In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cosmopolitan Political Thought

  • Introduction
  • Origins, Emergence, and Early Impact
  • Eurocentrism

Political Science Cosmopolitan Political Thought
Farah Godrej
  • LAST REVIEWED: 16 September 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0089


Cosmopolitan political thought is an emerging subfield of political theory. It is motivated by a turn beyond studying the texts and ideas of the traditional Western canon and also by reflections on what kinds of approaches should characterize such study. It emerges from, yet distinguishes itself from, two other subfields: cosmopolitanism and comparative political theory. It acknowledges that theorizing beyond Western resources is crucial, but it suggests that the more important question is a methodological one. That is, it is not simply about the content of which ideas and texts are studied, but also about how they are studied and what assumptions are revealed by a given way of approaching non-Western resources. Cosmopolitanism traces the emergence of its ideas to the ancient Greek and Roman traditions of Stoicism, calling for recognizing the community of rational beings worldwide as the source of the most fundamental moral and social obligations. Contemporary cosmopolitanisms apply this idea to a diversity of themes and debates, ranging from questions of nationalism and global distributive justice to international law, human rights, global democracy, climate change, and just war theory. Comparative political theory, meanwhile, is a subfield of political theory that emerged to focus on the study of political thought from civilizations outside the West. These studies include, among others, histories of political thought within certain non-Western traditions (such as the Indic, Islamic, Chinese, African, or Latin American ones), the history of particular concepts within civilizations, conceptual comparison across civilizations, and the treatment of interpretive or commentarial debates pertaining to certain concepts or problems within certain traditions. Cosmopolitanism raises the question of broadening the scope of political questions to the global, but it privileges the West and suggests that its intellectual heritage contains resources for such theorizing. Comparative political theory addresses non-Western texts and ideas, but it remains silent on which approaches would constitute a more cosmopolitan evolution in political theory’s self-understanding. Cosmopolitan political thought moves beyond both these discourses, engaging in methodological reflection about how the tasks and purposes of political theorizing might be reconceived so that the very practices of theorizing might become more cosmopolitan. Among other things, it argues that any study of non-Western thought must proceed from within, from a perspective internal to the tradition and its central texts, preoccupations, ideas, and concerns. Thus, it emphasizes detailed study of, and immersion within, any important civilizational intellectual tradition as the prerequisite for any subsequent engagement with such ideas. The study of works within particular civilizations serves to further a more cosmopolitan mode of political theorizing rather than simply serving as an artifact of regionally specific interest.

Origins, Emergence, and Early Impact

Few of the early works—Dallmayr 1996 and Dallmayr 2002—explicitly articulate their claims in terms of “cosmopolitan” aspirations, but they contain the implicit suggestion that the systematic study of how to approach the encounter with other texts is an important and foundational question. Euben 2006 approaches this question through the lens of a form of cosmopolitan thinking emerging from within the Muslim world. It is not until Godrej 2011 that one finds the first systematic articulation of the key questions identifying cosmopolitan political thought as a clearly stated contemporary aspiration and delineating its central goals.

  • Dallmayr, Fred. Beyond Orientalism: Essays on Cross-Cultural Encounter. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

    The first work to focus on the “mode” of cross-cultural encounter and explicitly contrast the task of comparative theorizing to Orientalist encounters with otherness. Draws heavily on the methodological commitments of continental hermeneutic thinkers such as Heidegger and Gadamer to illustrate this, a theme that becomes influential in later scholarship.

  • Dallmayr, Fred. Dialogue among Civilizations: Some Exemplary Voices. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

    Continues the theme of hermeneutic or “dialogical” approaches to other civilizations, which later becomes the object of critique as itself Eurocentric (see Jenco 2007, cited in Methodology, and Jenco 2011, cited in Eurocentrism).

  • Euben, Roxanne. Journeys to the Other Shore: Muslim and Western Travelers in Search of Knowledge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.

    Produces a counter genealogy of cosmopolitan thinking as emerging from within Islam rather than the West, thus becoming one of the first disruptions of the narrative that cosmopolitanism was a product of Western categories.

  • Godrej, Farah. Cosmopolitan Political Thought: Method, Practice, Discipline. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199782062.001.0001

    The first systematic and comprehensive treatment of the topic, which links it to the evolution of political theory’s self-understanding and identifies the central problematics therein.

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