The Program on Culture and Democracy

The American Democracy and World Order Project

“What will it mean to live in a post-American world?”

—Fareed Zakaria, 2011

The purpose of the American Democracy and World Order Project is to understand the fundamental challenges to healthy democracy in America and the implications of these challenges for America’s place and role in the larger world. While virtually all Americans are strongly committed to the principles and aspirations of democracy, America’s civic and political institutions are under challenge as seldom before. The American public has become increasingly fragmented and polarized into competing factions. The resulting political paralysis has led millions of Americans to lose faith in the ability of their civic and political institutions to maintain good order, provide opportunity, and promote justice.

This crisis of legitimacy within America is linked to a crisis in the world order. The simple reason is that since the Second World War, the modern world order has depended upon international institutions built and sustained, in large part, by American power and influence. Indeed, for over six decades, the fate of America and the fate of the world have been inextricably bound together. Contributing to this crisis in the world order are the rise of authoritarian China, the evident decline of democratic Europe, and the emergence of politicized, pan-Islamic movements. History shows that tectonic shifts in the distribution of power and influence among leading countries often produce catastrophic war and, with it, incalculable human suffering. The question is not only how to avoid such devastation, but how in an emerging multipolar world, to foster human flourishing at home and abroad.

The American Democracy and World Order Project seeks to understand the changing dynamics operating within the moral foundations of America’s civic and political institutions domestically and internationally. What is the evolving nature of this crisis within American political culture and its role in the world? What can history teach us about how nation-states can navigate the changes in the larger global order in ways that serve peace and justice?

View a list of select publications >>


Owen, John M., IV. The Clash of Ideas in World Politics: Transnational Networks, States, and Regime Change 1510-2010. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Owen, John, and J. Judd Owen. Religion, the Enlightenment, and the New Global Order. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

Nichols, Christopher. Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.

Shields, Jon. The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

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Who We Are

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture is an interdisciplinary research center and intellectual community at the University of Virginia committed to understanding contemporary cultural change and its individual and social consequences, training young scholars, and providing intellectual leadership in service to the public good.

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