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Thematic Seminar: The end of history? Theories of modernity


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies programme.
The number of participants is limited to 24.

Please note that passing a Thematic Seminar (10 EC) in the second year, second semester, is an entry requirement for starting your thesis in academic year 2022-2023. You need to have passed a minimum of 100 EC of year 1 and 2 of the International Studies programme as well in order to start your thesis.


During the period we traditionally call ‘modernity’, the Western world saw the contemporaneous emergence of the scientific method, industrialized economies, modern bureaucratic states and democratic forms of government. According to the philosophers of the Enlightenment, all of these phenomena form part of a coherent historical development, where the application of reason to human affairs would lead to the overcoming of prejudice and ignorance and would ultimately bring liberty and equality to all. From the mid-19th century onwards, this narrative was increasingly called into question and criticized, both for its supposed Western-centred prejudice and for its optimistic view of human rationality.

To this day, the debate between proponents and opponents of Enlightenment universalism remains unresolved. Is there progress in history? What would it consist in? Is ‘modernization’ a homogenous process or well-defined goal towards which all countries should strive, or is this a Western prejudice? Are there ‘multiple modernities’? Is social and economic development necessarily tied to a specific political system, such as liberal democracy? In this course, we will examine the notion of history and historical development as it emerged in the West in the modern era, and critiques of these notions from both the Western and other philosophical traditions.

Course objectives

The Thematic Seminars for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the multidisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral and written presentation skills:

1. To explain clear and substantiated research results.
2. To provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course:

  • in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;

  • in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;

  • using up-to-date presentation techniques;

  • using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;

  • aimed at a specific audience.
    3. To actively participate in a discussion

Collaboration skills:

1. To provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position.
2. To adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:

1. To collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques.
2. To analyse and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability.
3. To formulate on this basis a sound research question.
4. To design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved.
5. To formulate a substantiated conclusion.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the Midterm Exam week. This includes supervised research.

Assessment method

Assessment and Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
Assignments 30%
Oral presentation Pass/fail
Participation and weekly reading questions 20%
Final Research Essay - 5,000 words (between 4,500 and 5,500) 50%

End Grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the End Grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components.


Students who score an overall insufficient grade for the course, are allowed resubmit a reworked version of the Final Essay. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the Final Research Essay and subsequent feedback.
In case of resubmission of the Final Research Essay the final grade for the Essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion.

Students who fail to hand in their final essay on or before the original deadline, but still within 5 working days of that deadline, will receive a grade and feedback on their essay. This will be considered a first submission of the final essay, however, the grade will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion.
Students who fail to hand in their final essay on or before the original deadline, and also fail to hand in their essay within 5 working days of that deadline, get 10 working days, counting from the original deadline, to hand in the first version of their final essay. However, this first version counts as a resubmitted essay with consequential lowering of the grade, and there will be no option of handing in a reworked version based on feedback from the lecturer.

Retaking a passing grade

Retaking a passing grade is not possible for this course.
Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2021 – 2022.

Exam review and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

Readings may be subject to change.

  • Condorcet, ‘Sketch for an Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind’.

  • Marx & Engels, ‘The Communist Manifesto: Bourgeois and Proletarians’

  • I. Kant, ‘What is Enlightenment?’

  • M. Foucault, ‘What is Enlightenment?’

  • I. Kant, Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent

  • G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of History, introduction

  • O. Spengler, Decline of the West, introduction

  • Adorno and Horkheimer, ‘The Concept of Enlightenment’, in The Dialectic of Enlightenment

  • J.F. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge

  • F. Fukuyama (1989). ‘The End of History?’

  • S. Eisenstadt et al., Reflections on Multiple Modernities

  • W. Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options

  • D. Chakrabarty, ‘The Climate of History’

Additionally, the students will work through:

  • W.C. Booth et al., The Craft of Research, fourth edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2016, or;

  • W.C. Booth et al., The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.


Registration occurs via survey only. Registration opens 17 December 2021:

  1. On 17 December 2021 you will receive a message with a link to the survey.
  2. Indicate there which are your 5 preferred Thematic Seminars, in order of preference.
  3. Based on preferences indicated by 3 January 2022 the course Coordinator will assign you to one specific Thematic Seminar by 24 January 2022.
  4. Students will then be enrolled for the specific groups by the Administration Office.

Students cannot register in uSis for the Thematic Seminar courses, or be allowed into a Thematic Seminar course in any other way.



The deadline for submission of the Final Essay is Friday 10 June 2022.