Democracy Labs

The Democracy Initiative seeks to catalyze a series of interconnected research and teaching projects that study how democracies have fared in their efforts to achieve legitimacy, stability, civil equality, accountability, prosperity, and resilience in the face of contemporary and past challenges.

As a means to achieve these aims, the Initiative is creating “Democracy Labs.” The labs are built on models of collaborative humanities and social science scholarship and public policy formation. Teams may include faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate and undergraduate students working with those who have expertise as government, NGO, public policy, and business leaders; activists; artists; and philanthropists. Together they will explore specific research questions about democracy. The Democracy Labs consist of the permanent John L. Nau III History and Principles of Democracy Lab and a group of Rotating Labs.

The Democracy Initiative is pleased to announce a call for new rotating lab proposals. Proposals are due on October 1, 2021, to launch a new three-year lab(s) in August 2022.  LEARN MORE.

The John L. Nau III History and Principles of Democracy Lab

The Nau Lab is the permanent laboratory of the Democracy Initiative, a place where core conceptual and historical questions about democracy will be researched and debate. We work to connect the various rotating labs and other projects through conversations about research, teaching and the practice of public scholarship and community engagement. We offer a yearly transdisciplinary graduate course focused on Democracy, and opened to students from all fields. And we organize a range of programming related to the History and Principles of Democracy.

Rotating Labs


A key element of the Democracy Initiative will be the creation of a constellation of research labs, each dedicated to a specific project within the Initiative. Each will have its own individual focus, its own project plan, and its own project team. Labs will exist only for the duration of their work—typically, three years. Multiple labs will run concurrently, which will ideally help create cross-lab collaborations and bring multiple labs into regular conversation around common themes. The labs will disseminate their findings and proposals in multiple forms—books and articles, conferences and colloquia, and digital media, podcasts, videos—that animate and drive the public conversation about democracy. As one lab concludes its work, the Initiative will establish another, constantly reinvigorating the Initiative’s scholarly community.  


  • Leading each lab will be a team of distinguished faculty, all of whom will be pursuing active research agendas in the relevant area, working with postdoctoral fellows, Ph.D. students, and small groups of undergraduate students who have a deep interest in the topic. These faculty members, known as Democracy Lab Fellows, will develop at least two new undergraduate courses (Forums) to ultimately enhance the curriculum and extend the labs’ impact into teaching. 

  • The labs will bring in leading outside scholars and practitioners who will enrich the conversations with perspectives from beyond UVA and the academy. 

  • Through the labs, the Initiative will host working sessions in Charlottesville and potentially at the Darden School’s facilities in Rosslyn, Virginia, allowing it to take full advantage of UVA’s proximity to Washington, D.C.Research conducted in the labs will shape course and curriculum development, beginning in Arts & Sciences and extending to other schools of the University and eventually to schools of continuing education, community colleges, and elementary and secondary school curricula.


Corruption Laboratory for Ethics, Accountability and the Rule of Law (CLEAR)
Deliberative Media Lab
Democratic Statecraft Lab
Religion, Race and Democracy Lab
Repair Lab
Sound Justice Lab