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Connected World

Our lives are changing because of digitalisation and globalisation. Scientists and students of VU Amsterdam are investigating how we can stay connected to our society, and how we can reduce or prevent alienation or loneliness. The Connected World profile theme is all about relationships.

The world is becoming more and more connected. But at the same time, our lives are more separate than ever before – because our society is heavily divided, and not everyone benefits from digitalisation and globalisation. Where there is growing connectedness, there is also segregation and intolerance. Where borders disappear, loss of identity and alienation occur. And while technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) provide ground-breaking opportunities, social differences are increasing, privacy and online safety are at stake, and polarisation and fake news seem unavoidable.

How do we ensure that digitalisation is not there to dictate us but to serve us – including those who are less digitally skilled? How do we bridge cultural and ideological differences, as well as social and economic inequality due to fast-encroaching global networks and migration? In other words: how do we ensure a connected society? At Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, this question is central to the education and research of the profile theme: Connected World.

Connecting the disconnected

We bring together what can be (re)connected. Fellow human beings, no matter how different. Society and nature. City and countryside. Past, present and future. The real and virtual world. Human and artificial intelligence. Local, national and international politics and society. Connections that create space for expression of one’s own identity and those of others. Where there’s room for debate, but also a willingness to change and come closer together.

We aim for cohesiveness in our society. Historians, heritage experts, geographers and economists from VU Amsterdam work together on spatial plans for a liveable environment that’s in line with historical tradition, and that brings the existing local community and newcomers together. Linguists study how language technologies can unpack the social debate by objectively analysing information, knowledge and opinions on blogs. Our artificial intelligence experts work with theatre makers on socially intelligent robots that recognise people’s speech patterns, faces and basic emotions, so that robots can assist in healthcare or education.

Political scientists, communications experts and behavioural scientists research how we can combat polarisation and disinformation, and what motivates people to change their behaviour or to restart a dialogue, however big the barrier may be. Through gaming, we help young people to overcome negative self-image due to the pressures of social media. Through VR, we look at how we can combat problems like stress and the “plastic soup”. And in the humanities, we study how culture and nature influence each other and can be brought together in a more sustainable way.

As a university, we see an important role for ourselves in reaching a connected world. The wealth of backgrounds, cultures, religions and points of view in our diverse VU community creates a dynamic environment, sometimes leads to heated discussions, and contributes to the development of A Broader Mind among students and staff. It also ties in with our identity, in which our core values, free thinking, compassion and a critical eye play a major role.

We are proud of our VU campus, where students – many of whom are the first generation to go to university – scientists, employees, partners and Amsterdammers come together. Because virtual, international education offers wonderful opportunities, but physical contact is still indispensable when it comes to true connection.

'Connected World' the book

'Connected World' the book

Although we are more digitally connected than ever before, true connection is becoming scarcer. Is the end of our existence as a social species in sight? Can we use technology and our knowledge to promote social cohesion instead of disrupting it?   

For this book we asked 100 members of the VU community – from historians to computer scientists, and from anthropologists to physicians – to share their ideas on how to keep the world truly connected.

to the book
Omslag Connected World-boek

Connected World at VU Amsterdam

Is the end of our existence as a social species in sight?

Read more

Contribution to the SDGs

This profile theme contributes to the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): gender equality (SDG 5); industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9); reduced inequalities (SDG 10); sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11); life on land (SDG 15); and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16).

Connected World research

  • Bringing the world together

    Our research is all about connection. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, we focus on issues in the field of digitalisation, globalisation and everything that relates to them.


    How can technologies like virtual reality (VR), serious gaming, algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) help our society (people, politics, economy, democracy) move forward? And how do we stop technology spilling over into a metaverse that lacks real connection?


    What does global citizenship mean? How are social issues discussed within groups and who pulls the strings? When did globalisation start? How do we bring past, present and future together in a smart way? And how can we stay connected at local, national and global level?

  • Faculties involved

    Four faculties in particular are closely involved with the Connected World profile theme: the Faculty of Humanities, the Faculty of Science (computer science in particular), the Faculty of Religion an Theology and the Faculty of Social Sciences. In addition, we regularly work with the Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences, the Faculty of Law and the School of Business and Economics.

  • Research institutes involved

    Abraham Kuyper Center
    The Abraham Kuyper Center conducts academic research into the relationship between science and big questions. In addition, the centre organises public lectures, discussions and seminars for a wider audience around these themes.

    Amsterdam Centre for Ancient Studies and Archaeology (ACASA)
    ACASA is a research and education centre covering the fields of ancient studies, classics (Latin and Greek) and archaeology. It’s a joint venture between VU Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

    Amsterdam Centre for Cross-Disciplinary Emotion and Sensory Studies (ACCESS)
    ACCESS connects researchers, historians, cultural anthropologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, philosophers and other scientists interested in the cultural development and expression of emotions, and the functioning of the senses.

    Centre for International Cooperation (CIS)
    CIS initiates, coordinates and implements capacity building, education and research programmes and projects in collaboration with partners (universities, government agencies and civil society organisations) in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

    Centre for Contextual Biblical Interpretation (CCBI)
    How did we deal with globalisation in the past and what can we learn from it? How do the humanities – like language, philosophy, literature and art – contribute to social issues? How do we create liveable environments where past, present and future come together in a positive way? CLUE+ is the interfaculty research institute for culture, cognition, history and heritage, which examines globalisation and social connection from that perspective.

    How did we deal with globalisation in the past and what can we learn from it? How do the humanities – like language, philosophy, literature and art – contribute to social issues? How do we create liveable environments where past, present and future come together in a positive way? CLUE+ is the interfaculty research institute for culture, cognition, history and heritage, which examines globalisation and social connection from that perspective.

    Environmental Humanities Center (EHC)
    How can the humanities contribute to resolving sustainability issues, like environmental pollution and climate change? The EHC actively collaborates with CLUE+ on the “Global History, Heritage and Memory” research programme.

    HDC Centre for Religious History
    HDC Centre for Religious History is a hub for education, research and valorisation in the field of religious history. The centre takes an interdisciplinary approach to the history of religion in relation to culture, politics and society.

    Migration and Diversity Centre (MDC)
    What can we learn as a society from research into migration, diversity and decolonisation? In addition to research in this area, the MDC offers practical insights into opportunities and challenges. From the VU faculties of Law and Social Sciences, we work with other international universities and research institutes.

    Network Institute
    How do we ensure that technology helps people move forwards and not backwards? How can artificial and human intelligence work together in a smart way? How do we counter polarisation and disinformation? And can we better protect our privacy? The Network Institute focuses on the digital society and examines its social effects from a human perspective.

    Spacial Information Laboratory (SPINlab)
    SPINlab is the centre for research and education in Geo-information Sciences at VU Amsterdam. The lab supports CLUE+ in the “Landscape, heritage and society” research programme, by designing and implementing digital mapping tools and spatial data infrastructures to monitor and research cultural heritage

    Stevin Centre for History of Science and the Humanities
    Stevin Centre for History of Science and Humanities is a partnership between various VU faculties. The platform for research into the history of science and the humanities organises workshops, colloquia and seminars.

  • Collaboration with partners

    Aurora Alliance
    Aurora helps students from European universities to develop the skills and mindset they need to tackle social challenges. The alliance originated from the Aurora Network in which VU Amsterdam collaborates with eight European, socially-oriented universities on high-quality and inclusive education in combination with excellent research. Together with Aurora partners, Connected World is building an international master’s programme in Digital Society and Global Citizenship.

    Centre for Global Heritage and Development (CGHD)
    CGHD initiates, promotes and facilitates innovative research and education in the field of heritage. CLUE+ and CGHD work closely together to organise the “Re-scape” colloquia: a quarterly event that connects researchers and students with inspiring academics and professionals. CLUE+ also collaborates with CGHD in publishing The Journal of European Landscapes.

    Duitsland Instituut (DIA)
    DIA is a centre of expertise on modern Germany that connects education, science and society. In collaboration with CLUE+ researchers, the DIA functions as a key partner in the “Global History, Heritage and Memory” research programme.

    Heriland is a pan-European research and educational network in the field of cultural heritage in relation to spatial planning and design, coordinated by Connected World scientists from VU Amsterdam. Other partners include Newcastle University, the University of Göteborg, Università degli Studi Roma Tre, Delft University of Technology and Bezalel Academy of Arts & Design.

    Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (KNIR)
    KNIR is the oldest and largest Dutch scientific institute abroad. It connects the Dutch and Italian academic community as well as the extensive international academic community in Rome. CLUE+ works with the KNIR to support the international, interdisciplinary dialogue on heritage and culture.

    Max Planck Institute
    The Network Institute works with the Criminology Department of the Max Planck Institute to investigate what drives people to commit a crime. The research combines long-term scientific studies with behavioural experiments based on virtual reality.

    Netherlands Institute in Turkey (NIT)
    NIT is a research centre dedicated to the historical study of Turkey and surrounding regions. By conducting historical and archaeological research, the institute supports studies in the humanities and social sciences that are in some way connected to Turkey. CLUE+ and NIT are partners in projects in the fields of heritage, culture, landscape and history.

    New Amsterdam History Centre (NAHC)
    New Amsterdam paved the way for present-day New York City. The NAHC encourages exploration of the Dutch history of the city of New York. Special focus is laid on ethnic, racial and religious diversity, urban landscapes, economic well-being and global heritage. CLUE+ researchers work with the NAHC on themes relating to history, heritage and culture.

    The Patio
    The Patio is an interdisciplinary research group at the University of Groningen. Researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds discuss social networks and how these networks influence the interaction between people. The Network Institute works with The Patio on research themes around digital communication networks and behavioural change.

    Terranova is an innovative training network that conducts research on climate change and environmental policy in Europe, with the aim of improving the interaction between people and the environment. Partners include VU Amsterdam, Leiden University, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Uppsala University, Aarhus University, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

    Waag foundation promotes experiments with new technologies, art and culture. Waag consists of 12 research labs that conduct research based on various themes in the fields of technology and society. Designers, artists and (VU) scientists apply research methods to encourage as many people as possible to help design an open, fair and inclusive future.

  • Societal Impact Award

    Every year in collaboration with the Network Institute, Connected World awards five grants to (research) projects with a strong social impact. The following five projects have been selected for 2024:

    The Courtroom as Landscape
    by Tasniem Anwar & Robbin Talens (Faculty of Law)

    Over the past decade, terrorism cases have become more common in the Netherlands, including those involving the financing of terrorism and the prosecution of terrorist fighters abroad. Courts play an important role in tackling radicalisation in society.

    Assistant professor Tasniem Anwar and Robbin Talens will investigate terrorism cases and trials in court, with the aim of contributing to the social debate about dealing with the threat of terrorism. In addition, the scientists hope to make the democratic constitutional state more transparent by describing and analysing in detail what happens behind the closed doors of the courtroom. The objective is to increase society’s confidence in democratic institutions and the rule of law. 

    Complex Individuality
    by Ingeborg Klarenberg and Suzette Bousema (Faculty of Exact Sciences / A-Life)

    What can people learn from lichens? Researchers Ingeborg Klarenberg and Suzette Bousema are studying lichens as a symbol of how everything in nature works in harmony. Through their project, they want to show how different organisms need each other – just as people need each other. An artist and a scientist are working together with the general public to create a fascinating exhibition in which everyone can participate. In addition to lichen walks, lichens will be transformed into works of art. Despite cultural and ideological obstacles, the exhibition represents a joining of forces. Through this project, the scientists hope to make people aware of the importance of lichens for the environment, and to encourage them to think about ways to solve social problems together.

    Water Memories: creating a digital walking tour to share Istanbul's multicultural water heritage
    by Fokke Gerritsen (Faculty of Humanities)

    While walking, you’ll dive into the wonderful world of Istanbul’s diverse water heritage. In the “water memories” project, professor Fokke Gerritsen’s team are creating a digital walking tour with text, images and sound, in which people can learn more about the history and challenges of Istanbul’s water resources, especially during water crises. To create the walk, the scientists will study research from VU Amsterdam and Radboud University, and work with the Netherlands Institute in Turkey and the Hrant Dink Foundation.

    Girls’ empowerment through an English learning mentorship programme
    by Laura Rupp (Faculty of Humanities)

    Led by associate professor Laura Rupp, this project aims to support girls worldwide in learning English through a mentoring programme. It aims to establish a sustainable mentoring programme for the Massive Open and Online Course (MOOC), “English Pronunciation in a Global World,” which will be free to access for 10 weeks. The project is an expansion of the existing programme to help girls with limited access to English education, with a focus on Sakhi girls from slums and rural areas in India. The goal is to train five Sakhi girls as mentors, creating a sustainable cycle of support. This mentoring programme serves as a model for other marginalised groups, with the goal of promoting inclusivity and equal educational opportunities.

    VU Students Spread Programming Knowledge with the World through Hedy!
    by Felienne Hermans (Faculty of Exact Sciences)

    Led by professor Felienne Hermans, this project connects VU Amsterdam students with teachers to support them in teaching programming by using the free, open-source tool known as “Hedy”, developed by the university.

Connected World education

  • Bachelor’s programmes

    Bachelor Artificial Intelligence (AI)
    How can we develop robots to prevent loneliness among the elderly? How can banks combat transaction fraud? How does Netflix know which movies we want to watch? AI is everywhere. In this programme, students learn about the technology on which AI is based and how they can apply it in society.

    Bachelor's in Communication and Information Sciences
    What does the journalism of the future look like? Why do we have associations with certain use of words? How do companies use social media to entice us to buy? In this bachelor’s programme, students learn how communication works and what role language plays.

    Bachelor's in Computer Science
    How do we deal with all the big data that’s created globally on a daily basis? How do we stop election results from being hacked? How do we keep our interaction with computers intelligible? This bachelor’s programme trains students to become experts in the technology underlying computer systems.

    Bachelor's in Cultural Anthropology and development Sociology
    Why do voters feel attracted to populist parties? How does climate change affect life in Vietnam? What’s the background to debates about controversial statues and street names? Students learn to understand the world from another’s point of view.

    Bachelor's in Philosophy
    What do we actually know? Is the world really the way we think it is? What’s the difference between right and wrong? Students investigate reality by asking fundamental questions about current themes, in order to develop a critical view of science, religion and society.

    Bachelor's in Media, Art, Design and Architecture  
    How do art and media influence one another? How can you create an inclusive and sustainable living environment through design and architecture? Students of this bachelor’s programme learn to see and critically analyse the interrelationships between media, art, design and architecture.

  • Minor programmes

    Minor in Digital Humanities and Social Analytics
    Sources and objects that we study in history, media, literature, art and social sciences are increasingly digitally available. In this minor, students learn how to compile and analyse different types of data collection.

    Minor Erfgoed en Ruimte (only in Dutch)
    The urban and rural space is changing rapidly. Heritage can contribute to making places meaningful, recognisable, beautiful and educational. In this minor, students reflect on the role of heritage in spatial transformations and learn to communicate about this with stakeholders.

    Minor in European Urban and Cultural History
    What was life like in the Middle Ages? Which religions existed and how did people experience religious diversity? How were cities portrayed in literature and what did people think of this portrayal? Students dive into European history from the Middle Ages to the present day.

    Minor in Managing Digital Innovation
    In this minor, students discover how new digital technologies are drastically changing the way we work. And they study how organisations can respond to this and change as a result.

    Minor in Peace and Conflict Studies
    This minor offers students insight into the causes and consequences of political violence and war, from the viewpoints of many disciplines – such as political science, international law, criminology, theology, philosophy, anthropology, sociology and history.

    Minor in Religious Dimensions of Global Challenges
    How do religions deal with contemporary challenges? How are they involved in conflict and peace, nationalism and human rights? Do they contribute to the SDGs? And how do they deal with gender? In this minor, students delve into the social challenges of multi-religious societies.

    Minor in Technology, Law and Ethics
    Technologies like artificial intelligence, biotechnology and neurotechnology promise to improve our communication, health, reproduction and cognition. In this minor, students explore the legal, ethical and social dilemmas that these developments bring up.

  • Master’s programmes

    Master's in Artificial Intelligence (AI)
    From cars that detect pedestrians to virtual assistants on smartphones, AI is everywhere. In this master’s programme, students focus on hybrid intelligence. They view AI from a societal and human perspective as well as from a technical perspective, aimed at understanding, analysing and developing new AI algorithms.

    Master's in Business Analytics
    How do we effectively use data science, big data, statistics and machine learning to optimise results and achieve strategic objectives? In this master’s programme, students develop in all these areas, enabling them to solve complex business issues. 

    Master's in Communicatie- en Informatiewetenschappen
    What role does language play in communication within organisations? Students write and analyse texts, and investigate the influence of images or gestures in communication, for example.

    Master's in Computer Security
    How do we make computer systems hack-proof? During this master’s programme, students work on the technical challenges of cybersecurity, with a focus on computer systems and network security. This programme is unique in the Netherlands.

    Master's in Global History and International Studies
    Students explore how the spread of people, goods and ideas around the globe has developed since the 15th century and shaped the world today. The connection between history and contemporary political debates about migration, nationalism and ethnicity is a focal point.

    Master's in Heritage Studies
    How can heritage connect past, present and future? Students explore the tensions between the conservation and innovation of landscapes, architecture and archaeological remains from different perspectives.

  • Postgraduate programmes

    Part-time Business Analytics and Data Science Programme
    How do we turn big data into actionable insights? Through this part-time programme, professionals strengthen their analytical, entrepreneurial and technological skills, which they can put into practice straight away.

    Geographical Information Sciences Programme
    How can we visualise data from different sources in a clear and appealing way? During this programme, professionals learn how geographic information systems enable smarter decision-making for companies, governments and our society, thereby building strong connections.


  • Extracurricular activities

    Honours programme in Science and Religion: Views from History
    Today, science and religion often seem like opposing forces, but for a long time they coexisted harmoniously. When and where did tensions arise? How has the relationship developed over the centuries? These questions form the common thread of this honours programme.

    Winter school course in Violence and Nonviolence: Nation-Building in the Age of Postcolonialism
    This winter school course covers the topic of non-violence in postcolonial nation-building through the lens of leaders and thinkers such as King, Hélder Câmara, Mandela and Kaunda, as well as reflections from Mbembe, Derrida and Fanon.

    Winter school course in Migration Control: Borders, Identities and Organisations
    In this winter school course, students delve into migration management, border control and the struggle for fair integration in the labour market.

    Dreamteam The Empathetic Robot
    In the dream team, bachelor’s and master’s students from various study programmes work together throughout the academic year on an assignment under the Connected World profile theme. In a world where robots and humans live together, it’s important that robots learn to recognise human emotions, such as facial expressions, gestures, voice and content. And that they learn to apply emotions in a particular situation to show empathy and understanding. The students ensure that robots learn these skills and can then apply them with people of different backgrounds, cultures and ages. The students develop academically, personally and socially – contributing to A Broader Mind. At the end of the year, a new student team continues the project.

Connected World organisation

  • Connecting the Campus

    The Connected World profile theme stands for relationships. And that applies to the VU campus as well: VU Amsterdam aims to offer an open, accessible and inclusive campus. We actively work towards this goal through initiatives like the Diversity Office, 3D (platform for debate, dialogue and diversity), the Social Campus and the VU Art Science Gallery

    The Connecting the Campus call for proposals 2024 is open now

  • Interfaculty research institutes

    Connection on campus also takes place at a scientific level. To promote and accommodate interdisciplinary research, VU Amsterdam has set up Interdisciplinary Research Institutes (IOZI). Researchers meet, exchange knowledge and join forces to raise external funds. Connected World is supported by two of these research institutes: CLUE+ and the Network Institute. The institutes have a national and international reputation for the scientific quality and social impact of their research.

  • Diversity

    The VU community is diverse in various ways – including in terms of gender, sexual preference, nationality, culture, way of thinking and religion. VU Amsterdam wants to provide an environment that promotes diversity and inclusion for everyone, and where people feel comfortable and encouraged to share their unique perspectives. We strive for “inclusive excellence”, in which our students, teachers and other employees use their complementary differences to encourage more creativity and talent development. Diverse is one of VU Amsterdam’s three priority areas.

  • Open Access

    Openness to the outside world contributes to the connection between scientific research at VU Amsterdam and our society. It’s our ambition to make all of our scientific publications accessible online to everyone, free of charge. In order to encourage Open Access publications, VU Amsterdam has made agreements with a large number of publishers, with no extra costs for researchers. In almost all cases, teachers and researchers can openly share their publications in the VU Research Portal. The VU University Library supports all VU researchers who want to make their publications accessible in this way.

  • Academy Assistant Programme

    The Connected World profile theme aims to promote research into connection in society and, in particular, to contribute to resolving disconnection. For example, how can we better connect social groups in urban melting pots? How can we increase mutual understanding between citizens of the world?

    The Academy Assistant Programme is geared towards promising bachelor’s and master’s students at VU Amsterdam who want to conduct scientific research and aspire to an academic career. The programme aims to bring together scientists from different disciplines; the projects must therefore combine methods and themes from two different disciplines. For each project awarded, the programme funds two student research assistants for a period of nine months.

    The Academy Assistant call for proposals 2024 is open now

  • EURIDICE: Inclusive European education for the digital society

    The digital world is changing rapidly, and new developments and risks are appearing every day. Artificial intelligence (AI), fake news, the digital divide between North and South, and cybercrime are some of the many challenges our society faces. What is the role of the university in meeting these challenges? And what new forms of education are needed to train the tech professionals of tomorrow?

    Alongside 24 partners from 13 countries, VU Amsterdam has launched a multi-disciplinary and multi-faculty project called EURIDICE to investigate answers to these questions. In collaboration with our partners, we aim to innovate and improve education around AI in a European context. The project started in January 2024.

    The VU Amsterdam departments and institutes involved include: FGW (department of Art & Culture, History, and Antiquity), FSW (departments of Communication Science and Organization Sciences, CLUE+, Network Institute, Athena Institute and CIS/SOZ) and the Aurora Network (European Universities Network).

    Want to know more? Visit the website:  

Highlighted research

Want to know more about Connected World? Get in touch!

prof. dr. Hans Akkermans, dr. Sjoerd Kluiving