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JHU’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute Announces Inaugural Director

Apr 04, 2019
A political scientist who dedicated her career to understanding civic and political participation will now work to advance them as inaugural director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University. She starts July 1.

Hahrie Han will lead the SNF Agora Institute, an interdisciplinary academic and public forum with a goal of strengthening democracy by fostering civic engagement, inclusive dialogue, and the open exchange of ideas. A scholar, prolific researcher and author, Han comes to Baltimore from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she served as the Anton Vonk Professor of Political Science and Environmental Politics and ran a lab dedicated to investigating how to build meaningful political and social action.

Hahrie Han possesses that rare combination of qualities that we believe will make her a uniquely effective inaugural director for this Institute,” said Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels. “Not only is she an outstanding scholar, whose work on civic participation has already shaped her field, she also brings a far-ranging strategic vision, boundless energy, and exceptional collegiality to all she undertakes.”

The university’s SNF Agora Institute, created with a $150 million gift from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, aims to bring together a diverse group of scholars and practitioners from political science, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, ethics, sociology, and history, along with government, the media, and the broader community of engaged citizens to forge new ways to promote healthy democracies. Drawing its inspiration and name from the ancient Athenian agora, the Institute seeks to replicate the agora’s role as a public space for citizens to develop the skills for everyday democracy and engage in conversation, debate, and the robust exchange of ideas.

Han’s research focuses on the essence of the Institute’s goals: civic and political participation, collective action, organizing, and social change — particularly on the role that civic associations play in mobilizing people and building power for social change. Her lab at UC Santa Barbara is known as the “P3 Lab” because it studies how to make the participation of regular people possible, probable, and powerful. She will apply her extensive experience to help to build and strengthen an agora for modern times at Johns Hopkins.

Strengthening our ability to realize the promise of democracy around the world is one of the great challenges of the twenty-first century,” said Han. “With its focus on blending the highest quality scholarly research with communities of practice and the public conversation, the SNF Agora Institute is uniquely poised to not only help us understand the complex problems, but also identify actionable solutions to address them. I am deeply honored by the opportunity to help build it.

Before joining the faculty of UC Santa Barbara, where she’s served since 2015, Han was an Associate Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College from 2005 to 2015 and a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Scholar at Harvard University from 2009 to 2011.

She is the author of three books: How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century, which examines the strategies that effective civic associations use to engage activists and develop leaders; Groundbreakers: How Obama's 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America (co-authored with Elizabeth McKenna), which describes the strategies the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns used to engage grassroots activists; and Moved to Action: Motivation, Participation, and Inequality in American Politics, an examination of the ways in which people become motivated to participate in politics, particularly underprivileged populations.

Han strives to find ways to make her academic work relevant in the world beyond the campus. She participates in the Social Science Research Council Anxieties of Democracy Participation Working Group; is a Commissioner on the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship; co-founded the Center for Democracy and Organizing; served as co-chair of the Civic Engagement Working Group at the Scholars Strategy Network; co-founded and co-directed the Project on Public Leadership and Action at Wellesley College; and participated on the steering committee of the Gettysburg Project. She also regularly works with civic and political organizations worldwide to help them organize and build momentum for social change.

She received her doctorate in American Politics from Stanford University in 2005 and her bachelor’s degree in American History and Literature from Harvard University in 1997.

We are very excited to welcome Hahrie Han to the helm of the SNF Agora Institute, founded under the premise that great universities have the potential, and the responsibility, to be real and dynamic engines of change in society. Han’s vision for the institute is driven by her extensive scholarly work on democratic civic participation and strengthened by her understanding of the importance of bridging academia with human engagement on an individual level. Under Han’s leadership, the SNF Agora Institute will bring together world-class academics and researchers and will establish collaborations with other institutions, at the same time offering practical remedies to combat civic disengagement and polarizing discourse. We look forward to the SNF Agora Institute’s journey under Han’s leadership,” said Andreas Dracopoulos, co-President of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.