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Preventing Polarization: Facilitating Dialogue in a Crazy World


Deze informatie is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Topics: Dialogue; dialogue facilitation; societal participation
Disciplines: Communication; interdisciplinary
Skills: Researching, Analysing, Generating Solutions, Collaborating, Oral communication, Presenting, Societal awareness, Reflecting, Independent learning, Resilience

Admission requirements:

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an elective course within the Honours College programme. Third year students who don’t participate in the Honours College, have the opportunity to apply for a Bachelor Honours Class. Students will be selected based on i.a. their motivation and average grade.


We live in a crazy and polarized world, where we increasingly seem to take up entrenched positions around issues such as migration, climate change, ethical religious issues, distrust of the government, conspiracy thinking, etc. We prefer to stay in our camp (‘us’ vs ‘them’) and do not listen anymore to dissent voices. Polarization is a dangerous development possibly harming democracies and economies, and pulling apart families, friends, neighbours, and colleagues.

A radical way to prevent polarization is enhancing dialogue. The dialogue method developed by philosopher and quantum physicist David Bohm (2013) is a structured and attentive conversation that has set rules, such as listening carefully, suspending judgments and asking in-depth questions, allowing different perspectives to be presented and acknowledged. Consequently, participants feel heard and seen, and space is created for connection and new insights. By recognizing each other's perspectives, the dialogue is the opposite of discussion or debate, which revolves around convincing others and causes poor listening. Bohm’s dialogue is importantly based on ‘non-duality’ (being one together) instead of separate thinking from each other, and touches on a deeper layer of connection.

In this course, you will not only get a deep understanding and experience of Bohm’s dialogue method through various dialogue sessions, but also be trained as a dialogue facilitator. The capstone will be the facilitation of a dialogue session outside the university walls, e.g., in your neighborhood, at the workplace or within your student association.

Students who have completed the course successfully are encouraged to become member of the Leiden University Dialogue Facilitators Network, an inspirational hub for lecturers and students being trained as dialogue facilitator.

This Honours Class is part of Karin Nijenhuis’ Comenius Senior Fellowship, a 2-year fellowship for education innovation, aiming at integrating dialogue as an educational method at Leiden University in order for students to feel more connected with each other and for their well-being to improve durably.

Course objectives:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will:

be able to have and to facilitate meaningful group conversations by applying the dialogue method developed by David Bohm (2013) through the training in four main skills (output) that lead to an open mind:
1) Suspend judgment
2) Listen carefully
3) Identify assumptions
4) Reflect and investigate (inquiry)

At the level of outcomes, this means that students feel more connected to each other (sense of community).
Ultimately, this has the impact on making students more resilient and they are able to enter into conversations with dissenters in other contexts, which prevents polarization.

1) Communication (interpersonal).
After the course, students can:

  • formulate carefully and clearly;

  • let another speak;

  • listen carefully;

  • suspend their opinion;

  • use and respond adequately to non-verbal signals adequately dealing with (intercultural) differences; and they feel free to share their point of view;

  • can adequately facilitate dialogue sessions.

2 ) Investigations and open mind (meta-cognitive)
After the course, students:

  • can ask and ask relevant in-depth questions;

  • have developed a curious attitude towards others;

  • are open to other perspectives and can on this basis integrate new knowledge and insights into their own perspective.

3 ) Reflect (intrapersonal)
After the course, students are aware of their own views and opinions and can reflect on their own learning development.

Programme and timetable:

The sessions of this class will take place on the following Wedenesdays from 17:15 to 19:45:

Part I:
Bohm’s dialogue in theory & practice

Session 1: 14 February
Workshop 1: Getting acquainted with Bohm’s dialogue

  • background, rules of the game, non-verbal communication

  • practicing dialogue

Session 2: 21 February
Workshop 2: Diving deeper into Bohm’s dialogue

  • non-dual thinking, identifying assumptions, stirring creativity

  • practicing dialogue

Part II:
Becoming an effective dialogue facilitator

Optional: 6 March (15.30 - 16.30) in LAK
Meditation session

Session 3: 6 March in Lipsius building, room 2.27
How to prepare a dialogue &
Dialogue on issue 1 (tbd)

Session 4: 13 March
How to facilitate a dialogue &
Dialogue on issue 2 (tbd)

Optional: 27 March (15.30 - 16.30) in LAK
Meditation session

Session 5: 27 March in Lipsius building, room 2.28
Creating an inclusive and safe environment &
Dialogue on issue 3 (tbd)

Session 6: 3 April
Dealing with resistance and group tensions &
Dialogue on issue 4 (tbd)

Part III:
Student-led dialogues

Session 7: 17 April
Student-led dialogue – 1

Session 8: 24 April
Student-led dialogue – 2

Session 9: 8 May
Student-led dialogue – 3

Session 10 15 May
Student-led dialogue – 4

Pieter de la Court building, room 0B.23, Lipsius building, room 2.27 and room 2.28
Meditation sessions will take place from 15.30 - 16.30 in LAK

Reading list:

  • Bohm, David (2013) On Dialogue. Routledge

Other possible literature will be announced in class or via Brightspace.

Course load and teaching method:

This course is worth 5 ECTS, which means the total course load equals 140 hours:

  • Seminars: 10 x 2.5 hours = 25 hours (participation is mandatory)

  • Literature reading: 55 hours

  • Practical work: 4 x 7.5 hours = 30 hours

  • Final assignment: 30 hours

Assessment methods:

The assessment methods will look as follows:

  • 10% participation assessed continually through participation in seminars;

  • 40% (10 % each) 4 individual reflection reports (assessed with PASS/FAIL) of 500-750 words on subgroup dialogue sessions outside the classroom, deadlines: 4 March (9:00 hrs), 25 March (9:00 hrs), 15 April (9:00 hrs), 6 May (9:00 hrs)|

  • 50% facilitation of an external 1-hour dialogue session and a final reflection report of 2500-3000 words, deadline: 5 June (9:00 hours)

Students can only pass this course after successful completion of all partial exams.

Brightspace and uSis:

Brightspace will be used in this course. Upon admission students will be enrolled in Brightspace by the teaching administration.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Bachelor Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Application process:

Submitting an application for this course is possible from Monday 30 October up to and including Sunday 19 November 2023 23:59 through the link on the Honours Academy student website.

Note: students don’t have to register for the Bachelor Honours Classes in uSis. The registration is done centrally before the start of the class.

Dr. Karin Nijenhuis:
African Studies Centre Leiden, Pieter de la Court Building, Wassenaarseweg 52, room 3B-55A