CEU Summer University (SUN)

SUN and CEU – Converging and Diverging paths 

Since its inception in 1996, the CEU Summer University (SUN) has shared and contributed to the university’s mission in its own special way. In a compressed form, through short, intensive postgraduate courses, its mandate has been to promote inspiring research and teaching as well as social engagement amongst its target audience of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, junior faculty, researchers and professionals. The highly specialized courses set rigorous entry academic requirements that guide the selection process yielding well-qualified and motivated groups (in 2010 out of 1,462 applicants 571 were accepted). Being primarily an outreach effort, SUN invites external junior academics and practitioners to give them a taste of some of what CEU offers to its enrolled student body during the semester.

The geographical diversity of summer participants is similar to that of CEU’s; in 2010, for instance, 86 countries were represented among the 571 participants. In a typical classroom often students come from 15 or more different countries.

Courses are developed specifically for SUN with a ’one-time ensemble’, and go through an internal and external academic review process for course approval. They are taught by teams of high-level, multi-disciplinary, international faculty (both CEU and non-CEU) providing participants with a wide range of perspectives and approaches as well as creating ample opportunity for CEU faculty to extend their academic partnerships through SUN. This co-operation often results in lasting joint research projects, publications, conferences and workshops and generally helps raise the university’s visibility and student recruitment efforts.

The summer school, however, is not the exact replication of the departmental programs. Not infrequently, topics and discipline areas are included in the course offerings that are not part of the university’s curriculum, and are therefore uncharted territory for CEU. SUN, with some of these courses, serves as a laboratory for experimenting with new disciplines, research directions and approaches which could potentially later be adopted by the regular curriculum. It was in the summer program in 2007 that a cognitive science course had first been taught at the university by leading scholars of the field. It was followed by several high-level courses, as a result of which, a cognitive center had been established within the philosophy department, which has now evolved into a new cognitive science department, attracting further world class researchers, promising junior scholars and prestigious large, external grants for research.


TRACK I - Research-intensive courses

The disciplines within SUN that, in the past few years, have attracted the largest number of leading scholars and practitioners, and have generated great interest in academic and professional circles have been offered in the following areas:

-         philosophy

  • history and philosophy of science: Philosophy and Science in the Greco-Roman World, 2003, 2004, 2006; Descrying the World in Physics, 2006 
  • philosophy of language and mind: Conditionals: Philosophical and Linguistic Issues, 2009, Meaning, Context, Intention 2010; 
  • moral philosophy: Aspects of Responsibility, 2008, 2009, 2010 

-         cognitive science: Understanding Actions and Minds, 2004; Cultural Learning, 2005; Culture and Cognition 2007; Memory and the Mind, 2009; Beliefs and Decisions, 2010; and Brains and Minds, 2011

-         medieval studies: Changing Intellectual Landscapes in Late Antiquity, 2004; The Birth of Medieval Europe, 2007; From Holy War to Peaceful Co-habitation; Lived Space in Past and Present, 2010

-          legal studies: Advanced European Union Legal Practice, 2006-2011


The reverberating effect of some of these courses has been reinforced by recording several sessions and public lectures that can be accessed on the CEU YouTube channel. One of the course directors summarized her summer school experience predicting that

“this course will define trends in research on context-sensitivity and meaning over the next couple years—especially with the planned YouTube channel broadcasting of talks.” (Zsofia Zvolenszky, Meaning, Context, Intention)

CEU departments occasionally also use the summer courses to pilot a new course or experiment with new topics in an effort to expand their existing curriculum.

“The recently held summer university course Lived Space in Past and Present demonstrated the need to integrate the results on medieval (in this case especially urban) space into the modern understanding and use of these same spaces” (György Geréby, 20 years in Medieval Studies for the Medieval Studies Department of CEU)

A fair number of departments and research centers have become regular contributors to the summer program year after year such as Environmental Sciences and Policy, Gender Studies, Medieval Studies, Nationalism Studies, Philosophy, CMCS, and CPS, among others.


TRACK II – Policy-oriented courses

In addition to research-intensive programs, SUN also provides a platform for hosting and occasionally incubating policy-oriented courses targeted at a mix of academics and practitioners. Recurring themes over the years have included a wide range of topical issues of human rights (focusing on mental disability, public interest lawyering, etc.), climate change and ecology, media development, integrity and anticorruption, sustainable human development, fiscal decentralization, alternative dispute resolution and the plight of the Roma.

Over the many years of running these courses CEU has established itself as a focal point in some areas, for instance, in Romany Studies (nine summer courses held between 1998 and 2010 with over 300 participants) and in integrity reform education (seven courses held between 2005-2011 with 244 participants). The aims and significance of both summer courses have been validated not only by applicants’ steady interest in them, but also by external grants, which help multiply their impact. The Romany Studies course was the recipient of two EU grants (a 3-year Marie-Curie and a one-year Jean Monnet grant), whereas the Leadership and Management for Integrity summer course is now part of a large Siemens-CEU cooperation for Integrity Education.

Yaron Matras, (University of Manchester), one of the most prominent Romany linguists and recurring visiting SUN faculty has summed up this evolving process as follows:

“Looking back at the first few years of the Summer School, it seems like at the time it was hard to foresee what a significant impact these events would have on the subsequent development of the field of Romani studies. Since then, numerous past participants have published influential work and organised workshops of their own, and some have been involved in this year's summer school as junior faculty. In the retrospect of ten years, I think it is now possible to say with confidence that your work has changed the landscape of the discipline, and that the CEU summer school has become the most important point of networking in this field of study.”

Major partners and donors

The Open Society Institute has been SUN’s most important strategic partner supporting mostly policy oriented courses in line with the shared mission of both institutions. OSI has provided intellectual input for and co-financed our courses on fiscal decentralization, local economic development, media development, public interest lawyering, and human rights (focusing on mental disability, drug policy, human rights litigation issues). Some of the other key partners included the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bratislava, the World Bank, the Regional Environmental Center (REC), the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Hamline and Cardozo Law Schools.


Since 1996 close to 7,500 participants have passed through the 273 courses taught by more than 2,000 faculty, making the program one of the most powerful recruitment tools of the university. Many junior and senior academics and professionals come into contact with CEU for the first time through their participation in the summer program. Invariably, what they tend to value most is the truly unique diversity of participants and faculty in terms of disciplines, countries, cultures, views and perspectives, which triggers exciting exchanges and discussions, often continuing beyond the classroom into the night and are maintained after the course ends via Facebook, yahoogroups and the like.

In addition to networking, sometimes publications also emerge from the stimulating course experience. In 2010, for instance, an e-book was published on “Multi-Disciplinary Approaches to Romany Studies – Selected Papers from Participants of CEU Summer Courses 2007-2010” edited by Márton Rövid (course participant) and Michael Stewart (course director) at the conclusion of the 3-year long Romany Studies EU project. This publication and its paper edition are distributed through CEU Press channels as well.