Jon Wilson
Published in
7 min readDec 21, 2017


A Collective statement on ‘Ethics and Empire’

We, the undersigned, issue this statement to register our surprise and concern at the recently-announced ‘Ethics and Empire’ project at the University of Oxford’s McDonald Centre. The project seeks to ‘test the ethical critiques of empire against the historical facts of empire’, with the stated aim of developing a ‘nuanced and historically intelligent Christian ethic of empire’. As scholars of empire and colonialism, we are disappointed that Oxford is prepared to support such a project.

We welcome all scholarly enquiry into empire and its relationship with the present. However, the crude cost/benefit analysis proposed by the Ethics and Empire project wilfully obscures the complexities which scholars of empire have carefully unpicked in recent decades. Nor is it possible to clearly demarcate ‘empire’ as a fixed and stable subject which can be imputed with moral characteristics through time. The ‘balance sheet’ approach to empire is rooted in the self-serving justifications of imperial administrators, attempting to balance out the violence committed in the name of empire with its supposed benefits. It has long since lost its scholarly legitimacy, as research has instead moved to trace the actions which occurred in the name of empire in their complexity through time. We are not surprised that such an approach should be recuperated by Professor Biggar — a long-time apologist for colonialism — but we are alarmed that the University of Oxford should invest resources in this project.

We are also troubled that Oxford, a public institution, supports the development of a ‘Christian ethics of empire’ particularly in light of the project’s aim of ‘negotiating’ contemporary military interventions and ‘the cohesion of multicultural societies’. Developing a ‘Christian ethics of empire’ is not an intellectually sound, let alone an academically robust, endeavour — it is a political project much as an ‘Islamic’ or ‘Hindu’ ethics of empire might be. As historians of empire already know, such projects require the fabrication of history not its careful study. If it is interested in supporting a political project which connects ethics with the contemporary world, we suggest Oxford focuses on deepening our democracy and furthering social inclusion, including addressing its own repeated failure to diversify its own Faculty and student body.

We note with regret, though with little surprise, that the ‘Ethics and Empire’ project’s ‘core group’ does not represent the diverse constituencies of scholars working on empire. That the project events are ‘invitation-only’ suggests a wilful disengagement with the wider body of scholarship already engaged in the field. This appears, to us, to be a project that does not wish to submit itself to peer scrutiny or partake in rigorous academic debate. In a time where empire is both celebrated and trivialised, and ignorance of empire’s effects publicly paraded, we lament Oxford’s support for a project which promises so little to scholarship on empire and its effects. We call upon Oxford University to clarify the nature of its support for the project, the source of its funding, the research protocols that will be put in place to ensure that its outputs are subject to due peer scrutiny, and what measures will be taken to safeguard principles of equality, inclusivity and diversity.

Dr Priyamvada Gopal (University of Cambridge)

Dr Gavin Rand (University of Greenwich)

Dr Katherine Schofield (King’s College London)

Dr Kim A. Wagner (Queen Mary University of London)

Dr Jon Wilson (King’s College London)

Prof Michael Adas (Rutgers University at New Brunswick, NJ)

Prof Mohammed Adhikari (University of Capetown)

Dr Talat Ahmed (University of Edinburgh)

Prof Sanjam Ahluwalia (Northern Arizona University)

Professor Clare Anderson (University of Leicester)

Dr Edward Anderson (University of Cambridge)

Dr Andrew Arsan (University of Cambridge)

Dr Nadia Atia (Queen Mary, University of London)

Prof Jordanna Bailkin (University of Washington)

Prof Manuel Barcia (University of Leeds)

Dr Crystal Bartolovich (University of Syracuse)

Prof Crispin Bates (University of Edinburgh)

Dr Duncan Bell (University of Cambridge)

Dr Jumaha Bayeh (Macquarie University)

Dr Beth Bee (East Carolina University)

Dr Rachel Berger (Concordia University)

Dr Anna Bernard (King’s College London)

Prof Francisco Bethencourt (King’s College London)

Prof Gurminder Bhambra (University of Sussex)

Dr Sourit Bhattacharya (University of Warwick)

Dr Rachel Bower (University of Leeds)

Dr Neilesh Bose (University of Victoria)

Dr Petra Boynton

Dr Harald E. Braun (University of Liverpool)

Dr Mirjam Brusius (German Historical Institute and University of Oxford)

Dr Bruce Buchan (Griffith University)

Dr Lorna Burns (University of St Andrews)

Prof Antoinette Burton (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Dr Fiona Kumari Campbell (Dundee)

Prof Joya Chatterjee (University of Cambridge)

Dr Zahid R. Chaudhary (Princeton University)

Dr Elora Chowdhury (University of Massachussetts, Boston)

Dr Ashley L. Cohen (Georgetown University)

Dr Mark Condos (Queen Mary, University of London)

Dr Shinjini Das (University of Oxford)

Dr Andrew Davies (University of Liverpool)

Dr Anjali Datta (University of Cambridge)

Dr. Sharae Deckard (University College Dublin)

Dr Manali Desai (University of Cambridge)

Dr Anirudh Desphande (Delhi University)

Dr Ruth Deyermond (King’s College London)

Dr Andrew Dilley (University of Aberdeen)

Prof Richard Drayton (King’s College London)

Dr Veronica Ehrenreich (University of California, Davis)

Prof James Epstein (Vanderbilt University)

Prof Harald Fischer-Tiné (ETH Zurich)

Dr Cynthia Franklin (University of Hawaii)

Dr Christina D. Fryar (University of Liverpool)

Dr Claire Gallien (Universite Paul Valery Montpellier)

Prof Keya Ganguly (University of Minnesota)

Dr Dion Georgiou (King’s College London & University of Kent)

Dr Anindita Ghosh (University of Manchester)

Dr Durba Ghosh (Cornell University)

Dr Amrita Ghosh (Seton Hall University)

Dr Navyug Gill (William Paterson University)

Prof Kanishka Goonewardena (University of Toronto)

Prof William Gould (University of Leeds)

Dr Jane Goodman (Indiana University, Bloomington)

Dr Toby Green (King’s College London)

Dr Daniel Grey (University of Plymouth)

Dr Zoe Groves (University of Leicester)

Dr Onni Gust (University of Nottingham)

Dr Kennetta Hammond Perry (East Carolina University)

Dr Deana Heath (University of Liverpool)

Dr Isabelle Hesse (University of Sydney)

Dr Nathan K. Hensley (Georgetown University)

Dr Nick Heynen (University of Georgia)

Prof Matthew Hilton (Queen Mary, University of London)

Dr Christian Hogsbjerg (University of Leeds)

Prof Graham Huggan (University of Leeds)

Dr Aneeth K. Hundle (Univ of California, Mercer)

Dr Laura Ishiguro (University of British Columbia)

Dr Leslie James (Queen Mary, University of London)

Dr Pranav Jani (Ohio State University)

Dr Will Jackson (University of Leeds)

Prof Sanjay Joshi (Northern Arizona University)

Dr Amy Kallander (Syracuse University)

Dr Shruti Kapila (University of Cambridge)

Prof Suvir Kaul (University of Pennsylvania)

Dr Nitasha Kaul (University of Westminster)

Prof Penelope Kelsey (University of Colorado at Boulder)

Prof Dane Kennedy (George Washington University)

Prof Susan K. Kent (University of Colorado at Boulder)

Dr Laurie King (Georgetown University)

Prof Richard King (University of Kent)

Prof Reinhart Koessler (Freiburg University)

Dr Sara Koopman (Kent State University)

Dr Madhu Krishnan (University of Bristol)

Dr Vidya Kumar (University of Leicester)

Dr Thomas Langley (King’s College London)

Dr Zoe Laidlaw (Royal Holloway, London)

Prof Angela Last (University of Warwick)

Dr Simon Layton (Queen Mary, University of London)

Prof Neil Lazarus (University of Warwick)

Dr Fragano Ledgister (Clark Atlanta University)

Prof Philippa Levine (University of Texas at Austin)

Dr Joanna Lewis (London School of Economics)

Dr Erik Linstrum (University of Virginia)

Dr Reuben Loffman (Queen Mary, University of London)

Prof Ania Loomba (University of Pennsylvania)

Dr Graeme MacDonald (University of Warwick)

Dr Kama Maclean (UNSW Sydney)

Dr Ian Magedera (University of Liverpool)

Dr Royce Mahawatte (Central St Martins & NYU London)

Prof John Marriot (Pembroke College, University of Oxford)

Prof Kate Marsh (University of Liverpool)

Dr Marc Matera (University of California, Santa Cruz)

Dr Christine Mathias (King’s College London)

Dr Patrick McDevitt (SUNY Buffalo)

Dr Joseph McQuade (University of Cambridge)

Dr Shamira Meghani (University of Cambridge)

Prof Henning Melber (Uppsala University & University of Pretoria)

Dr Paola Minoia (Helsinki University)

Dr Robin Mitchell (California State University, Channel Islands)

Dr Chris Moffat (Queen Mary, University of London)

Prof Satya P. Mohanty (University of Cornell)

Prof Chandra Talpade Mohanty (University of Syracuse)

Dr Chana Morgenstern (University of Cambridge)

Prof Dirk Moses (University of Sydney)

Prof Bill Mullen (Purdue University)

Prof Upamanyu Pablo Mukherjee (Warwick University)

Dr Mithi Mukherjee (University of Colorado at Boulder)

Dr Kamal Munir (Cambridge University)

Dr Saima Nasar (University of Bristol)

Dr Radhika Natarajan (Reed College)

Dr Natalya Naqvi (Princeton University)

Dr Eleanor Newbiggin (School of African and Asian Studies)

Dr Maria Nikolakai (University of the Peloppenese, Greece)

Prof Vasuki Nesiah (NYU)

Prof John Newsinger (Bath Spa University)

Dr Zoe Norridge (King’s College London)

Prof Miles Ogborn (Queen Mary, University of London)

Dr Sadiah Qureshi (University of Birmingham)

Prof Fiona Paisley (Griffith University)

Prof Benita Parry (University of Warwick)

Dr Cóilín Parsons (Georgetown University)

Dr Steven Pierce (University of Manchester)

Prof Douglas Peers (University of Waterloo)

Prof Adele Perry (University of Manitoba)

Dr John Pincince (Loyola Chicago)

Dr Dana Rabin (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Prof Malini Ranganathan (American University, D.C.)

Dr Surabhi Ranganathan (University of Cambridge)

Dr Ruvani Ranasinha (King’s College London)

Prof Erika Rappaport (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Prof Richard Rathbone (School of Oriental and Asian Studies)

Dr Carina Ray (Brandeis University)

Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri (St Andrews University)

Dr Reuben Rose Redwood (University of Victoria)

Dr Graham Riach (University of Oxford)

Dr Rebecca Robinson (McGill University)

Prof Caroline Rooney (University of Kent)

Dr Rohan Deb Roy (University of Reading)

Dr Poulomi Saha (University of California, Berkeley)

Prof Priya Satia (Stanford University)

Dr Julia Schoneburg (Kassel University)

Prof Pamela Scully (Emory University)

Dr Uditi Shane (Hampshire College)

Prof Stephen Shapiro (University of Warwick)

Dr Shalini Sharma (Keel University)

Dr Taylor Sherman (London School of Economics)

Prof Dina Sidiqqu (BRAC University)

Dr Neelam Srivastava (University of Newcastle)

Dr Partha Pratham Shil (University of Cambridge)

Dr John Slight (The Open University)

Prof Ann Stoler (The New School)

Dr Jeff Schauer (University of Nevada, Las Vegas)

Dr Ben Silverstein (University of Sydney)

Dr Chris Smith (University of Coventry)

Dr Sara Smith (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)

Prof Paul Spickard (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Dr Robert Spencer (University of Manchester)

Dr Simon Springer (University of Victoria)

Dr Arathi Sriprakash (University of Cambridge)

Dr Neelam Srivastava (Newcastle University)

Prof Todd Shepard (Johns Hopkins University)

Prof Sarah Stockwell (King’s College London)

Dr Farhana Sultana (Syracuse University)

Dr Deborah Sutton (Lancaster University)

Dr Kristin Szarto (University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee)

Dr Chris Taylor (University of Chicago)

Dr Peter Thompson (University of London)

Prof Richard Toye (University of Exeter)

Alex von Tunzelmann (Writer)

Dr Harry Van Issum (Griffith University)

Prof Michael G. Vann (Sacramento State University)

Professor James Vernon (University of California, Berkeley)

Dr Erica Wald (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Dr Chris Warnes (University of Cambridge)

Dr Marion Werner (SUNY-Buffalo)



Jon Wilson

History, Politics, India, Britain and Beyond. (And my daughter’s blog: Crafty Pigs)