Upcoming Program


Democracy in the US, and across the world, faces complex challenges. Economic and racial divisions are driving political and cultural polarization. Gaps are widening between people and power, with authority in some countries now beyond traditional checks and balances. Globally there are more democracies than ever, yet trust is declining and the media is seen as increasingly partisan. Pessimism is highest among youth.

Aggravated by the COVID-19 crisis, these trends have critical implications for the US’ social fabric and international influence. Ahead of the presidential election, 2020 is a pivotal year to launch a comparative analysis of democratic principles, practice and innovation. Celebrating seven decades of American Studies programs, Salzburg Global now proposes a major three-year collaboration to help shape a future vision for the United States and American Studies in a radically changing world.

By one measure, global democracy is at or near a modern-day high. Yet concern has been growing for years about the future of democracy. In the United States and elsewhere, political and cultural changes related to questions of race, class, and ethnicity are transforming attitudes to – and participation in – political parties and leadership. Nationalist and populist groups, while in the minority, stoke fear of globalization and “the other” amidst economic insecurity. Many rural and marginalized communities feel alienated or neglected in comparison to urban centers.

Even though a strong majority support democratic ideals, many now question democracy’s resilience and how it can reconnect with citizens who are disillusioned or feel excluded.

Conventional wisdom and value-based assumptions indicate what democracy is or should be: rule of law, accountability, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, representation, minority rights. Yet survey data increasingly highlight a deep disconnect between expert opinion and what “ordinary people” actually think and want.

Across the world, political and social sciences point to the end of traditional binaries like liberal/conservative and left/right. Economics and culture are emerging as the new axes for analysis and prediction. Citizens’ roles, rights and obligations are largely absent from the conversations.

Issues, not parties, are becoming the center of political gravity. Voters are likelier to swing between liberty and authoritarianism depending on the topic. This disrupts current political systems, gives rise to extreme factions within parties and often results in a loss of stable governing majorities.

Times of great uncertainty, such as the “War on Terror”, have seen citizens’ liberties withdrawn in return for greater security, risking authoritarian power grabs. Will today’s coronavirus crisis lead in turn to a worsening crisis of democracy?  

With the United States still representing the promise of democracy for many people around the globe, key questions include: How are current dynamics and historical roots affecting the US’ image and influence in the world? Are we seeing the end of global leadership by the US as established in 1945 and if so, how much is that due to changing power balances in the world and how much to domestic changes?  In what ways might we see US leadership restored or re-fashioned? What can the US learn from trends and innovations in other countries? How do contemporary literature, theater and other cultural works help shape understanding of the forces at work? How can citizens, media and institutions re-engage across divides to build resilience and restore public trust? What lessons from the past can be applied to the present – and the future?

SERIES GOALS (2020-2022)

  • Catalyze leadership by universities and American Studies practitioners on democratic principles and practice, informed by arts and culture, social commentary, and historical and geographical analysis.
  • Activate interdisciplinary networks of citizens, scholars and innovators working at the frontiers of democracy and inclusion in the United States and around the world.
  • Incubate new ideas, research collaborations and cultural projects for dissemination through international American Studies associations and networks.
  • Engage new and diverse publics in open dialogue across a variety of platforms, supported by innovative media products and virtual convening tools.
  • Develop a major non-partisan initiative to position Salzburg Global Seminar at the forefront of the future evolution of American Studies, marking the organization’s 75th anniversary in 2022.
Program Topics
Program Info
Related News
2020 What Do We Want from Democracy?

Program 1 will focus on complexity and balance. Participants will explore critical questions for political science, history, and culture, informed by cutting-edge research and data analytics. They will generate a succinct report and online debate that will be referenced in subsequent meetings in the series. Key questions may include:

  • What do “democratic values” signify for a globalized and digital era?

  • How has the history and geography of democracy been shaped, by whom, for what purpose? What/who has been left out and where?

  • What are the main political, economic and cultural drivers of polarization in the US? How do these affect trust and participation in democratic processes, and belief in indivisibility?

  • How can we better understand and engage citizens with divergent ideas and biases?

  • How are these topics reflected in contemporary American culture, including film, theater and literature? Are celebrity activists an asset or a liability?

  • What impact could the coronavirus crisis have on democracy and the social fabric in the US and beyond?

2021 Democracy, Media and Trust

Program 2 will focus on democratic infrastructure and accountability. Domestically and internationally, The US’ constitutional democracy is coming under the spotlight as issues and interpretations are revisited, power is centralized, and ever-greater sums are spent during elections. Key questions may include:

  • Where is political and executive power now located in the US? What light is shed by contemporary culture and social commentary?
  • How far does the US campaign finance system impact perceptions and practice of democracy? What new trends and influences has the 2020 electoral process revealed?
  • How is critical inquiry into money, power and accountability evolving in the US and elsewhere? What do the data indicate on public attitudes to finance and concerns about corruption?
  • How far does media still operate as the “fourth pillar of democracy”? What are the implications of media and technology monopolies for democracy around the world?
  • How is the US influencing, and being influenced by, state and non-state actors in these domains?
2022 Democracy, Inclusion and Citizenship

Program 3 will build on preceding programs and focus on individuals as the cornerstone of vibrant democracy at local to national level. Key questions may include:

  • How inclusive is democracy in the US today?
  • How has the history of protest in the US shaped civic engagement? What can be learnt from popular movements in other settings (e.g. civil rights, climate change, LGBT) to understand ways to revitalize democracy in a peaceful way?
  • At local and state level, what innovations are transforming citizen engagement and collaborative leadership in the US and elsewhere? How can this be aggregated upwards?
  • How could more women and people from working class and other marginalized backgrounds amplify their political voice and leadership?
  • What do youth need and want from democracy? Can new technologies and approaches incentivize new generations to engage over the long term? 

Salzburg Global’s American Studies Program sustains a diverse international community across academia, culture, media, civil society, government, business, law, and technology. Each meeting brings together around 45 practitioners and thought leaders from different generations and backgrounds, connecting researchers, teachers, artists, journalists, diplomats, entrepreneurs and politicians with a strong interest in strengthening democratic principles and practice. 

Program Format

Each highly interactive four-day meeting is co-created in consultation with participants. Roundtables featuring distinguished experts with divergent perspectives will be combined with small discussion groups and immersive workshops on research, data analysis, and innovations for deliberative democracy. The Chatham House Rule is followed to ensure open and free debate.


Salzburg Global Seminar is an international not-for profit organization that challenges current and future leaders to shape a better world. A US 501(c)(3) institution, Salzburg Global's annual budget is set in US Dollars.  Participation fees for a 4-5 day program are currently calculated at $5,150 per person. Annual exchange rate calculations for program fees in EUR are calculated using an average of previous years.

The full individual fee for the American Studies Program in 2020 is US $5,150 or €4,550. This covers the cost of program design and development, materials, accommodation and meals but excludes travel to Salzburg.

With the help of generous partners, the American Studies Program is able to offer a discounted rate of US $1,100 or €975 to participants from universities, research institutes, think-tanks, non-governmental organizations, and public officials on an as-needed basis. Salzburg Global also offers a limited number of scholarships to ensure diversity of participants across sectors, regions and generations.

If you would like to apply for a scholarship or discount, please send your CV or brief bio and personal statement to

If your registration  is accepted, payment is due within five (5) business days after receipt of the confirmation. Payment can be made via credit card (Mastercard or Visa) or by bank transfer.

Cancellation Fees: In case of cancellation, a participant may transfer registration to another member of the participant's organization (city, department, firm, etc.) upon mutual agreement. Alternatively:

  • Cancellation more than 60 days before the program: 100% refund
  • Cancellation less than 60 days and more than 30 days before the event: 50% refund
  • Cancellation less than 30 days, but more than 14 days: 25% refund
  • Cancellation less than 14 days: no refund