In the first edition of a new series, Face-to-Face with Faculty, we met up with Jakob Lindgaard Ph.D., who has been with DIS since 2007.
Jakob teaches the elective courses Islam, Democracy, and Gender and Muslims in the West, as well as the Sociology core course Cultural Diversity and Social Capital, which focuses on the social, cultural, and political mechanisms lying at the heart of cultural conflicts.
DIS: How often do you visit your study tour destinations, Southern Sweden and Istanbul? And how do you stay excited as an academic about these tours?
Jakob Lindgaard, Ph.D.: Every term I get to take the class to Southern Sweden and Istanbul as part of our exploration of the liaison between cultural diversity and social capital in Scandinavia and in Turkey.
These study tours keep on giving me profound comparative insights into the workings of cultural diversity and social trust. They are interesting not only as inputs into a comparison of differing ways two fairly homogenous welfare states with high degrees of social trust, Denmark and Sweden, deal with challenges that stem from recent immigration, but also as methods of gauging the mechanisms at work in Turkey, which is a country of comparatively low social trust.
Bringing in the perspective of U.S. students continually adds eye-opening perspectives in ways I find both stimulating and highly instructive.
And then the inscrutability of Istanbul’s historical depth, cultural diversity, and role as a symbolic junction of the East and the West is, of course, eternally intriguing on many levels.
JL: Contrary to the assumptions and ideological convictions of many of us, there is evidence to suggest that cultural diversity and social capital are more often negatively correlated than not. Diversity tends to bring out the turtle in us. Challenging these assumptions and convictions both in a Scandinavian and a Turkish context, I would love for my students to first appreciate the depth of this challenge and secondly think hard about what to do about it.
DIS: What does Copenhagen, Denmark, and Scandinavia have to offer U.S. students in terms of leaning about cultural diversity?
JL: Denmark is at the top of the class when it comes to happiness and social trust. It is also in the top tier when it comes to restrictions on immigration and obligations on immigrants. Part of the reason for this negative correlation is the fact that Denmark is a nation-state with a highly developed welfare system. Social justice, high degrees of socio-economic redistribution, and happiness in a small and historically homogenous nation-state – one which is traditionally Protestant, but now one of the least religious countries in the world – all seem to add to the challenge that cultural diversity introduces.
But, comparing and contrasting this to the more open and multiculturalist approach to immigration and integration in otherwise similar Sweden forces us to think hard and critically not only about immigration, but also about whether or not the Danish correlation entails causation.
JL: In contrast to Scandinavia, cultural diversity has a long history in Turkey. From around 330 AD to 1453, today’s Istanbul was Constantinople and as such the center of a vast Christian empire. Following the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the city soon became the center of an equally expansive Muslim Ottoman empire for another 470 years until 1923, when the Republic of Turkey was founded. The ever mind-blowing Hagia Sophia – built as a church, turned into a mosque, and now a museum – bears witness to this history.
Add another set of ethnic fault lines – primarily between Turkey’s ethnically Turkish and ethnically Kurdish population – to these religious fault lines and you begin to get a sense of a form of cultural diversity that is distinct in both history and nature from both the Scandinavian and the American experience. Comparative reflections on these differences are highly instructive. Also in contrast to Scandinavia, social trust and social capital is, as mentioned, comparatively low in Turkey. Istanbul and Turkey never leaves us short on observations and experiences to compare and contrast.
JL: Globalization is, in a sense, old news. But the ramifications stemming from the migration that is one of the most tangible manifestations thereof are still in need of a proper appreciation and engagement. Understanding the depth of the challenges that stem from migration in the 21st century is of first importance to ensure not only peace and security, but also social trust, prosperity, well-functioning liberal democracies and even personal well-being in this ever increasing diverse world.
A proper appreciation of the challenges will give us an edge when it comes to solving cultural conflicts as well as realizing the strengths that cultural diversity also holds as a potential.