Document Actions

Research interests

My ongoing research concerns two areas of legal scholarship:

  1. In the area of constitutional theory I have been working towards developing a post-secular theoretical framework for the comparative study of constitutionalism. I am interested in the, seemingly perpetual, modern failure to transcend political theology which marks political and especially constitutional-legal theory. In my work I seek to expose this failure not only in theories of positivism but also in more radical theories of ‘pure politics’. While acknowledging the now global reach of such political theology I seek to historicise it as particularly monotheistic and specifically occidental Christian. I trace its origins in the spiritual-political movement of natural theology in occidental Europe since the middle ages and juxtapose it with alternative political theologies in Biblical Israel, Byzantine Christianity and Islamic empires. By acknowledging the continuing importance of political theology in circumstances of what I call ‘defective immanence’ (namely perpetually unaccomplished secularisation) but also by showing the contingency of the prevailing occidental version we are better equipped to critique the ways in which public power is generated and used. Instead of attempting to ‘transcend’ it, I argue, we need to acknowledge that the distinction ‘immanence-transcendence’ is itself part of the ideology of occidental theo-politics, echoed, in constitutional discourse, by the distinction constitutive-constituted power. Whereas, as J.L. Nancy shows, monotheism is distinguished by its auto-deconstructive character, its occidental version, I argue, has led to the stalling of this auto-deconstructive process, which explains that revolution and authority co-exist. See, for example, my article ‘Constitutional Theory and its Limits’ available here: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/4713/.
    I have also co-edited Islam, Law and Identity (Routledge: 2011) which focuses on theo-politics in Muslim-majority countries.
  2. In the area of ethics and jurisprudence I have pioneered a thesis based on Emmanuel Levinas’s ‘ethics-as-first-philosophy’ to argue that any ‘justification’ in law cannot be said to perform the function of ‘ethicising’ legal decisions; it is the nature of law to seek to delimit and authorise inter-subjective responsibility whereas, at least in Levinas, such responsibility on which society depends is gratuitous and anarchic. My monograph The Ethics of Suffering (Ashgate: 2000) was the first monograph in the field of Levinasian jurisprudence; it focused on medical law and argued the difference between legal understandings of responsibility for the sick –especially the incompetent- and Levinas’s understanding of human suffering as always ‘absurd’ and incomparable and thus commanding an infinite, gratuitous responsibility from the witness. In 2007 I published Levinas, Law, Politics (Routledge: 2008) which focuses on the possible implications of Levinas’s ethics for politics and public law; it includes texts by prominent philosophers, historians, political and legal theorists including Drucilla Cornell, Simon Critchley, Howard Caygill.
  3. I have also written articles on the social implications of positive law. For example, in public law: on constitutional design and social engineering in Iraq; in medical law: on the alienation caused by the emphasis on autonomy and the prioritization of incompetent patients’ best interests at the expense of a relational approach; and in the field of theories of legal education: on the politically centrist agenda of legal studies.

Follow @BirkbeckLaw on Twitter