Tolerance Research Unit opens at Kiel University

Everyone generally agrees that fair and productive coexistence requires tolerance. But what does tolerance really mean? The term is often used ambiguously or vaguely, which makes the discussion more difficult as to how tolerance can be achieved and ensured. The Tolerance Research Unit Kiel (Kieler Forschungsstelle Toleranz, KFT), which opened today (Friday 14 September) at Kiel University (CAU), aims to intensively research the topic of tolerance in the coming years.



On the occasion of the opening, Minister of Science Karin Prien said: "I consider it a significant gain that Kiel University has taken on the challenge of developing a scientifically-based concept of tolerance. In a time in which we are shaken by sometimes radical Islam, in which anti-Semitism is rising once more, xenophobia is increasing, and populist ideas gaining support, it is important to me as Minister of Education and Science to stand up for tolerance and democracy. We need every impulse we can get. Because I am convinced that we need to once again entrench democracy in our minds."

"It horrifies me, how little tolerance and respect we often experience in public debate. Since the 1990s, anti-Semitism is no longer a taboo in Germany. Refugees are disparaged as a whole, and stigmatised as an alleged threat to Germany. As Vice-President for Diversity, I am particularly pleased that we now have the Tolerance Research Unit Kiel based at our university," emphasised Professor Anja Pistor-Hatam. "In view of the current political debates in Germany, which are also characterised by statements by the leading politicians full of misinformation and intolerance, the exploration of the topic of tolerance, and the development of a concept of tolerance, are of great importance."

In his speech during the opening of the research unit, Bernd Ulrich, political editor of the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT, called for more tolerance: "The world has become so full, cramped and close together, that tolerance is more important than ever - and more difficult. We need to increase our ability to tolerate things, almost on a daily basis."

As head of the KFT, the social psychologist Professor Bernd Simon presented the following equation: "Rejection + Respect = Tolerance. In other words, tolerance is rejection tamed by respect. If we respect other people as 'equal', then we also tolerate them and their way of life, especially if we actually reject them. You don’t have to approve of other people, or their beliefs and their way of life, in order to tolerate them." In the course of the KFT’s research, this concept of tolerance should be refined and developed further.

Bernd Simon and the team of eight research staff at the unit are focussing their work on three objectives: "Our central task is studying the topic of tolerance, both theoretically as well as in practice, for example using field studies and experiments." In addition, the research findings should be incorporated into university teaching. "We want to specifically sensitise early career researchers and scientists to the topic of tolerance, with in-depth and research-orientated lectures, research internships and subject-related theses. This will provide our students with the opportunity to acquire a unique educational profile," continued Simon, to describe the research unit’s second task. The third and equally important task is the transfer of knowledge: "We want to share our findings with institutes and initiatives of civil society, so as to contribute to enlightenment and more tolerance in our society," said Simon.

Tolerance Research Unit:

Bernd Simon
© Claudia Eulitz, Kiel University

Prof. Bernd Simon

Background information:
The Tolerance Research Unit Kiel builds on the long-term programmatic and systematic research carried out by the Chair of Social Psychology and Political Psychology on the topics of identity, collective behaviour and respect. Particularly during 2013 to 2018, within the framework of the DFG-funded Reinhart Koselleck project "Collective identity, respect and power: a new look on intergroup conflict", important foundations were laid for future exploration of tolerance issues.

Tolerance research has benefited significantly from the work of the political philosophers Thomas Scanlon (Harvard University) and Rainer Forst (Goethe University Frankfurt). In recognition of their work, the KFT’s research will be based on the rejection-respect model of tolerance. The KFT serves to combine and promote research on the topic of tolerance in general, and the rejection-respect model of tolerance in particular. Another focus area is interdisciplinary and multi-location, international co-operation.


Scientific contact:

Prof. Dr Bernd Simon
Tolerance Research Unit Kiel (KFT)
Chair of Social Psychology and Political Psychology at the CAU
Tel.: +49 431 880-2976

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