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The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions is a research program that was established at Vanderbilt University in 2009 to support systematic theoretical and empirical research on questions central to the survival and flourishing of democratic institutions in the United States and abroad. As we enter the 21st century, civil society is faced with a wide range of social, economic, and political changes that naturally lead to conflicts between various public and private interests. The aim of the Center is to support an intellectual environment that will ultimately provide insights into how different political institutions, meaning those arenas within which these conflicts can be resolved, can effectively structure political debate, ameliorate conflicts, and influence policy outcomes. 

To this end, the Center focuses its research activities on four distinct institutional concentrations, which are evaluated on a five-year cycle. For the years 2009-2014, the Center is focusing on the following concentrations:


As part of its research focus, the Center engaged in many activities, including:

  • Supporting graduate student research in its institutional concentrations
  • Hosting a colloquia series, as well as various conferences, on Democratic Institutions that bring distinguished speakers to campus
  • Funding a post-doctoral fellowship program that brings scholars who have recently completed their doctoral degrees to Vanderbilt for one year to conduct research on any of the Center’s institutional concentrations
  • Supporting a “journal club” on democratic institutions that brings together faculty and students from across the Vanderbilt community to engage in a scholarly dialogue on cutting-edge research
  • Supporting a working paper series on Democratic Institutions that promotes CSDI scholars’ and affiliates’ research on the Centers’ institutional concentrations


Undergraduate and Graduate education are a key component of the Center’s mission. Through its undergraduate and graduate research fellows program, small research grants, faculty-student mentoring, and community-wide colloquia and events, the Center fulfills its mission by training and supporting the next generation of analysts and scholars. The goal of these efforts is to stimulate, equip, and charge a new generation of scholars and citizens to confront the challenges facing democratic institutions worldwide. Center research fellows and grant recipients work with faculty mentors to produce independent research on key topics facing modern democracies. For information on the research fellows program, small research grants, or center events contact Jennifer Anderson.


 As a research center that aims to draw on systematic scholarly analysis to inform civil society about contemporary public policy issues and debates, the Center engages in many outreach activities including (links to each): 

  • Supporting several general interest conferences and presentations each year that engage contemporary issues in public policy and politics, which are open to all members of the Vanderbilt Community and the public at large
  • Center scholars and affiliates regularly write op-eds and engage in other forms of public outreach in an effort to lend their expertise to deliberations over various political and policy debates. 

In conducting these activities, the Center will strive to produce rigorous, yet relevant, scholarship regarding the development and impact of democratic institutions, and to provide service to the Vanderbilt community, as well as the larger local community and nation.

For further information, please contact Program Director Jennifer Anderson