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Elective: Between Cosmos and Polis: Imagining Cosmopolitics for the 21st Century


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies who have succesfully completed the second year elective course.
The number of participants is limited to 25.


One of the longest standing challenges for humanity is the way in which people and institutions negotiate the relationship between universalism and particularism. The turn of the 21st century witnessed conflicts and crises which continue to threaten the authority and legitimacy of public regimes and private claims, the soft power of diplomacy and development, and the transformative potential of education and technology; 15 years into the new millennium, it is high time to consider alternative strategies for peaceful, just, and sustainable co-existence. Beyond the borders of and disputes amongst scientific traditions, religious denominations, and political partisanship, this course invites students to engage with the long history of the idea and practice of cosmopolitanism—by way of the iconically universal ideal of the cosmopolis, which, after Cartesian and Newtonian rationalism, envisioned a political union of rules about the natural order (cosmos) and the social order (polis) and thus set the ideological foundations for the expansion of Europe since the 17th century—towards imagining a new theoretical and political space for a 21st-century cosmopolitics which can allay the twin dangers of universalism (especially hegemony and tyranny) and particularism (most notably, relativism).

By embracing interdisciplinary inquiry across philosophy, politics, and performance, as well as experimenting with practice-based research methods, students will discover effective means to mediate competing visions of cosmos and polis, accompanied by creative modes to express individual and collective cosmopolitical responses for the 21st century, along the themes of:

  • ®Evolution

  • Ordering chaos

  • (In)Commensurability

  • Fair play

  • Common ground

  • Amor mundi

  • Obedience and resistance

  • Sensus communis

  • Participation and delegation

  • UniverCities

to examine, ultimately and reflexively, the promise of university education, academic research, and intellectual activism for a contemporary cosmopolitics.

Course objectives

The elective courses 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 interdisciplinary 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 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
a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
c. using up-to-date presentation techniques;
d. aimed at a specific audience;
3. to actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.
Collaboration skills:
1. to be socio-communicative in collaborative situations;
2. to provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position;
3. 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 analyze 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.
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
a. in the form of a clear and well-structured written presentation;
b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
c. using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;
d. aimed at a specific audience.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction

Seminar discussion, immersive excursions, and supervised research.

Course Load

This 10 ECTS course amounts to a workload of 280 hours, approximately divided into: – Total contact hours (12 × 2 hours): 24 hours – Total hours for seminar preparation (12 × 10 hours): 120 hours – Total hours for completion of short assignments (12 × 2 hours): 24 hours – Total hours for research and execution of final project: 106 hours – Total hours for excursion: 6 hours

Assessment method

  • Seminar participation: 10% – Excursion report (by oral presentation): 10% – Portfolio of 12 weekly reflection papers (of 350 – 500 words each): 40% – Final research project (equivalent to an essay of 4000 – 5000 words): 40%

Note: The maximum possible grade to be obtained for re-submission of the final essay is a 6.0


Blackboard will be used. For tutorial groups: please enroll in blackboard after your enrollment in uSis
Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.

Reading list

The core course readings will be drawn from primary sources and journal articles in political theory, philosophy of science, and comparative ethics, including excerpts from:

  • Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community

  • Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

  • Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity

  • Edward Grant, A History of Natural Philosophy

  • David Ingram, Radical Cosmopolitics: The Ethics and Politics of Democratic Universalism

  • Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment

  • Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

  • George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought

  • Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions

  • Plato, Meno and Phaedo

  • Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity

  • James Tully, Public Philosophy in a New Key

as well as multi-media material on performative identities, creative worldviews, and digital politics.

All texts (widely construed) for this course will be accessible via Blackboard; while students are welcome to purchase the books listed above for future reference and reflection, it is not necessary to do so.


Enrollement through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

The student administration will register all first year students for the first semester courses in uSis, the registration system of Leiden University.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


As a prelude to this course, please read (and enjoy!):

  • Italo Calvino, Cosmicomics (either the original in Italian or William Weaver’s English translation)

over the winter vacation, paying special attention to themes of universality and individuation in each whimsical exploration of space and time in the evolution of the world. If you have difficulty locating a copy of the book, please contact the instructor for a solution in good time. Be prepared to discuss your findings at our first seminar.


Dr. Cissie Fu, email