About Us 

Covid-19, climate change, populism, digitization and, most recently, the war in Ukraine have made the possibilities and impossibilities of reconciliation one of the most relevant topics of our time. The Bonn Center for Reconciliation Research (BCR; German: Bonner Zentrum für Versöhnungsforschung) addresses the outstanding social significance of reconciliation. Reconciliation is a central topic in peace and conflict research, which enables interdisciplinary approaches to the entire range of humanities and social sciences. Through an interdisciplinary approach, the BCR fulfils a central requirement articulated by the Science Council in its recommendations for the development of peace and conflict research in 2019. It called on federal states to ‘intensify, expand and institutionally consolidate cooperation at locations where a larger number of scientists in university and non-university institutions deal with questions of peace and conflict research’ (WR 2019, p. 57). Against this background, the BCR conducts interdisciplinary research on cultures of reconciliation. The BCR strives to develop a theoretically and methodologically sophisticated approach to reconciliation. Debates about postcolonial legacies and slave relationships’ (cf. the cluster Beyond Slavery and Freedom: Asymmetrical Dependencies in Pre-Modern Societies) indicate the need for a comparative culture perspective. Scientists from different disciplines of the humanities and text sciences collaborate within the projects of the BCR to enable an empirically based and transcultural concept of ‘reconciliation’ and a theoretically sophisticated analysis of reconciliation processes based on empirical research. Which terms are used in other cultures and religions instead of the Christian or secularised, political, and 'Western' term ‘reconciliation’? How, when, and why is ‘reconciliation’ achieved in different cultures: after a ceasefire or as a first public commitment to peace? How, when, and why are the terms ‘reconciliation’ and ‘peace’ used in different cultural and historical contexts? Is lasting reconciliation possible because of conflict transformation processes? All these questions are discussed against the background of the tension between reconciliation and irreconcilability.
In some research approaches, a ‘paternalism-free’ working definition of reconciliation is being developed. These working definitions aim to enable dialogue between cooperation partners and future-oriented cooperation in the area of ​​development policy and political advice. In addition, reconciliation research raises the critical-reflexive question of the theological, philosophical, theoretical, and political traditions of the concept of reconciliation. The members of the BCR assume that reconciliation has an ‘added value’ in relation to the concept of peace: whilst ‘peace treaties’ end armed conflicts, reconciliation is understood as a complex process in which competing memories clash. This is where research on the ‘narrativity of reconciliation processes’ comes in. In terms of a basic definition, researchers at The BCR assumes that reconciliation could be understood as follows: ‘The transformation of long-term hostilities between nations and states into free relationships of recognition that have the character of trust and friendship.’ However, what does ‘reconciliation’ mean? in practice, it must be determined on a case-by-case basis whilst considering the historical and cultural contexts in which conflict transformations are translated into reconciliation processes. The centre does not seek a universal formula for reconciliation but rather observes and continually updates cross-culturally empirical research of the phenomenon and the semantics of ‘reconciliation’. Thus, it promotes close cooperation with many international cooperation partners.
For several years, interdisciplinary reconciliation research has been particularly important at the University of Bonn. The centre coordinates all activities in the field of reconciliation research. Various university institutions, such as the Centre for Historical Peace Research (Zentrum für historische Friedensforschung, ZhF), the Research Centre for Provenance Research, Art and Cultural Property Protection Law (Die Forschungsstelle Provenienzforschung, Kunst- und Kulturgutschutzrecht) and the cluster Beyond Slavery and Freedom: Asymmetrical Dependencies in Pre-Modern Societies, are networked at the centre. In addition, intensive cooperation with the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities of North Rhine-Westphalia, Essen (Kommunikationswissenschaftliches Institut Essen) and non-university centres in Bonn, the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) and the Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies (BICC) is promoted. Other international cooperation partners include the DAAD centres in Israel and Japan and the Democracia y Derechos Humanos research institute at the PUCP of the University of Lima.
The BCR is managed by Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Soeffner as spokesman. The centre’s board of directors also includes Prof. Dr. Christine Krüger (modern and contemporary history), Prof. Dr. Stephan Conermann (Islamic studies) and Esther Gardei (sociology) as managing directors. The centre is funded by four faculties: the Protestant Theological Faculty, the Catholic Theological Faculty, the Law and Political Science Faculty and the Philosophy Faculty. Organizationally, the centre is anchored in the Philosophical Faculty. The BCR significantly contributes to the University of Bonn’s profile development and thus has links to the transdisciplinary research areas (TRAs) of 'Individuals and Societies' and 'Present Pasts', with which it works closely.


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Esther Gardei

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