2. Purposes and Leadership


The purposes of this project are:

  1. to trawl the history of ethical critiques of ‘empire’;
  2. to test the critiques against the historical facts of empire; and thereby
  3. to garner possible ethical resources for contemporary deployment.

Beyond the project, Professor Biggar intends to use its results:

  1. to develop a nuanced and historically intelligent Christian ethic of empire;
  2. and so to enable a morally sophisticated negotiation of contemporary issues such as military intervention for humanitarian purposes in culturally foreign states, the cohesion of multicultural societies, and settling imperial pasts.


The project was conceived by Professor Nigel Biggar in the Faculty of Theology & Religion, and by Professor John Darwin in the Faculty of History, at the University of Oxford.   

Nigel Biggar is Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, Director of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life, and a Canon of Christ Church. He holds degrees in History as well as Christian Ethics, and has written on the rectification of violent history (Burying the Past: Making Peace and Doing Justice after Civil Conflict, 2001), the ethics of international military intervention (In Defence of War, 2013), and the ethics of the nation and empire (Between Kin and Cosmopolis: An Ethic of the Nation, 2014). His contributions to the public debate about the Rhodes Must Fall campaign—most notably “Rhodes, Race, and Empire” in Standpoint magazine (March 2016)—have attracted international attention.

John Darwin is Professor of Global and Imperial History (retired), Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, and Fellow of the British Academy. He was the first Director of the Oxford Centre for Global History. His first three books  on the British Empire – Britain, Egypt and the Middle East (1981), Britain and Decolonization (1988), and The End of the British Empire (1991) – were pioneering studies. Most recently his work has become global in scope: After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires, 1400-2000 (2008), The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World System, 1830–1970 ( 2009), and Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (2013). After Tamerlane was awarded the Wolfson Prize, the pre-eminent award for a history book, and The Empire Project won the triennial Trevor Reese prize for Commonwealth and Imperial history.

Sadly, Professor Darwin felt obliged to resign from the “Ethics and Empire” project for personal reasons on 18 December 2017. 

In January 2019 the position of co-leader of the project was taken up by Krishan Kumar, University Professor and William R. Kenan, Jr, Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, and author of Visions of Empire: How Five Imperial Regimes Shaped the World (2017) and Empires: A Historical and Political Sociology (2020).  Formerly Professor of Social and Political Thought at the University of Kent at Canterbury, England, Professor Kumar has been a Talks Producer at the BBC and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University. He has also held Visiting Professorships at Bristol University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Central European University, Prague, the University of Bergen, Norway, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, and he has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

Next: Colloquia