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Democracy and Public Discourse: Panel Discussion

September 14, 2021 @ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

When it comes to politics, public discourse has become a shouting match, and Americans seem to talk past one another. Are the anger and polarization a sign of failing democracy, or just the way politics has to be? What do we learn by taking a closer look at the role of history, social psychology, public opinion, and media technology in this political moment?

Join our interdisciplinary faculty panel to hear how research happening at UNC can help us understand democracy and discourse—and, maybe, give us some cause for hope.

This will be both on location at the Nelson Mandela Auditorium, in the Florence and James Peacock Atrium of the FedEx Center for Global Education, as well as live-streamed.


Claude Clegg is the Lyle V. Jones Distinguished Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies with a joint appointment in the Department of History. Professor Clegg’s work focuses on the African diaspora of the Atlantic world, exploring the ways in which people of African descent have created and imagined communities and identities outside Africa. He teaches courses in African American history and U.S. history, with particular emphasis on the themes of migration, diaspora, nationalism, and social mobilization. His forthcoming book, The Black President: Hope and Fury in the Age of Obama, examines the ways African Americans have experienced and interpreted the Obama presidency.

Kurt Gray is an Associate Professor in Psychology and Neuroscience and directs the Deepest Beliefs Lab and the Center for the Science of Moral Understanding. He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor in Organizational Behavior at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, where he teaches about organizational ethics and team processes. Professor Gray researches how we perceive the minds of others and make moral judgments. He is interested in how children learn to understand other minds, especially those different from themselves, such as animals, robots, and outgroup members. He is also interested in understanding the developmental roots of morality—in particular through the combination of innate socio-biological processes (e.g., empathic concern) with socialized norms.

Marc Hetherington is the Raymond H. Dawson Distinguished Bicentennial Professor of Political Science. His focus is on the American electorate and the polarization of public opinion. Previously, he taught at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, Vanderbilt University, and Bowdoin College. Hetherington has published several books and over a dozen articles in academic journals. His most recent book, Prius Or Pickup? How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide, co-written with fellow UNC faculty member Dr. Jonathan Weiler, explores the psychological aspects of the United States’ deadlocked politics.

Shannon McGregor is an assistant professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media and a senior researcher with the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life. Her research addresses the role of social media and data in political processes, with a focus on political communication, journalism, public opinion, and gender. Her published work examines how three groups – political actors, the press, and the public – use social media in regards to politics, how that social media use impacts their behavior, and how the policies and actions of social media companies, in turn, impacts political communication on their sites. Her work aims to bring insights about and new theories of emerging political communication in hybrid media and political systems.


Molly Worthen is an associate professor of history in the Department of History and a freelance journalist. Her research focuses on North American religious and intellectual history, and she teaches courses in global Christianity, North American religious and intellectual culture, and the history of politics and ideology. Her most recent book, Apostles of Reason, examines American evangelical intellectual life since 1945, especially the internal conflicts among different evangelical subcultures. Her current book project focuses on the history of charisma in America.


September 14, 2021
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm


Nelson Mandela Auditorium, Fed Ex Global Center
301 Pittsboro Street
chapel Hill, NC 27516 United States
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