School of Politics and International Relations

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Ben Holland

Associate Professor of International Relations, Faculty of Social Sciences



Ben Holland is an Associate Professor of International Relations. His research is concerned with the intellectual history of the European state, its sovereignty, and the historical connections between political and theological discourse. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a graduate of the University of Cambridge (MA, Social and Political Sciences) and the London School of Economics and Political Science (MSc and PhD, International Relations).

Expertise Summary

Ben's research is focused on the history of the idea of the state. His first book, The Moral Person of the State, is a study of the seventeenth-century philosopher Samuel von Pufendorf's influential theory of the personality of the state. His second, Self and City in the Thought of Saint Augustine, on Augustine's philosophy of the republic, will appear in September 2019.

Teaching Summary

Ben teaches courses on international relations and political theory at all levels, including convening two of the largest first- and second-year modules.

He is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has won two awards for his teaching and contribution to student learning: the Political Studies Association's Sir Bernard Crick Prize for outstanding teaching in 2014; and a Lord Dearing Award in 2018.

Research Summary

Ben's main field of research is the history of political thought. Within this broad area, he is particularly concerned with the history of philosophical and scholarly reflection on the modern… read more

Selected Publications

Ben is very keen to supervise MRes and PhD students working on the history of political thought, international relations theory, or political theology.

Successful PhD students have written theses on the African Union and peacekeeping (Jude Cocodia, 2016), the genealogy of the concept of constituent power (Adam Lindsay, 2017), the ancient Roman and Greek inheritances in the writings of Carl Schmitt and Hannah Arendt (Yared Akarapattananukul, 2017), and the social and political thought of Friedrich von Hayek (Aref Ebadi, 2018). He also co-supervised a successful MRes thesis on civil-military relations in Pakistan (Filippo Boni, 2013).

Current PhD students are working on the philosophical foundations of practices and policies to integrate refugees in modern Britain (Hamish Reid), and Leninism and democratic theory (Joe Pateman).

Ben has acted as internal examiner of PhD theses on the concept of displacement in international political thought (Jon Mansell, 2014) and a comparison of the political thought of Spinoza and Schmitt (Ignas Kalpokas, 2015), and as external examiner of a DPhil on the philosophy of conceptual history at the University of Oxford in 2017.

Current Research

Ben's main field of research is the history of political thought. Within this broad area, he is particularly concerned with the history of philosophical and scholarly reflection on the modern European state, the concept of sovereignty and the intersections between political thought and theology.

Ben recently concluded a large project on the idea of the state in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He investigated a particular analogy that was often drawn between the individual human person and the state during this period. Certain ideas about how human beings are constituted as free and rational agents, he showed, were taken up by theorists of the state as they thought about how the state was constituted, and what responsibilities states had towards their own subjects as well as to each other. The monograph, The Moral Person of the State, was published by Cambridge University Press in July 2017.

Ben has just completed work on his second book, Self and City in the Thought of Saint Augustine (Palgrave Macmillan, September 2019). This volume again explores the analogy between person and state, although in the case of Augustine it would be more accurate to say that the analogy is between the self and the city: between, that is, the human being as body and soul, always in relation to other such beings, and the city as a society ordered by love, whether self-love in the case of the Earthly City, divided love in the Pilgrim City, or love of others and of God in the City of God.

This book he envisages as the first step of a larger project on the history of the political thought on sovereignty. He is concerned with certain analogies between the powers of the sovereign and those of God that appear so often in European philosophy from the medieval period. Again, the concept of 'person' is key here: for in the Christian tradition, to which Augustine is central, God is three persons in one substance. Ben wants to examine how different understandings of the Trinity informed different conceptions of God's power and, by means of prevailing analogies, the powers of rulers and publics.

Ben sits on the management group of the Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies, and is also a Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice. With Tony Burns, he co-edits the Studies in Social and Global Justice book series.

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