AccueilTheological Foundations of Modern Constitutional Theory: 16th-17th Centuries

Theological Foundations of Modern Constitutional Theory: 16th-17th Centuries

Fondements théologiques de la théorie constitutionnelle moderne : XVIe-XVIIe siècles

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Publié le mercredi 16 décembre 2015 par Céline Guilleux


This conference aims to assemble different studies laying bridges between modern constitutional theories and theology from the perspective of intellectual history. Though modernity of law and politics has been usually accounted in the context of Reformation, the paper-givers’ approaches to the question will not be restricted in any confessional perspective, Protestant or Catholic. For, whatever the word ‘theology’ may have connoted in the time of religious confrontations, theoretical attempts to legitimize human rights and political authority at those days can be regarded as part of the general current of philosophical investigations, in a new manner and with different foci than ever, into the concept of justice with reference to that of God.



Modernity of law and politics has been thought to consist, in a certain respect, in the separation from religion. When scornfully criticizing the French Revolution or Rousseauist political philosophy, Edmund Burke was in fact foreseeing with (unsuccessfully) veiled anxiety a great difficulty the traditional order had to have in defending itself against the up-coming changes. It is in this context that not a few reformative designs for political institutions had to be accused of, and condemned for, their alleged atheism from the early modern times on. However, if scrupulously retraced up and down, history of modern constitutions shows us that most of the constituent drafters were all the same stuck to the conception of God as ultimate reference for justice, no less than to that of natural law. What played the role of guiding light for the “représentants du peuple Français” in 1789 was not derived from a different source than that for the thirteen united States of America in 1776 (More striking would be the fact that the privileged place is still given to God even in post-WWII constitutions: See Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland of 1949). Given that, we are led to face a need to refresh our contextualizing modern politics and religion, which has been made so far on the so-called separatist framework. Undoubtedly, our survey does not, or cannot, aim to make an archeology of revealed theology in the history of ideas. But some hints will be cast on the possibility to expound the renewed concept of God as foundation of modern constitutional theories. This will hopefully help us, without channeling our view through any confessional doctrines, to rediscover the place of core ideas such as liberty and equality deep in modern political sphere, which is conceivable, as suggested by John Witte, Jr., as “sanctuary of consciences” (Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment, 2005).

To do this, we will begin our survey from the early modern phase in intellectual history. Mario Turchetti’s and John Christian Laursen’s scholarship on Erasmus will highlight the rise of humanist doctrine of art of government and spirit of toleration, commemorating the quincentenary of the publication of Institutio principis Christiani (1516). Brewed and concretized all through the Revolts, the Dutch republicanism, it may be said, deserves our attentions to identify, as will be shown by Sarah Mortimer and Jonathan Israel, the intellectual roots of Western political modernity. The so-called heterodox theology continues thus to contribute, we’ll see thanks to André Santos Campos and Marta García-Alonso, to the development of modern political theories, particularly with respect to shaping of social contract tradition, and to modernize theoretical treatment of some key political issues including sovereignty and toleration. Finally, our questioning about relationship between theology and constitution will be wrapped up in conclusion by revisiting, under the guide by Thomas Poole and Thomas Ahnert, some important seventeenth-century figures like Hobbes, Harrington and Thomasius.

For further information, please feel free to contact the coordinator by e-mail. Any questions (paper-giving, chapter contribution, audience, etc.) will be welcomed and appreciated.


January 20, 2016, Wednesday

09:00-10:00  Registration and Opening

  • Welcoming and Opening Speech, Samuel Jubé (Directeur de l’IEA de Nantes)


  • « Bon prince et mauvais prince » dans l’Institutio principis Christiani (1516) d’Érasme (1469-1536), Mario Turchetti (Professeur émérite, Université de Fribourg)
  • Erasmus and Arguments for Toleration from Christian Cynicism, John Christian Laursen (Professor, University of California at Riverside)

12:30-14:00 Lunch


  • Hugo Grotius: Christianity, Liberty and the Commonwealth, Sarah Mortimer (Student and Tutor in Modern History, Christ Church, Oxford),
  • Anti-Theological Foundations of Modern Constitutional Theory: The Dutch Revolt and the Dutch Republican Tradition in European Context (1572-1688), Jonathan Israel (Andrew W. Mellon Professor, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton)

16:30-16:45  Coffee Break


  • The Social Contract Tradition(s): Agreements and Reconstructions, André Santos Campos (Assistant Professor and Research Fellow, Universidade Nova de Lisboa)
  • Pierre Bayle: la souveraineté, condition de la tolérance, Marta García-Alonso (Profesora titular, Universidad nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid) 

January 21, 2016, Thursday


  • Theological Foundations of G. W. Leibniz’s Conception of Universal Republic, Ki-Won Hong (Lecturer in Law, Seoul National University)
  • Political Philosophy of Christian Thomasius (1655-1728), Thomas Ahnert (Senior Lecturer in History, University of Edinburgh)

12:30-14:00 Lunch


  • Theology and Constitutional Theory in Thomas Hobbes and James Harrington, Thomas Poole (Professor of Law, London School of Economics and Political Science)
  • Closing Remarks

(Order of speeches in the program can be modified on technical reasons, if judged necessary.)


  • Amphithéâtre Simone Weil - 5 allée Jacques Berque
    Nantes, France (44)


  • mercredi 20 janvier 2016
  • jeudi 21 janvier 2016

Fichiers attachés


  • théologie, théorie constitutionnelle, guerre de religion, droits de l'homme, droit naturel, contrat social, souveraineté, tolérance


  • Ki-Won Hong
    courriel : origin67 [at] yahoo [dot] com
  • Marta García-alonso
    courriel : mgalonso [at] fsof [dot] uned [dot] es

URLS de référence

Source de l'information

  • Ki-Won Hong
    courriel : origin67 [at] yahoo [dot] com

Pour citer cette annonce

« Theological Foundations of Modern Constitutional Theory: 16th-17th Centuries », Colloque, Calenda, Publié le mercredi 16 décembre 2015,