1 Feb 2016 12:30pm - 2:00pm CRASSH Meeting Room


Part of the CRASSH Fellows Work in Progress Seminar Series.  All welcome but please email Michelle Maciejewska to book your place and to request readings.  A sandwich lunch and refreshments are provided.

Dr Teresa M Bejan

As the core premise of modern moral and political philosophy, equality often demands more allegiance than investigation. The question of its historical emergence as a social and political ideal is generally set aside in favor of identifying the causal and constitutive harms of various forms of inequality—whether political, social, or economic—in the present. But here, normative and empirical approaches have converged in explicating in/equality in terms of two other concepts, respect and contempt, that are themselves more often invoked than understood.  This lecture will explore ideas of equality—as a political principle, a religious commitment, and a social practice—in seventeenth-century England, in the context of debates wherein these concepts were also paramount.  Taking Hobbes’s theory of natural equality as a premise to be “acknowledged” rather than a descriptive reality as its starting point, the lecture will focus on how Hobbes drew on and transformed the distinctive forms of egalitarian claim-making practiced by his radical Protestant contemporaries, whose insistence that “God was no respecter of persons” issued in strong, direct, and disruptive challenges to existing social hierarchies. Foremost were the Quakers, who assailed directly the social performance of respect in the name of individuals’ equal status as bearers of the inner light. Their refusal to pay “hat honor” and their insistence on the “uncouth, strange, and Immodest” practice of “feeling and grabling”—i.e. shaking—hands scandalized contemporaries, who recognized this deliberate denial of “respective” behavior appropriate to different ranks as a strategic politics of contempt meant to bring the high low, and the low high.  Despite their differences, then, both Hobbes and the Quakers demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the ways in which hierarchy is constituted, protected, and internalized through the showing (or withholding) of respect. This fascinating but forgotten understanding of “equality before egalitarianism” sheds light on the development of a central concept in modern political thought while providing some analytical clarity and historical insight into the relationship between equality, respect, and contempt sorely missing in contemporary debates.


Dr Teresa Bejan is the CRASSH Balzan-Skinner Fellow 2016-17 and is at CRASSH in Lent Term 2016. She will also be giving the Balzan-Skinner lecture and participating in the related symposium on Friday 22 April 2016.

Teresa M. Bejan is Associate Professor of Political Theory at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Oriel College. She received her Ph.D. with distinction from Yale University (2013) and holds previous degrees from the Universities of Chicago and Cambridge. Before coming to Oxford, she taught at the University of Toronto and was a Fellow in the Columbia Society of Fellows in the Humanities.  Her research brings perspectives from early modern English and American political thought to bear on questions in contemporary political theory and practice.  Her first book, Mere Civility: Tolerating Disagreement in Early Modern England and America (forthcoming with Harvard University Press), examines calls for civility today in light of seventeenth-century debates about religious toleration. Other recent publications include: “Evangelical Toleration,” Journal of Politics (forthcoming), “John Locke on Toleration, (In)civility, and the Quest for Concord,” History of Political Thought (forthcoming), “When the Word of the Lord Runs Freely,” The Lively Experiment: Religious Toleration in America from Roger Williams to the Present, edited by C. Beneke and C. Grenda, Rowman & Littlefield (2015), and “The Difficult Work of Liberal Civility” (with Bryan Garsten), Civility, Legality, and the Limits of Justice, ed. A. Sarat, Cambridge University Press (2014).

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