Center for Comparative Constitutionalism


Past Events:

Conference on Affirmative Action in Higher Education
03.19.08 to 03.21.08
more details are available here.


CONFERENCE: "India: Implementing Pluralism and Democracy"
When: November 11-13, 2005
Where: The University of Chicago Law School
Details: India contains a plurality of religious groups that have often lived together on terms of peace and mutual respect. In recent years, however, the rise of Hindu fundamentalism has led to the demonizing of Muslims and to numerous outbreaks of violence, the most horrible being the massacre in Gujarat in 2002, in which the state at all levels aided and abetted mass killings and rapes. India's Constitution provides an admirable foundation for a society based on mutual respect, pluralism, and the protection of basic rights for all. These values, however, have not yet been securely implemented in society as a whole. In recent years they have proven extremely fragile, and key institutions have been dragooned into the service of communal antagonism. The recent elections suggest that pluralism has a more hopeful future than might have been feared. And yet there are pressing question to ask about how the gap between constitutional aspiration and daily reality is to be filled. The Hindu right has proven extremely effective in disseminating its message of division and fear; the value of respect for others across religious differences has not been nearly as successfully disseminated at the grass-roots level. The expatriate community in the U.S. has played a somewhat unfortunate role, fueling the attacks on scholars who do not toe a Hindu-right line on history and religion, and very likely funding some of the violence.

This conferences poses a question about India, but really it is a question that is urgent, in somewhat different ways, for almost every democracy in the world - namely, how can the values of mutual respect and toleration be implemented in such a way that they govern people's real life in a democratic nation, not just the constitutional and legal aspirations of that nation? By bringing together scholars and public figures from a number of areas, we hope to generate new answers to this urgent question.

All sessions will be open to the public.

Download conference schedule [97 KB PDF]

Papers and recordings


Conference on religion and the implementation of constitutional rights.
When: June 10-12, 2004
Where: The Einstein Forum, Potsdam, GERMANY
Details: Fundamental to the very idea of a liberal democratic society is the idea that every citizen has certain rights to the free expression of religion. On the other hand, all the major world religions contain or have contained doctrines that are problematic in terms of other types of equality that seem equally fundamental: racial equality, equality of the classes, equality among the religions and related ethnic groups, and, perhaps most acutely problematic today, equality between the sexes and equality on grounds of sexual orientation. Protecting religion through law sometimes has the effect of undermining these other equalities. Even when that is not directly the case, religions may play a social role that indirectly militates against full equality for women, for religious and ethnic minorities, and so forth.

This conference explored the dilemma that this apparent tension between respect for religion and respect for the other equalities poses for modern democracies. The conference brought together a wide-ranging interdisciplinary group of thinkers who assessed the role of religion as a social and legal force that affects the implementation of fundamental entitlements that constitute the equality of citizens before the law, and charted promising new directions for the resolution of the most pressing problems.

Conference Schedule.

The Conference was co-sponsored, and was hosted by the Einstein Forum.

SYMPOSIUM: "Violence Against Women as Crime Against Humanity"
When: Friday May 14, 2004
Where: University of Chicago Law School, Room II
Details: Violence against women is one of the most urgent issues currently facing the international community. This symposium offered legal and philosophical perspectives on the violation of women's bodies. Topics included rape, sexual torture, genocide, genital mutilation, and the complicity of religion, society, and law in the perpetuation of violence.

Talks were given by Martha Nussbaum, University of Chicago; Gerry Mackie, Department of Political Science, University of Notre Dame; and Madhavi Sunder, University of California, Davis, School of Law. The Keynote Address was delivered by Catharine MacKinnon, University of Michigan Law School.

More information on the speakers is available here.

Symposium Schedule and Poster.

The Symposium was co-sponsored by The Law & Philosophy Workshop at the University of Chicago Law School.

CONFERENCE: "Constitutionalism in the Middle East: Israeli and Palestinian Perspectives"
Download: Conference Papers
When: January 23-25, 2004
Where: University of Chicago Law School, Room II
Details: This conference explored current issues in constitutional law in the Middle East, with particular emphasis on constitutionalism and structure; the place of judicial review; the nature and limits of liberty and free expression; social and economic rights; equality and issues of discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, and sex; and the rule of law.

The conference focused in particular (though not exclusively) on comparative analysis of the emerging understanding of basic rights by Israel's Supreme Court and the draft constitution being circulated by the Palestinian Authority. The conference did not directly address the current conflicts in the region, but explored enduring issues in constitution-making and constitutional law in a way we hope made substantive contribution to the improved understanding of constitutionalism itself. Keynote addresses were delivered by Sari Nusseibeh (President of Al-Quds University / Former PLO Commissioner for Jerusalem Affairs), a leading advocate of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and Gordon Wood (Professor of History, Brown University), the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Radicalism of the American Revolution and one of the foremost scholars on the U.S. founding. Participants included scholars and practitioners from the Middle East, America, two justices from the Constitutional Court of South Africa, and a justice from the High Court of Australia.

The Center thanks the Center for International Studies Norman Wait Harris Memorial Foundation Fund for co-sponsoring the conference.

A full schedule for the conference is available here.

Symposium with Ulrich K. Preuss on "The Ambiguous Meaning of Citizenship"
Commentary by Professor Cass Sunstein (Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor, Law School, Department of Political Science and the College) and Professor Iris Marion Young (Department of Political Science)

When: 4:00 - 6:00 p.m. December 1, 2003
Where: The University of Chicago Law School, Room I
Details: Ulrich K. Preuss is Professor of Law and Politics at the Free University Berlin, currently Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and Judge at the Constitutional Court of the Land Bremen. He has worked on the constitutional transition in the post-communist states of East and Central Europe, the development of a European constitution, in particular on the concept of European citizenship, and on the relations between liberal constitutionalism and the multicultural society. Recent works include: "Constitutional Revolution: The Link between Constitutionalism and Progress" (1995) and Krieg Verbrechen Blasphemie Über den Wandel bewaffneter Gewalt (2002, 2nd ed. 2003), which deals with the legal and moral questions of the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the role of the US in international politics.

Lecture by Bina Agarwal of the Institute for Economic Growth, University of Delhi
When: 12:15 - 1:20 p.m. November 20, 2003
Where: The University of Chicago Law School, Room IV
Details: Bina Agarwal is a Professor of Economics at the Institute for Economic Growth, University of Delhi, and is currently a visiting professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). She is also Vice President of the International Economic Association and President-elect of the International Association for Feminist Economics. Her most recent authored book is the multiple award-winning A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia. Recently she was also awarded the Malcolm Adhiseshiah award 2002 for distinguished contributions to development studies.
Prof. Agarwal spoke on "'Bargaining' and Legal Change: Toward Gender Equality in India's Inheritance Laws." (For background information on the gap between de jure and de facto rights, see Prof. Agarwal's paper "Are We Not Peasants Too? Land Rights and Women's Claims in India.")

Symposium with Michael Ignatieff.
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When: May 12, 2003. 4-6pm.
Where: The Weymouth Kirkland Courtroom at the University of Chicago Law School.
Details: Michael Ignatieff is Carr Professor of Human Rights Practice and the Director of the Carr Center of Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. His recent essays examine four primary themes: the moral connection created by modern culture with distant victims of war, the architects of postmodern war, the impact of ethnic war abroad on our thinking about ethnic accommodations at home, and the function of memory and social healing. His academic publications include Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment; The Needs of Strangers: An Essay on the Philosophy of Human Needs; The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience; Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond; The Rights Revolution; Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry; and Isaiah Berlin: A Life. His nonacademic work includes The Russian Album, A Family Memoir, which won Canada's Governor General Award and the Heinemann Prize of Britain's Royal Society of Literature in 1988, and Scar Tissue, short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1993. Ignatieff holds a PhD in history from Harvard University and has been a Fellow at King's College, Cambridge; École des Hautes Études, Paris; and St. Antony's College, Oxford. Prof. Ignatieff spoke on "The Lesser Evil: Ethical Dilemmas in a War on Terror". Professor Cass Sunstein of the Law School and Professor Bernardine Dohrn of Northwestern University School of Law provided commentary. Co-sponsored by the Law and Philosophy Workshop.

Lecture by Justice Albie Sachs of the South African Constitutional Court.
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When: January 23, 2003. 4-6pm.
Where: The Weymouth Kirkland Courtroom at the University of Chicago Law School.
Details: Justice Albie Sachs was born in South Africa in 1935. After earning his law degree in Cape Town, he became a leading lawyer in the struggle for racial equality and human rights. A member of the African National Congress, he was imprisoned by the government and then exiled. In the 1970s and 1980s he lived in England and Mozambique where he taught law and in the international anti-apartheid movement. In 1988, he survived an assassination attempt by South African security forces who had wired a bomb in his car in Maputo, Mozambique. He lost an arm and suffered damage to one eye, but survived to return to South Africa to participate in the drafting of the new constitution. He was appointed to the Constitutional Court by President Nelson Mandela. Justice Sachs presented a lecture entitled "Freedom and Bread: the Judicial Enforcement of Socio-economic Rights." His visit was co-sponsored by the Human Rights Program of the Center for International Studies and the University of Chicago Law School. Professor Cass Sunstein provided commentary.

Martha Nussbaum on the capabilities approach and gender.
When: Tuesday, November 4. 4:00-6:00pm.
Where: The Weymouth Kirkland Courtroom at the University of Chicago.
Details: Professor Martha Nussbaum presented a paper entitled "Constitutions, Capabilities, and Gender" as part of International Law Week and Chicago’s Best Ideas Centennial Series. Professors Charles Larmore, Richard Epstein, and Iris Young provided commentary.

Meeting with Sari Nusseibeh.
When: Tuesday, October 1.
Details: The Center hosted an informal meeting with leading Palestinian Moderate, Sari Nusseibeh. Mr. Nusseibeh is Palestinian Envoy in East Jerusalem and Professor of Philosophy at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Twenty faculty from various institutions in the Chicago area had an informal conversation with Professor Nusseibeh regarding the current situation in the Middle east. The group derived a plan for a conference on Palestinian and Israeli constitution- making to be held in the Fall of 2003 or Winter of 2004.

Visit of Dr. A. S. Anand.
When: May 17, 2002.
Where: The University of Chicago Law School.
Details: Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of India presented remarks on "Democracy and Terrorism," outlining his views as to how democratic systems of government are especially susceptible to the threat of terrorism.

Inaugural Symposium with Mark Tushnet.
When: May 14, 2002.
Where: The Weymouth Kirkland Courtroom at the University of Chicago Law School.
Details: Professor Mark Tushnet of the Georgetown University Law Center, presented a paper entitled "State Action, Social Welfare Rights, and the Judicial Role: Some Comparative Observations." Professor Martha Nussbaum provided an introduction, and Professors Richard Epstein, Saskia Sassen, Cass Sunstein, and Iris Marion Young provided commentary. The paper and comments are published in the Fall, 2002 edition of the Chicago Journal of International Law.


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