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 will consist of a Core Lab and a group of Rotating Labs.

Core Lab

The Initiative demands a foundation rooted in philosophy, the arts, and humanities, as well as an institutional repository for the vital—yet time-limited—work that takes place in and among the rotating labs. 

For this reason, it is crucially important to establish a Core Lab at the very outset of the Initiative. The function of the Core Lab will be to serve as a connecting hub among the various individual labs, facilitating inter-lab collaborations and seeking synergies in research, teaching, and public engagement.

It will serve as the nerve center of the entire Initiative, catalyzing key questions, research agendas, and forums for debate. The Core Lab will find opportunities for cross-lab collaboration by identifying broader concerns that transcend those investigated by any single lab. It will gather philosophers; artists; scholars of gender, race, empire, and the ancient, modern, and post-modern worlds; and others to research fundamental questions and critiques of the democratic experiment in its varied global forms.

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.



Deliberative Media Lab

Democratic Statecraft Lab

Religion, Race and Democracy

Corruption Laboratory for Ethics, Accountability and the Rule of Law (CLEAR)