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Durham Castle Lecture Series

Durham Castle Lecture Series

Now in its sixth year, The Durham Castle Lecture Series is devoted to bringing high-profile speakers to Durham who can contribute to academic and public discussion on issues of global significance. Each of the specially invited presenters has made an outstanding contribution to their field over a sustained period of time.

This is your chance to see, hear and learn from incredible speakers, to ask questions and think about answers.

The lectures take place in the stunning setting of Durham Castle's Great Hall. With a maximum capacity of 250 the Great Hall provides a unique, historic location.

All of the lectures in the series are free and open to all.

Doors open from 7.45pm.
Lectures begin at 8pm, with questions for the speaker at 9pm.

Please click on 'further information' on the lecture listing for information about seat availability.

The Durham Castle Lecture series has been made possible thanks to a generous gift from Santander Universities

Upcoming Lectures

26 October - Professor Hugh Pennington

Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology, University of Aberdeen

'Have Bacteria Won?'

For every question about a complex issue there is a simple answer, and it is wrong. So the answer is No... but.
We are living ever longer. Pension funds are in crisis. Old age diseases like Alzheimer's are getting ever commoner. Why?
We have seen off the great killers of infants and young adults, like measles and tuberculosis and dysentery and typhoid and diphtheria and smallpox. Syphilis and scarlet fever are but ghostly reminders of a grim past.
How? By better diet, better drains, vaccines and antibiotics.
But bugs have not gone away. Their big allies are our habits, and evolution.
I will illustrate these things; words will not be minced.

1st November - Professor Catherine de Vries

Professor of Politics, University of Essex

'Euroscepticism and the Future of European Integration'

The European Union (EU) is facing one of the rockiest periods in its existence. No time in its history has it looked so economically fragile, so unsure about how to protect its borders, so divided over how to tackle the crisis of legitimacy facing its institutions, and so under assault of Eurosceptic parties. The unprecedented levels of integration in recent decades has led to increased public contestation, yet at the same the EU is more reliant on public support for its continued legitimacy than ever before. In this lecture, Catherine E. De Vries discusses the role of public opinion in the European integration process based on her forthcoming book Euroscepticism and the Future of European Integration (forthcoming February 2018 with Oxford University Press).

8th November - Martin Wolf

Chief Economics Commentator, The Financial Times

'The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism'

Many westerners have lost confidence in their political and economic systems. The flag of liberal democracy, triumphant in 1991, now looks tattered. We have witnessed an upsurge of right- and left-wing populism. Its symptoms have included rising hostility to economic globalisation and immigration, the vote for Brexit in the UK, the election of Donald Trump as president of the US, the weakening of established parties in many western countries and even a loss of confidence in democracy itself.
Why has this happened? What role have economic forces - including rising inequality and the legacy of the financial crisis - played in bringing this transformation about? What might these developments presage for the West and the wider world?

22nd November - Peter Horrocks*

Vice-Chancellor of the Open University

*The Future of the University Series

'The University and the Role of Distance Learning - Tackling Sector Diversity'

When picturing a University student, the first thing that comes to mind is an 18 year old, moving from full time secondary to full time higher education and often leaving home for the first time. But what about those students who don’t fit this picture; those studying part time, or remotely, or both? What about students whose age, caring responsibilities, health, or work commitments mean the “standard” HE experience just isn’t on the cards? These people form a sizeable yet endangered minority, particularly in England where the part time market has declined by 61% since 2009 . But their voices matter, and they’re getting louder.

In a post-Brexit society where the skills gap is acknowledged as a critical issue for the economy and where jobs as we know them are being increasingly threatened by AI, learning while working suddenly feels like much more than a buzz-phrase. And to make it happen; recognising, celebrating and supporting diversity in our HE sector is more important than ever.

In his remarks Peter will explore the technical, social and political factors behind the need for greater diversity in the sector - and the innovation required to support it in the years ahead.

More information


13th December - Professor Peter Coveney*

Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of the Centre for Computational Science, University College London

*The Future of the University Series

'The Future of Scientific Resarch in UK Universities

Over the past fifteen years, we have witnessed a series of events which have collectively served to transform the environment in which scientific research is conducted in U.K. universities.

The changes have included a 300 % increase in fees payable by home students and a steady increase in the very high fees payable by overseas students.

Funding of research in U.K. universities has been changed beyond recognition by the introduction of the so-called "full economic cost model". The net result of this has been the halving of the number of grants funded and the top slicing of up to 50% and beyond of those that are funded straight to the institution, not the grant holder. Overall, there is less research being performed. Is it of higher quality because the overheads are used to provide a first rate environment in which to conduct the research?

We shall trace the pathway of the indirect costs within U.K. universities and look at where these sizeable sums of money have ended up.

More information


17th January - Professor Christian Joppke

'Is Multiculturalism Dead?'

Christian Joppke intriguingly argues that, beyond the ebb and flow of policy, liberal constitutionalism itself bears out a multiculturalism of the individual that is not only alive but necessary in a liberal society. Through a provocative comparison of gay rights in the United States and the accommodation of Islam in Europe, he shows that liberal constitutionalism constrains majority power, requiring the state to be neutral about people's values and ethical commitment. It cannot but give rise to multiple ways of life or cultures, as people are endowed with the freedom to embrace them. Accordingly, impulses toward multiculturalism persist, despite its political crisis, but with a new accent on the individual, rather than group, as the unit of integration.

More information


24th January - Professor Edith Hall

Professor of Classics, King's College London

'Aristotle Goes to the Movies'

Aristotle's Virtue Ethics provide a valuable guide to living a good and fulfilling life which is still useful and practicable in the 21st century. But, unfortunately, his surviving treatises are often a challenging read even for the educated layperson. This lecture discusses his own view of the moral edification which good drama can bestow, and asks what famous movies Aristotle would use, if he were alive today, to illustrate his principal ethical concepts.

More information


8th February - Lord David Willetts*

*The Future of the University Series

'A University Education'

The English higher education system is very unusual with nationwide competition for entry This drives excessive specialisation in English schools which is the biggest single challenge facing universities in the future. As well as its classic teaching and research roles, the university is increasingly significant in driving innovation and the local economy. This third mission has led some critics to argue that the university is being betrayed and these fears, especially prevalent in the Humanities, will be investigated. The key trends of globalisation and the digital revolution have not yet had a big impact on the university but they will. David Willetts’ book A University Education is published by OUP in November 2017.


28th February - Professor Stuart Corbridge*

*The Future of the University Series

'The Uses and Misuses of Universities'

Just over 50 years ago, University President Clark Kerr reflected wisely and wryly on the future uses of major research universities like his own, Berkeley. This lecture revisits the major themes of Kerr’s book, The Uses of the University, and ponders the scope for various misuses of the university at a time of extraordinary government intervention in higher education around the world.


7th March - Professor N. Katherine Hayles*

*The Future of the University Series

Universities at the Crossroads: Directing Cultural Transformations

Universities are no longer the privileged site of knowledge creation and dissemination. Excellent online tutorials, such as the Kahn Academy, provide high quality open-access instruction in subjects once considered too esoteric to address except in a university classroom, such as calculus, linear algebra, and similar mathematical topics. In other practices universities, for example MIT, have made their entire course offerings available online at nominal or no charge. Still others offer MOOCs on a wide variety of topics. These developments pose significant challenges to traditional ideas of the university as a cloistered space where students came and learned about subjects they could not access otherwise.

Taking a cue from similar problems facing university presses, this talk will argue for a transformative vision of the university that positions it not as a separate enclosed space but as a busy informational crossroads in which the university clearly identifies the “value added” it provides and takes an active role not only in creating and disseminating knowledge but also in directing it toward better and more productive practices that contribute to human and planetary flourishing.

Topics will include the flipped classroom, the tragedy of the lecture hall, the importance of contributing to sustainable and environmental practices, and suggestions for engaging in interdisciplinary initiatives and developing robust modes of discourse that reach beyond scholarly communities to the general public.


25th April - Professor Markus Gabriel

'Are We Real? Consciousness and Fiction'

It is a widespread believe in our contemporary natural scientific culture that central features of our mind are fictions or illusions of sorts. The prominent philosopher Daniel Dennett even claims that illusionism about phenomenal consciousness (our qualitative experience of reality as rich with colors, sounds, tastes, smells, etc.) should be “the obvious default theory of consciousness.” Remarkably, illusionists about consciousness typically do not offer actual error theories that tell us in what precise sense consciousness counts as a fiction or an illusion. I will argue that this blind spot is not a coincidence, but rather a consequence of theoretical deficiencies in the hypothesis of illusionism itself.

In my talk, I will dismantle the assumptions motivating views about ourselves as minded agents that claim that we are subject to some kind of user-illusion created by the brain (or some better specified subsystem of our organism). In this context, I will distinguish various forms of illusion about ourselves and argue that illusionism and fictionalism about the mental lives of humans (and other minded animals) are themselves cases of a thoroughgoing ideological delusion. They serve the function of denying facts that would otherwise lead to an insight into the normative dimension of the human being.


3rd May - Professor Linda Colley

'Why Do Constitutions Matter and Why Should We Care?'

From c.1750, new written constitutions increasingly spread around the globe. But why exactly did this happen, and why and how did these documents come to be so widely regarded as essential identity markers for modern states? The conventional answer is that constitutions naturally proliferated along with democracy. Yet these texts were already spreading into every continent long before most men and women won the vote. Instead, Linda Colley argues, constitutions can usefully be approached as a branch of literature, and their gradual spread needs to be understood in relation to the impact of war and the expanding influence of print. Looking at these instruments in this broader fashion helps to explain why the United Kingdom currently possesses no written constitution – and why one or all of its component parts may well seek to secure such a document in a post-BREXIT future.


Contact Details

Durham University,
Durham,
DH1 3RW,
Durham Castle