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Think tank expands into philosophical and cross-cultural studies, plans $1-million prize

The Berggruen Institute think tank, founded five years ago by billionaire investor and philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen, works on developing ideas to improve government and economic policies in California and worldwide. Now the institute is adding fellowships and a $1-million prize in the fields of philosophy and culture.

The institute, which has offices in Santa Monica, recently announced the establishment of a philosophy and culture center that will place special emphasis on exploring cross-cultural issues involving China, the United States and other Western countries.

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Among its first steps was the awarding of fellowships to eight scholars, most of whom are spending time at Stanford University this term and then will do research at Chinese universities, according to Daniel Bell, director of the new center and a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The fellowships, which can last up to two years, will focus on research that encourages "better cross-cultural understanding," Bell said.

The institute's ongong work on governance showed that international misunderstandings are not just political but involve "fundamental assumptions about culture, values and philosophies," he said.

The scholars will examine such issues as the balances and conflicts between personal freedom and societal harmony in the U.S. and China, he said.

In addition, starting next year, an annual Berggruen Philosphy Prize is expected to be awarded to a "living thinker whose ideas have deeply influenced our world," according to the announcement. That prize will recognize people and concepts with broad philosophical and cultural impact, as judged by a jury of scholars.

Among the members of the new philosopy and culture center's advisory board are UCLA Chancellor Gene Block; Los Angeles County Museum of Art executive Michael Govan; NYU President John Sexton; former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is now head of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York; former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, president of Bocconi University in Milan; and CNN anchorman Fareed Zakaria.

Follow me @larrygordonlat.

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