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Spring 2025 Reading Group

Slavery and Abolition in Islamic and Western Legal Thought

Prerequisite: None

Exam Type: No Exam

Slavery has been often considered as a morally legitimate practice over its long history. From ancient Greek philosophy to modern times, various theories were developed by philosophers, jurists and theologians to morally justify slavery. With the emergence of increasing calls for a universal abolition of slavery in the nineteenth century, a huge rupture took place within all religions and legal systems. What was considered as morally legitimate for thousands of years was now considered to be evil and immoral.

In this reading group, we will comparatively analyze how some Muslim, American and European jurists, philosophers and religious thinkers reacted to this major legal challenge in their own respective systems of legal thought, exploring any similarities and differences between their approaches to the question of slavery and abolition.

Throughout our readings, we will try to explore questions such as: what were the various theories that were developed in each system of legal thought to justify and legitimize slavery? What theories of freedom and abolition were developed by jurists, philosophers and religious thinkers? Has slavery always been a universally evil and immoral practice, or has it become immoral only in modern times due to a change in the wider socio-economic, cultural, political circumstances? Are there any implications of abolition of slavery for the principles and methodology of legal interpretation and for the contemporary modes of legal thought?

There are no prerequisites for this reading group and no prior technical knowledge is required. Readings will include articles, book excerpts, as well as autobiographical statements, speeches, manifestos and passages of Scriptures.

Note: This reading group will meet on the following dates: TBD.