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The Voltaire Prize for Tolerance, International Understanding and Respect for Differences

The philosopher Voltaire (left) was a frequent guest at Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam (right).

In June 22, 2017, the University of Potsdam is presenting the inaugural “Voltaire Prize for Tolerance, International Understanding and Respect for Differences” at the central graduation ceremony. The prize amounts to € 5,000 and is financed by the Friede Springer Foundation. Each year, the University of Potsdam will award the prize to one young scholar who has made an important contribution to the social dialogue on peace, international understanding and tolerance, or who has campaigned for freedom in research and teaching, or the right of free expression.

The French philosopher was a pioneer of the Enlightenment

The prize is named after the French philosopher and writer François Marie Arouet de Voltaire, who lived from 1694 to 1778. He was among the most widely read and influential authors of the French and European Enlightenment. His critiques of the abuses of absolutism and feudalism, as well as the Catholic Church, made Voltaire a pioneer of the Enlightenment and an important trailblazer for the French Revolution.

Voltaire was also an important thinker with regard to social tolerance. His “Treatise on Tolerance,” written in 1763, was occasioned by a legal scandal in 1762 and represents an important milestone in the development of the modern constitutional state, which is why it now belongs to the founding texts of Enlightenment literature.

The spirit of Enlightenment and tolerance lives on in Potsdam, as the city’s mission statement officially notes: “The city of Potsdam is a city of diversity, equal opportunity and tolerance for all people, regardless of lifestyle, age, gender, disability, origin, faith, sexual orientation or income.” This spirit is embodied in municipal projects such as the “New Potsdam Tolerance Edict of 2008,“ or the “Potsdam Shows Its Colors“ federation, in which the University of Potsdam is involved.

The University Promotes Cosmopolitanism and a Welcoming Culture

In international circles, the University of Potsdam presents itself to its partners in research and teaching as a university that is closely affiliated with the Enlightenment of Voltaire and La Mettrie, as well as nineteenth-century research in the natural sciences. Internationalization is a crucial component of the University of Potsdam’s overall strategy, contributing to the further improvement of the quality and competitiveness of research, study and teaching at the University of Potsdam. At the same time, however, the implementation of the internationalization strategy will promote cosmopolitanism, intercultural exchange and a welcoming culture.

The Enlightenment and tolerance are a foundational element of research at the University of Potsdam. At the beginning of this year, work by Potsdam scholars and scientists lead to the founding of a joint research institution with the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation. The “Research Center Sanssouci” initiative will build on the cultural and historical heritage of the Enlightenment and Brandenburg-Prussian history while addressing future questions about a democratic knowledge society based on Enlightenment principles.

Sculpture by a Potsdam Artist

The University of Potsdam commissioned the Potsdam artist Mikos Meininger with the creation of the Voltaire Prize. He has created a figurine that is 15 cm tall, and it will be presented to the award winner on the day of the ceremony.