The Historical Rawls

This special edition of Modern Intellectual History–edited by Sophie Smith, Associate Professor of Political Theory and Tutorial Fellow at University College; Teresa BejanAssociate Professor of Political Theory and Fellow of Oriel College; and former DPIR DPhil student Annette Zimmermann (Nuffield, 2018)–explores the work of American political philosopher John Rawls from a historical perspective.

The special issue began life as a conference held at the University of Oxford in 2017 to mark the 15th anniversary of Rawls's death and features contributions from a number of academics from the Department.


John Rawls (1921–2002) and his work are now squarely a subject for history. In the more than fifteen years since his death, a rich body of scholarship has emerged which attempts, in different ways, to understand the nature, development, and impact of Rawls's thought from a variety of historical perspectives. With 2021 marking fifty years since A Theory of Justice (1971) was first published, this special forum examines what we here call the “historical Rawls.”

The papers in this forum build on and critically engage with ongoing efforts to historicize both Rawls's interventions and postwar anglophone analytical political philosophy more broadly. The authors work across the disciplines of African American studies, history, philosophy, and politics, bringing a variety of disciplinary perspectives to existing scholarship, while pushing it in new and exciting directions. Each draws on the archives of Rawls's papers, held at Cornell, Princeton, and, most abundantly, Harvard.

The following academics have contributed to the collection: Sophie Smith, Teresa Bejan, Annette Zimmermann and Zofia Stemplowska:


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    Modern Intellectual History
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Dr Sophie Smith is Associate Professor of Political Theory and Tutorial Fellow, University CollegeDr Teresa M. Bejan is Associate Professor of Political Theory