Cultural Literacy in Europe

Post-referendum views from the UK

We are writing as active members of the CLE initiative, five days after the UK referendum on membership of the EU, in which one of us had a vote and the other did not, and both of us are deeply dismayed at the outcome.

Cultural Literacy in Europe was created through the forward-thinking of the Humanities committee of the European Science Foundation, which continued to support the activities of the initiative – together with COST – for the next eight years. From its inception, it has been based on the understanding that literacy is not so much a national as an international project, whose goals are shared by learners, educators, policy makers, artists, and professionals across national, religious, class or any other distinctions. The ‘Europe’ in our name stands for the awareness that issues of citizenship, literacy and cultural understanding require us to work across all kinds of borders and differences. ‘Europe’ is not and has never been, for us, a criterion of inclusion and exclusion from the CLE project. Rather, that word signals a deep sense of belonging to a cultural environment which, in spite of a complex and often difficult past, is committed to constructing a shared, inclusive future. The Europe we value is a joint enterprise celebrating both difference and consensus.

The London Statement produced in 2015, after the first international CLE conference, clearly states that Cultural Literacy ‘is a way of looking at social and cultural issues through the lens of literary thinking, employing communication, comparison and critique on a scale beyond that of one language or one nation-state’. In the light of the results of the UK referendum, we want to reaffirm the importance of that transnational perspective. Europe, understood as the ideal of an inclusive community engaged in the production of knowledge and understanding, remains one of the keywords of our project, and we will continue to work in pursuit of that ideal.

Naomi Segal & Loredana Polezzi 



Meeting the challenge of Cultural Literacy

What is Cultural Literacy?

illustration_web_background_halfCultural literacy is an ability to view the social and cultural phenomena that shape our lives – bodies of knowledge, fields of social action, individuals or groups, and of course cultural artefacts – as being essentially readable. Cultural literacy engages with interdisciplinarity, multilingualism and collaboration. It is a way of looking at social and cultural issues through the lens of literary thinking, employing communication, comparison and critique on a scale beyond that of one language or one nation-state, and avoiding abstraction. Furthermore, it is as much about innovation and creative practice – whether scholarly, artistic or social – as it is about analysis, and it very often brings these two methods together.

Developing knowledge and shared practices in the area of Cultural Literacy must be understood and promoted as a key strategic goal for a meaningful impact on European society and beyond it, by supporting individuals and groups in the continuous effort to achieve greater social justice and active forms of citizenship.

CLE Conference 2015

A5_04_Page_1The first Cultural Literacy in Europe [CLE] Conference took place in London, at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, on 16-18 April 2015. A major outcome of the conference is a shared understanding of Cultural Literacy as a key societal challenge for the future of Europe and its relationship with the rest of the world. This recognition must lead to common objectives among academics, professionals, and representatives of cultural associations and funding bodies.

The Conference demonstrated that excellent research and initiatives are already taking place in this area across Europe and beyond its borders. Whether working with methods and tools of Literary and Cultural Studies [LCS] or spanning other interdisciplinary areas, researchers and teachers in the Humanities and Social Sciences can make a key contribution to both understanding and answering the challenge of Cultural Literacy.

The aims and objectives of CLE

The CLE initiative has two main aims: to achieve a broad shared understanding of the notion of Cultural Literacy and its importance; and to increase the visibility of the challenge presented by Cultural Literacy and of the contributions which LCS scholars and their fellow researchers continue to make in this area.

To achieve these aims, CLE is bringing together academics, educators, artists, policy-makers and members of the cultural industries, as well as a growing number of partner institutions, in a Forum for discussion and development across Europe and beyond

The CLE Forum has undertaken the following actions:

  1. created an international Core Group to oversee all activities;
  2. begun organization of the next biennial Conference, to be held in 2017 at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, and of an interim Workshop on ‘Migration’;
  3. assuring an enhanced web presence, supporting the distribution of information, sharing good practice, research outcomes and communication among interested parties;
  4. setting up and running Special Interest Groups devoted to key areas and initiatives.

London, May 2015