Elective course for students

Students from different study programmes are brought together to reflect critically on urgent social issues. For one year, they work on a project in collaboration with a Brussels-based organisation. The aim is to arrive at a well-founded proposal, which can be taken into account by the organisation in its further operation.

More info and registration? Be sure to read more under program and take this course.

One central topic each year

Each year, Reason and Engage focuses on one central topic. The seventh edition (2021-2022) explores issues related to racism. What is everyday racism? How big is the problem today? How does racism relate to equality as basic universal right? Who are perpetrator and victim, and can we make this distinction at all? What about racism in higher education? And above all: how can we get rid of racism in the world? 

During four evening lectures, we explore the racism topic from various perspectives. For more info, see program. Curious about our previous editions? Take a look in our archive.

Projects with Brussels-based organizations

Students who register for the course Reason and Engage work in multidisciplinary teams on a project in collaboration with Brussels-based organizations. The projects and research topics refer to specific societal challenges. Students are monitored to work out an innovative idea or proposal. If your organisation is interested, you can find more info under submit a proposal.

Public lectures and activities

Reason and Engage invites experts from different disciplines to share findings and opinions with students and the broader public. With our lectures, debates, workshops, guided tours... we want to facilitate dialogue and reflection among students, researchers, professionals and active citizens on some of the most urgent challenges of our times. The public activities take place in several Brussels auditoriums. Specific locations can be found in our program.

with the support of

Reason & Engage exists thanks to the support and contributions of many people. Structural partners are: deMens.nu, Humanistisch Verbond - department Brussels, Wtnschp, Crosstalks, WeDecolonizeVUB, UPV, Citizenne, The World needs you, Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union & De Wetenschapswinkel - Brussels.


Who can register?

Reason and Engage is open for students from 3rd bachelor onwards and can also be taken by students following a bridging or preparational program. For registration, 120 ECTS need to be obtained within a bachelor's degree. VUB-students who want to take the course Reason and Engage can register via Student Self Service. Other students should contact us via redelijk.eigenzinnig@vub.ac.be

Why register?

Reason & Engage explores contemporary social issues. Students are challenged to consider their own frame of reference and forms of individual and collective responsibility. Throughout one academic year students work on a specific project, submitted by a Brussels organisation. The course aims to give students the opportunity to gain practical experience, to get to know the research and professional field of Brussels, and to engage in society. Critical scientific reflection and active involvement are central pilars of the course.

How is the course organized?

Reason and Engage is a one-year program and exists in two variants: 3 or 6 credits. All contact hours take place on Tuesday evening, starting at 6 pm. For more information, take a look at the course information sheets: 3SP variant & 6SP variant.

The educational team?

Course titulars: Prof. dr. Karl Verstrynge; Prof. dr. Joke Bauwens

Student supervision, project proposals & Public lectures and activities: dr. Bieke Abelshausen & Yano Truyers

Feel free to contact us by redelijk.eigenzinnig@vub.be


Are you interested in taking the course Reason and Engage or any further questions? Come to the infosession on Wednesday 6 October (Etterbeek campus, 12 pm, Aula QA).

This is what students thought about the previous editions:

Edition 2021-2022: 'Fighting Racism'

The seventh edition (2021-2022) explores issues related to racism. What is everyday racism? How big is the problem today? How does racism relate to equality as basic universal right? Who are perpetrator and victim, and can we make this distinction at all? What about racism in higher education? And above all: how can we get rid of racism in the world? 

The book 'Migration, Equality & Racism' (VUB, 2021) will guide us. This book is a work of VUB think tank POINcaré and was created under the direction of Ilke Adam, Tundé Adefioye, Serena D’Agostino, Nick Schuermans and Florian Trauner (cf. Book launch).

During four evening lectures, we explore the racism topic from various perspectives:

Kehinde Andrews

Tuesday 23 November 2021, 18h00 - 20h00.
Online (Link will be provided when available)

The New Age of Empire
A lecture by Kehinde Andrews

The New Age of Empire takes us back to the beginning of the European Empires, outlining the deliberate terror and suffering wrought during every stage of the expansion, and destroys the self-congratulatory myth that the West was founded on the three great revolutions of science, industry and politics. Instead, genocide, slavery and colonialism are the key foundation stones upon which the West was built, and we are still living under this system today: America is now at the helm, perpetuating global inequality through business, government, and institutions like the UN, the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO.

The West is rich because the Rest is poor. Capitalism is racism. The West congratulations itself on raising poverty by increments in the developing world while ignoring the fact that it created these conditions in the first place, and continues to perpetuate them. The Enlightenment, which underlies every part of our foundational philosophy today, was and is profoundly racist. This colonial logic was and is used to justify the ransacking of Black and brown bodies and their land. The fashionable solutions offered by the white Left in recent years fall far short of even beginning to tackle the West's place at the helm of a racist global order.

Offering no easy answers, The New Age of Empire is essential reading to understand our profoundly corrupt global system. A work of essential clarity, The New Age of Empire is a groundbreaking new blueprint for taking Black Radical thought into the twenty-first century and beyond.

Kehinde Andrews is Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University. His latest book is The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule World published by Penguin Allen Lane in 2021. He also wrote Black to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century and Resisting Racism: Race, Inequality and the Black Supplementary School Movement  and is editor of the Blackness in Britain book series with Bloomsbury. Kehinde has written opinions pieces for outlets including the Guardian, Independent, Washington Post and CNN.  He is founder of the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity; and editor-in-chief of Make it Plain

© Picture Birmingham City university

Philomena Essed

Thursday 9 December 2021, 19h30 - 21u00.
Online via Zoom meeting (A link to the meeting will be provided after subscription)

A new wave of antiracism in Europe?
An intergenerational conversation with Philomena Essed.

‘We are witnessing the force and momentum of what can be called a new, second wave of Dutch anti- racism, since the 1980s’ writes Philomena Essed in 2014. Whilst Essed writes about Dutch developments during the past decade, we can observe similar developments elsewhere in Europe. The Black Lives Matter movement and earlier calls to act against islamophobia, and to decolonize museums, public spaces and educational institutions all evidence the resurgence of race and racism as a topic forcefully entering public and political debates. To what extent do European countries experience a second, third of fourth wave of antiracism? Was there ever a first wave? 

If yes, how do these waves compare? Who is doing the organizing during different waves of antiracism, around which claims and what are the means of struggle? What is their theoretical inspiration, and what are the characteristics of the ensuing public debates on racism?  

These and many other questions will be discussed by Philomena Essed and three other antiracist activists from different parts of Europe: Latifah Abdou (#WeDecolonizeVUB, Belgium), Inès Seddiki (Gett'up, France) and Jelena Jovanovic (Ergo Network, Republic of Serbia).  

This event is organized by the academic workshop ‘A second wave of antiracism in Europe?’ supported by BIRMM, BSOG, EDGE and RHEA at the VUB together with the VUB interdisciplinary course module 'Redelijk Eigenzinnig'.

Philomena Essed is a professor of Critical Race, Gender, and Leadership Studies at Antioch University’s Graduate School of Leadership and Change and an affiliated researcher for Utrecht University’s Graduate Gender program. She is most known for having introduced the concept ‘everyday racism’, which has become a key contribution to the study of racism.  Her work has been translated in multiple languages and applied in many countries. Her publications span decades, including the now classical publications: Alledaags Racisme in 1984 (Published in English as Everyday Racism: Reports from Women of Two Cultures in 1990) and republished in Dutch in 2018, as well as the book Understanding Everyday Racism: An interdisciplinary Theory published in 1991. Her latest books include Dutch Racism (2014) and Relating Worlds of Racism: Dehumanization, Belonging, and the Normativity of European Whiteness (2018).

Essed has a lifelong commitment to social justice. She has been an advisor to governmental and non-governmental organizations, nationally and internationally. As an expert witness on race, gender and racism in Europe she presented among others at the United Nations, the European Parliament and the United States Helsinki Commission (Capitol Hill, Washington, 2008) and the EU Parliament hearing on Afrophobia (Brussels, 2014). She is a founding faculty member of the very successful international Black Europe Summer School (2008-) where she offers yearly courses on the broad theme of ‘Racism and Xenophobia: Causes and Consequences’, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. In 2011 The Queen of the Netherlands honored her with a Knighthood

© Picture Antioch University

Olivia Rutazibwa

Tuesday 22 February 2022, 18h00 - 20h00.
Vrije Universiteit Brussel - Pleinlaan, 1050 Elsene

Dr. Olivia Umurerwa Rutazibwa (1979) is a Belgian/Rwandan International Relations scholar and former journalist and Senior Research Fellow of the Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Studies in South Africa. She holds a PhD in Political Science/International Relations from Ghent University (2013, Belgium), was Senior Lecturer in European and International (Development) Studies at the University of Portsmouth (2013-21, UK) and now joins the LSE Department of Sociology as an Assistant Professor in Human Rights and Politics.  

Her research and teaching focuses on ways to decolonise (international) solidarity. Building on epistemic Blackness as methodology, she turns to recovering and reconnecting philosophies and practices of dignity, repair and retreat in the postcolony (e.g. autonomous recovery in Somaliland, agaciro in Rwanda and Black 

Power in the US, Tricontinentalism and the political thought of Thomas Sankara) to theorise solidarity anticolonially. 

She is the former Africa desk editor, journalist and columnist at the Brussels based quarterly MO* Magazine and the author of forthcoming non-academic monograph The End of the White World. A Decolonial Manifesto (in Dutch, EPO). In 2011 she delivered a TEDx talk titled: Decolonizing Western Minds; in 2019 she had widely watched conversation on racism [Racism serves a purpose] in the interview collective ZIGO [Zwijgen is Geen Optie – Silence is Not an Option]. 

© Picture Malebo Sephodi 

Naima Charkaoui

Tuesday 1 March 2022, 18h00 - 20h00.
Vrije Universiteit Brussel - Pleinlaan, 1050 Elsene
[This lecture will be in Dutch]. 

Over hoe racisme onze gezondheid en ontwikkeling schaadt.
Een lezing van Naima Charkaoui.  

Racisme is een groot maatschappelijk en politiek probleem. Maar het is ook een persoonlijk probleem, en daar staan we nog weinig bij stil. In deze lezing – gebaseerd op haar boek ‘Racisme: over wonden en veerkracht’ – legt Naima Charkaoui uit hoe racisme de gezondheid en de ontwikkeling schaadt van de mensen die erdoor getroffen worden. Ze geeft handvatten om de veerkracht en weerbaarheid van de slachtoffers te versterken. Met die wegwijzers kunnen zowel mensen die zelf geviseerd worden door racisme, als mensen in hun omgeving (ouders, vrienden, …) en professionals aan de slag. 

Naima Charkaoui studeerde politieke wetenschappen aan de Universiteit Gent. Ze werkt sinds 2001 rond mensenrechten, ongelijkheid en racisme: eerst meer dan 10 jaar aan het hoofd van het Minderhedenforum, later in de kinderrechtensector en momenteel rond internationale solidariteit. Ze is columnist voor mo.be en schreef twee boeken: Racisme: over wonden en veerkracht (EPO, 2019) en Het opengrenzenmanifest (EPO, 2021). In de reeks ZIGO [Zwijgen is geen optie] had ze een interessante conversatie getiteld: 'Niet in mijn naam'.

© Picture Naima Charkaoui

Would you like to work with a multidisciplinary student team?

Reason and Engage students work in multidisciplinary teams on a project of by a Brussels-based (non-profit) organization. The projects are based on a challenge or a need the organizations are faced with. The students are guided to develop an innovative idea or proposal.

Taking into account the broad background of the students, the projects can be very diverse in nature. Students can, for example, contribute to the design of a prototype, a try-out, research inspiration or support for a certain idea, help in mapping good practices, the organization or evaluation of an event, and so on.

Submit your project proposal!

Does your organization need fresh ideas, new perspectives, young people who can look at challenges and future plans along with you, from their experiences and expertise? Would you like to work with a multidisciplinary team of VUB-students? Submit a project proposal!

It is important that the proposal can be handled from various disciplines, and invites students to develop a well-founded point-of view on issues that can be related to the annual theme.

For more information or questions, contact redelijk.eigenzinnig@vub.be, bieke.abelshausen@vub.be or yano.truyers@vub.be

The project call for the '21-'22 edition regarding 'The Struggle Against Racism' is open.



Find an overview of the project results from previous editions below.

Contact details

Need more information about Reason & Engage?

Contact redelijk.eigenzinnig@vub.be

Reason and Engage team?

Course titulars: Prof. dr. Karl Verstrynge; Prof. dr. Joke Bauwens

Student supervision, project proposals & Public lectures and activities: dr. Bieke Abelshausen & Yano Truyers


Where to find us?

Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering Campus of the VUB

Pleinlaan 2 – 1050 Brussels (building C, 5th floor, room 451)

Tel: +32 (0)26292415

Program 20'-21'

The sixth edition of Reason & Engage focused on the fundamental question: 'Why do we put up with poverty?' Looking at history, Western people today are less exposed to poverty than previous generations. But with that observation, all optimism ceases. Globally, the gap between rich and poor is constantly widening. Even in the Western world, we see a general expansion of social insecurity, including for working people. Reason enough to ask questions out loud and look for solutions: How big is the inequality between rich and poor? Does this inequality threaten democracy and peace? What interventions are needed to close the gap? How much wealth do we need to live well? And of all the questions this one stands out:  can we eradicate poverty altogether?

20 Okt. '21 - Ken Loach: Award winning movie 'I, Daniel Blake'
03 Nov. '21 - Thomas Piketty'Capital and Ideology'
24 Nov. '21 - Jozeph E. Stiglitz: 'People, Power and profits. Progressive capitalism for an age of discontent'
08 Dec. '21 - Julia O'Connell Davidson: 'Contemporary Migration Through the Lens of Atlantic World Slavery: Fugitivity not Modern Slavery'
09 Feb. '21 - Bea Cantillon: 'Plea for a new social contract'


People as spokespersons of their ideas, in collaboration with vzw Pigment 
A uniform sactions policy, in collaboration with vzw Samusocial 
Pixism and Imaging, in collaboration with vzw Samusocial 
Low-thresholds sports for children, in collaboration with vzw Sportpret
Demographic research, in collaboration with vzw Sportpret
Student volunteers in times of Covid-19, in collaboration with UZ Brussel
Outsourcing of trainingprograms, in collaboration with vzw ArmenTeKort
Walk against poverty, in collaboration with vzw ArmenTeKort
Holiday Click, in collaboration with vzw Iedereen Verdient Vakantie
The Blind Spot, in collaboration with vzw Iedereen Verdient Vakantie
"Rap op stap"-project, in collaboration with vzw Iedereen Verdient Vakantie

Supervised by Prof. dr. Karl Verstrynge, Prof. dr. Joke Bauwens, dr. Bieke Abelshausen & Yano Truyers.

Program '19-'20

The fifth edition (Climate Rage For Just Transition) focused on the climate challenge. Last year, citizen protests sparked the biggest climate mobilization ever. Young and old took to the streets to support their demand for more ambitious climate measures. But which type of action is most efficient for influencing policymakers, public opinion, large companies, consumer behaviours...? How far can you go with protest actions and which elements are essential for a sustainable and fair climate transition?

15 Oct '19 - Joke Hermsen: 'Turning the tide'
29 Oct '19 - Natacha Brion, Philippe Claeys & Bas Smets: 'Before the Flood'
19 Nov '19 - Sander Van Der Linden: 'Empathy and Climate Change'
03 dec. 19 - Anneleen Kenis: 'Climate change in times of the Gilets Jaunes'
Feb 12, 2019 '20 - Soirée with workshops participative futuring, interview techniques and Socratic conversation techniques

Fête Divers, in collaboration with BrusselAVenir
Zero Waste Campus, in collaboration with sustainability cell VUB
Gaiagrafie of the Senne, in collaboration with La Polyclinique de la Culture
Inclusive Climate Action, in collaboration with Citizenne & Climate Case vzw
Peacejam'in for Climate Change, in collaboration with Peacejam Belgium
Fairisme as a guideline for climate transition, in collaboration with Fairisme vzw
Sustainability charter for the travel sector, in collaboration with Zomer Zonder Vliegen
Youth in Action for the Climate, in collaboration with vzw Humanistische Jongeren

Supervised by Prof. Karl Verstrynge, Prof. Joke Bauwens, Goedele Nuyttens & Linde Moriau

Program ’18-‘19

The fourth edition of Reason & Engage explored topics related to War, Conflict, Peace & Resistance, under the title Just Peace. For four evenings, Reason & Engage looked at the source and impact of war and conflicts. During the lectures, debate and workshops, researchers and students, along with the broader public and the professionals, looked for new foundations and visionary images for peace and justice, and investigated which role science, politics, education, art and media could play in constructing them.

Oct. 16, ’18 – Gertrudis Van de Vijver: ‘Immanuel Kant: To perpetual peace’
Oct. 30, ’18 – Joes Segal: ‘Art and Crisis’
Nov. 27, ’18 – Sophie de Schaepedrijver: ‘Remembering the war in public space’
Dec. 02, ’18 – Nils Duquet: ‘Guns for sale: Legal and illegal arms trade in Belgium’
Feb. 12, ’18 – Soirée with workshops on digital storytelling, interview techniques and socratic dialogues


Film heritage from the war past, in cooperation with Royal Belgian Film Archive (CINEMATEK)

Traces of War and Peace in Brussels, in cooperation with Royal Belgian Film Archive (CINEMATEK)

Conflict and Sexual Violence, in cooperation with University Center for Development Cooperation (UCOS)

Living Library for a peaceful, inclusive society, in cooperation with vzw Humanistic Youth

Sense and nonsense of military operations, in cooperation with vzw Vredesactie

Mind Over Media: contemporary propaganda under the microscope, in cooperation with Mediawijs – imec vzw

Signal Kanal: urbanism and conflict, in cooperation with Globe Aroma

Supervised by Prof. Karl Verstrynge, Prof. Joke Bauwens, Goedele Nuyttens & Linde Moriau

Program ’17-‘18

The third edition of ‘Reason & Engage’ explored the impact of New Technologies. Will (bio)technology lead to a new human species? Who will guarantee our privacy? What is the impact of the increasing robotization on healthcare, jobs and aging? Will smart machines emancipate us from inhumane working conditions or will they make the social inequality increase? Will they pave a way for more sustainable production methods? Our Brave New World: Technocalypse or Technotopia?


Oct. 12, ’17 – Peter-Paul Verbeek: ‘Smart cities and citizens, a question of technology?’

Oct. 17, '17 - Mireille Hildebrandt & Bernard Manderick: 'Democracy (as a successful misunderstanding) in an algorithmic world'
Nov. 07, '17 - Sophie Wennerscheid & Bram Vanderborght: 'The science & fiction of human/robot relationships'
Nov. 21, '17 - Soirée with workshops, documentary, walks and debate
Feb. 13, '18 - Mitch Altman: 'Hacking, rethinking technology in collaboration'
Feb. 27, '18 - Soirée met workshops en debat
Mar. 20, '18 - Robert Riener: 'Human-centered technologies for movement assistance and rehabilitation'


DIY-BIOTECH, gene technology for everybody, in cooperation with Open BioLab Brussels (EhB)

Philosophy with the youth about Man and Technology, in cooperation with vzm Humanistic Youth

Bad behavior in cyberspace, in cooperation with CAW Brussel & VUB Meldpunt

Gender stereotypes 2.0, in cooperation with vzw Zijn

Refugee use of social media,  in cooperation with A Kind of Space

Culture policy in the digital age, in cooperation with Flemish Government, CJSM department

Arming undereducated people for the digital revolution, in cooperation with JES Brussels

Circular economy in Brussels, in cooperation with GoodPlanet

Supervised by Prof. Karl Verstrynge, Prof. Joke Bauwens & Linde Moriau

Program ’16-‘17

The theme of the academic year 2016-2017 was migration. Through lectures, workshops, debates, tours, testimonies,… a number of important questions, developments and challenges concerning migration were illuminated from different disciplines. The first semester, we focussed on the causes and the impact of migration. During the second semester, we examined questions in relation to participation and citizenship.

Oct. 10, '16 - Saskia Sassen: 'Migration and Expulsions'
Oct. 18, '16 - Bram Cleys: ‘Migration and development’
Nov. 08, '16 - Fred Mednick: 'Emergency Education'
Nov. 22, '16 - Soirée with workshops, documentary, walks and debate
Feb. 14, '17 - Mary Bosworth: 'Is immigration detention a form of punishment?'
Mar. 07, '17 - Nadia Fadil: 'On radicalisation. Critical perspectives on a contested paradigm'
Mar. 21, '17 - Soirée with workshops, documentary, walks and debate

Supervised by Prof. Karl Verstrynge, Prof. Joke Bauwens, Sophie Withaeckx & Linde Moriau

Program ’15-‘16

In the first edition (2015-2016), the central topic was sustainability.

We explored 4 themes: sustainable science, sustainability and climate, approaching work in a sustainable way, sutainable mobility.

Oct. 13, '15 - Eric Corijn: Inaugural speech: 'A world in transition, a mission for this generation’
Oct. 20, '15 - Jean-Claude Burgelman: ‘Sustainable science’
Nov. 10, '15 - Philippe Huybrechts: ‘Climate and sustainability’
Feb. 16, '16 - Marc Elchardus: ‘Approaching work in a sustainable way’
Apr. 12, '16 - Paul De Knop: ‘Lifelong and sustainable mobility’

Supervised by Prof. Karl Verstrynge, Prof. Joke Bauwens, Sophie Withaeckx & Linde Moriau

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