed with the Foundation’s administrative office. The following rates apply:

PhD scholarships

Monthly scholarship award: 1.600 euros

Foundation stipend holders working on Ph.D. or research projects with children, will receive a monthly family grant in addition to their scholarship. The family grant is awarded on presentation of the child’s birth certificate and disbursed for children who have not yet turned 18.

•    for one child: EUR 400
•    each further child EUR 100

Monthly endowment for scholarships abroad: 400 euros
Travel aid: as required
Material aid: as required

Research Scholarships for Postdocs

Monthly scholarship award: 2,300 euros

Foundation stipend holders working on Ph.D. or research projects with children, will receive a monthly family grant in addition to their scholarship. The family grant is awarded on presentation of the child’s birth certificate and disbursed for children who have not yet turned 18.

•    for one child: EUR 400
•    each further child: EUR 100

Monthly endowment for scholarships abroad: 575 euros
Travel aid: as required
Material aid: as required

Research Scholarships after Post Doctoral Lecture Qualification

Monthly scholarship award: 3,100 euros

As equivalent to the German Habilitation the Foundation accepts positions as „Associate Professor“ or „Full Professor“ / „Distinguished Professor“ (according to the North American university system) and „Senior Lecturer“ or „Reader“/„Professor“ (according to the Commonwealth university system), respectively.

Foundation stipend holders working on Ph.D. or research projects with children, will receive a monthly family grant in addition to their scholarship. The family grant is awarded on presentation of the child’s birth certificate and disbursed for children who have not yet turned 18.

•    for one child: EUR 400
•    each further child EUR 100

Monthly endowment for scholarships abroad: 775,- euros
Travel aid: as required
Material aid: as required

Contracts for work may be awarded for smaller research activities. The Foundation specifies no rates in this regard.


The next application deadline is 12 May 2021.


Electronic Application Form for the Foundation

1. Please complete the application form in full. Please be aware that each subsection has its own form. The link to the correct form appears if you click on the subsection below this text. Within the form, the header shows  which subsection you are applying for.

2. The application form can be saved at any time. Using your own personal link, you can return to and edit the form for a period of ten days. However, after this period (10 Days), your data will be deleted from the server.

3. Once you have completed the form, you will receive a short summary, which needs to be confirmed in order to be sent to the Foundation electronically.

4. During the transmission process your data will be sent to the Foundation in electronic form. Confirmation of receipt will be sent to the e-mail address provided in the application.

Please follow these rules when uploading your application files:

  • All documents need to be uploaded as pdf-files.
  • Please do not upload protected PDF documents.
  • A single file may not exceed a file size of 6 MB each.
  • You cannot upload more than one document per upload field.
  • The application can only be sent, if all necessary documents are included.

Please note the following additional information:

  • Your data will be stored by the Gerda Henkel Foundation for the purpose of processing your application and will not be passed on to third parties.
  • The Gerda Henkel Foundation will be happy to provide you with information about the data that we have stored on your person at any time. If so required, personal data can be changed or deleted.
  • This form may only be used to make an application to the Gerda Henkel Foundation. The Foundation reserves the right to delete application data without prior notification, if necessary.
  • Application form subsection 1: Democracy as Utopia, Experience and Threat
  • Application form subsection 2: Contours of Future Democratic Society

Publishing Aid

Publishing aid is currently only awarded to especially successful projects already being supported by the Foundation. Please include the following documents:

  • two-page summary of the academic merit and innovativeness of the monograph/collection
  • cost calculation by the publishing house
  • manuscript on which the calculations have been made (digital)

A copy of the (preliminary) PhD certificate should be included in proposals submitted for the publication of PhD theses supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

Applications can be submitted at any time.

List of sponsored projects


Prof. Dr. Michael Dreyer / Dr. Andreas Braune (Jena, Germany)
Das demokratische Gewaltmonopol in der Weimarer Republik, 1918-1924 

PD Dr. Oliver Eberl / Dr. David Salomon / Prof. Dr. Dirk Jörke (Darmstadt, Germany)
Der Blick nach unten: Soziale Konflikte in der Ideengeschichte der Demokratie 

Dr. Claudia Christiane Gatzka (Freiburg, Germany)
Verborgene Stimmen der Demokratie. Politische Repräsentationen des ‚Volkes‘ in der Bundesrepublik, 1945-2000 

Dr. Harm Kaal / Prof. Dr. Wim van Meurs / Prof. Dr. Huub Wijfjes / Prof. Dr. Thomas Mergel (Nijmegen, Netherlands)
The Voice of the People. Popular perceptions of democracy and the mediatisation of politics in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, c. 1950 – 2000

PD Dr. Jürgen Schraten / Dr. Sean Maliehe / Dr. Carmen Ludwig (Gießen, Germany)
Southern African Democracy and the Utopia of a Rainbow Nation

Important note on submitting applications

Please take a look at the information provided in this section and under General References. We would of course be happy to assist you should you have any further questions.