Welcome to ICRS at Korbel

A letter from our director

Welcome to the newly launched ICRS (“iCross”) at Korbel! Our need for contextualized understanding of countries and regions around the world could not be more urgent.

The 2020 report from the democracy-monitoring “Varieties of Democracy Institute” or V-DEM, paints a worrying picture of recent trends in countries and regions around the world: In 2009, 54% of the countries around the world were democracies by their measures, but by 2020 that proportion had fallen to less than half, at 49%. Among the countries moving in the wrong direction—“autocratization”—are some of the most important, pivotal states worldwide: members of the G20 such as Brazil, India and the world’s oldest democracy, the United States.

And we know, from research and from the headlines, that countries with unhealthy democracies in turmoil are vulnerable to violence, and so, too, are societies with deep and structural inequalities and those that trample on the rights of women and girls.

We at the newly created Institute for Comparative and Regional Studies (ICRS) at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, want to know why the 21st century has brought with it such troubling trends. Is the 21st century democratic decline a worrisome but temporary bump in the long road toward better human conditions around the world—and thus, better life chances through reduced conflict and violence and more prosperity more evenly experienced? Or has the 21st century ushered in a more systemic or structural retrenchment in human rights… dystopia?

As ICRS launches in this 2020 Year of the Pandemic—COVID-19 has affected all our lives—to conduct research, facilitate dialogues and educational programming, we endeavor foremost to understand the troubling trends of the 21st century. 

ICRS research on Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East will look from the “bottom-up” with area-studies expertise, contextually sophisticated and cross-cutting thematic research to generate better knowledge and essential understandings. Our community—faculty, students, and associates and fellows from Korbel, the University of Denver, Colorado, and around the world will also endeavor to facilitate dialogue, debate and discussion: to disseminate, improve and advance knowledge through collaborative problem-solving.

Our research will be rigorous. Our dialogues will seek to bridge the sometimes-deep divide between research and policy such that those policymakers mandated with bettering the human condition do so based on rigorously derived evidence, and not ideology and simplistic beliefs. Our educational programs will be designed cutting-edge, and globally inclusive.

ICRS is values-driven in pursuit of the local to global public good. Together, we are dedicated to fostering peace and diminishing devastating interpersonal, criminal and political violence. We seek to understand how democracy can be more resilient in the face of global challenges and crises. We imagine a world where inequalities are narrowing, not widening. And we believe that countries working together, beginning in their own neighborhoods are interdependent and must act in coordination with global actors—not least of which is a revived and better resourced United Nations—if the world’s 21st century challenges are to be effectively met.

We invite you to join with us in the work of ICRS at Korbel. As we move from our creation and launch amid the pandemic to consolidate and expand our work, watch this space and sign up for our communications as our community’s research, dialogue, and educational programs and projects unfold.

There is only one 21st century. Ultimately, we hope to make it turn out better than it has, unfortunately, begun.

Timothy Sisk
Director, ICRS