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Why the Georgetown Global Dialogues?

By Thomas Banchoff and Pankaj Mishra

February 20, 2024

The Israel-Hamas war and the global response have underscored the deep divisions in our contemporary world—along national, religious, ideological, political, and generational lines.

The plague of nationalism and war, the surge of autocracy, the persistence and depth of social inequality, and the burgeoning climate crisis threaten prospects for a more peaceful, democratic, inclusive, and sustainable world.

The Georgetown University Global Dialogues (GGD) are an opportunity to discern together—across our inevitable differences—the outlines of a better future and ways forward in a divided world.

In assembling the GGD program with our partners, we’ve converged around four core imperatives.

While globalization has spawned inequality, discontent, and demagoguery rather than a peacefully equitable world, we should not turn away from a global frame of understanding and diagnosis. Rising nationalism and political polarization are impeding necessary cooperation to address global challenges ranging from climate change to future pandemics and artificial intelligence. We need to find new, creative ways to make global humanity and the planet a shared frame of reference, drawing on cosmopolitan resources across diverse cultural, philosophical, and spiritual traditions.

While consensus on many matters may seem difficult if not impossible, we should still endeavor to create new spaces for global dialogue and encounter. The global resurgence of ideological, political, religious, and cultural divisions makes dialogue across differences even more important. And the global shift in power away from the United States and Western Europe necessitates more inclusive conversations. As institutions dedicated to the exchange of ideas, universities can promote what Pope Francis calls a “culture of encounter”—spaces for dialogue that acknowledge differences while facilitating ways forward.

While human equality is elusive in practice, we should not abandon it as an ideal. The failure of our political and economic systems to address deep and persistent social inequality has generated widespread cynicism about democracy, weakening public immunity to authoritarian figures and movements. The ideal of equality is resonating less, within and across societies. New spaces for global dialogue and a revitalized global frame provide an opportunity to revive the principle of equal dignity and opportunity for all human beings as both a living ideal and practical imperative.

In the face of widespread despair, we should empower the cosmopolitan idealism of young people today. Youth have many reasons to despair about the future—they have grown up in a polycrisis world and endemic social inequality casts a shadow over their life chances. Nevertheless, many remain resolutely global in their outlook and full of idealist energies. We need to give greater voice and agency to students and encourage them to work together across borders to advance positive change.

GGD is a modest effort to advance these four imperatives—a renewed global frame, a more inclusive dialogue, a commitment to equality, and greater agency for young people.

Our time together during the week of April 22 to 26, 2024, will feature six global fellows, prominent intellectuals whose varied work as academics, novelists, curators, essayists, journalists, and activists combine deep knowledge of local contexts in Africa, Asia, and Latin America with a global frame of reference.

Over the course of 12 events over five days, the fellows will engage publicly with one another, with leading U.S.-based thinkers and practitioners, and with students, faculty, and a wider public on a range of global issues. GGD is designed as a new space for global dialogue and encounter at the heart of Washington, DC, a city not known for its cosmopolitan outlook.

The ideal of human equality will inform the week’s events in two ways—first, as a shared normative commitment across a range of global topics; and second, because GGD aspires to contribute to many existing international efforts to forge a more equal and inclusive conversation about our global future.

In order to tap into and encourage the global horizon and idealism of youth, GGD will create multiple opportunities for students to interact with featured speakers, including workshops centered on young people as a transnational force for positive change.

The Georgetown University Global Dialogues are an experiment grounded in hope at a precarious moment within and across our societies. We invite you to participate in them—before and after as well as during our time together in April. What do you think of the four imperatives we have outlined? How would you approach or formulate them differently? What are other ways to conceive and pursue an inclusive, forward-looking conversation about the challenges facing global humanity? Based on what we learn in Washington, DC, we hope to take GGD around the world in the months and years to come.

Thomas Banchoff is vice president for global engagement at Georgetown University, where he also serves as director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and professor in the Department of Government and Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Pankaj Mishra is a renowned Indian author, essayist, and literary critic with a global readership.