Paul Billingham

MA, MPhil, DPhil

Associate Professor of Political Theory, DPIR
Fellow and Tutor in Politics, Magdalen College
Political Theory Network
Magdalen College
Office address
Magdalen College, Oxford, OX1 4AU

I joined DPIR as an Associate Professor in April 2018. Prior to this, I was a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford, from October 2015.

My research centres on normative questions about the relationship between the actions of the state and the beliefs and values of citizens, especially their religious beliefs. I consider both the way in which citizens’ beliefs might constrain state action, given the liberal demand that laws be justified to all citizens, and the ways in which the state might permissibly seek to influence citizens’ values, to conform them to liberal ideals. The former question concerns public justification and public reason, while the latter concerns the state's role in value-promotion and moral formation. Through this focus, my work touches upon many important topics within political theory, including state legitimacy, pluralism, freedom of conscience, religious exemptions, and the place of religion within public life.

Alongside this, I also have an interest in the phenomenon of public shaming, especially online public shaming, and have written on the ethical questions raised by this practice.


Most of my research has been on debates concerning public justification and public reason: what kinds of reasons of values should be used to justify political institutions and laws, in the face of our many moral, philosophical, and religious disagreements? I have explored competing accounts of public justification and examined the implications of theories of public reason for religious citizens, and the compatibility of the view with Christianity, in particular. This has included interacting with the work of theologians.

My current work considers how the liberal state ought to respond to citizens - and especially religious groups - whose beliefs and practices do not seem to cohere with liberal values. Should the state actively confront, and seek to transform, the views of such citizens? On the other hand, should the law protect the autonomy of religious groups, including by granting them exemptions, even when this allows them to engage in illiberal practices? This had led me to think more generally about the proper basis for, and scope of, collective religious liberty.

Finally, I am also writing on the use of the internet, particularly social media, to criticise (perceived or actual) moral failures and misdemeanours. Under what conditions can this so-called 'online public shaming' be justified? And what are the responsibilities of the state, social media organisations, and the public, in response to cases of unjustified or disproportionate shaming?

More information about all of these research projects is available on my personal website.

Research interests:

My research interests include:

Political Theory, Liberalism, Religion


Undergraduate: Introduction to the Theory of Politics (first year paper); Theory of Politics (core finals paper); Advanced Theories of Justice (finals paper).

Graduate: Theory of Politics MPhil core course; Reasonable Disagreement & Political Argument (second year MPhil option).

Paul Billingham