Ethics and Empire

In recent weeks, the Ethics and Empire project at the University of Oxford has generated comment and debate in the media. On its website — — the project describes itself as follows:

The McDonald Centre is pleased to announce Ethics and Empire, a five-year interdisciplinary project led by Professor Biggar and held under the auspices of the McDonald Centre. The project will gather colleagues from Classics, Oriental Studies, History, Political Thought, and Theology in a series of workshops to measure apologias and critiques of empire against historical data from antiquity to modernity across the globe.

The project has been criticised by some historians at Oxford and elsewhere. Their views were set out in an open letter on The Conversation:

The name of John Darwin, retired Professor of Global and Imperial History, was initially associated with the project, but he withdrew from it in December 2017. Here, he clarifies the reasons for his withdrawal:

Ethics and Empire

I would like to clarify my connection with the Ethics and Empire programme.

I agreed last year to co-convene a seminar series with Professor Biggar to reconstruct historically the ethical debate about empire carried on since Antiquity. This is an on-going debate in which a wide range of views are held, some of which I share and some of which I do not. However, I entirely respect the right of those who hold differing views to my own to express them, and to challenge those held by others.

The first seminar was held in July 2017.

When details about the 2018 programme were first published on the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life’s website in December 2017, it seemed to me to be evolving in a different direction from the previous year’s event. This, coupled with personal reasons, prompted me to resign from the programme on 17 December 2017.

Professor John Darwin, Nuffield College