"The Humanities play a role in shaping culture" - An interview with HERA Chair, Dr Wojciech Sowa


Dr. Sowa, why do we need an instrument such as HERA to promote research in the humanities at European level?


With 24 organisations in 23 countries, HERA is now a key funding instrument for the humanities at the transnational level in Europe. The projects that HERAhas set in motion cover a wide range of topics and academic fields. Nonetheless, HERA achieves so much more than simply developing new programmes and financing projects. We also serve as a platform for dialogue between the ‘modern humanities’ and the ‘traditional disciplines’.


What induced HERA to launch a joint research programme on “Cultural Encounters”?


Understanding cultural encounters means understanding the history and significance of Europe and the world. The ‘European identity’ emerges as a consequence of various manifestations of cultural transformations, conflicts and reconciliation. The ability to explain these processes is especially dependent on the humanities because culture is bound up with some of the most fundamental aspects of human existence, among them values, beliefs and language.


How would you respond to the insistence that the humanities should offer more readily viable solutions to the pressing issues of our time?


Driven by innovation, the EU’s science policy often does not accept any research ideas that work with ‘immaterial’ products. It would appear to regard the humanities as being ‘pointless’ and seems to have difficulty adjusting to the challenges. Which is where we come in. With our HERA programmes, we are trying, not just to incorporate topics related to the major challenges facing society, but also to develop an integrative strategy within the network, with the utmost respect for traditional disciplines that cannot be accommodated so easily in such defined topics..


So how does “Cultural Encounters” fit into the EU’s research logic with its Grand Societal

Challenges and its demand for ‘impact’?


Impact is absolutely vital for HERA, which is why we stipulate that the projects submitted by our applicants include specific plans for knowledge exchange. These activities must complement the scholarly achievements. We insist that non-academic partners be integrated in the projects. This leads to partnerships with the creative or cultural sector, specifically with media, museums and galleries, but also with companies, the public sector and non-profit organisations. Such cooperation facilitates mutual learning and will hopefully become even stronger in the future. However, impact also means that the humanities play a role in shaping culture. Besides resolving academic problems, the humanities should also popularise science among the general public. However, their most important function is no different from that of other disciplines: to gradually reveal the nature of the world, the nature of human beings, their thoughts and actions, through their own research.


What does the future hold for HERA?

Our mission is not merely to launch research programmes. I want HERA to speak out actively on problems in Europe today: the increase in inequality, exclusion or the migration crisis. If we believe that the humanities exert a political influence on society, we are compelled to discuss their function in an environment such as this, in particular whether they play a special role.


A native of Poland, Wojciech Sowa studied classical philology and Indo-European linguistics. Dr. Sowa has been a guest professor at universities in Poland, Slovakia and Germany. He is the coordinator for the humanities and social sciences at the National Centre for Research and Development (Narodowe Centrum Nauki, NCN) in Cracow, a research funding agency for basic research, which was founded in 2011. He has been the Chair of the HERA Board since the beginning of 2016.

www.ncn.gov.pl (not available in English)

3/2017 From “Cultures in Dialogue: The HERA Joint Research Programme “Cultural Encounters” (BMBF, 2017)