How to be just?

The concept of justice has experienced an unprecedented boom in recent decades, not only in applied philosophy, but also in political discourse. Demands for justice permeate almost all the important areas of social and political debate. Social, intergenerational, and climate justice, for example, are key ethical ideals that challenge present-day governance structures and systems.

Research Objectives Concepts of Justice in Global Comparison: Justice between Universal Validity Claims and Cultural Conditioning

Established in May 2022, the research group will at first identify specific fields of investigation, where the respective concepts of justice will be studied. These will include, amongst others:

  • different historical periods in Europe,  starting with Antiquity,
  • religious justice concepts in comparison,
  • various practices of social and cultural coexistence in European and non-European societies,
  • issues of environment and climate.

In order to specify and substantiate the fields of investigation, an inaugural in-house workshop has taken place in November 2022. This will be followed by a series of public and semi-public events. In addition, publications are planned.

Project Description

While the Christian tradition (e.g. Thomas Aquinas) took up Plato´s and Aristotle´s concept of justice as part of social ethics, the social philosophy of the Enlightenment emphasised questions of institutional prerequisites for the possibility of justice, without, however, discarding  the cardinal rule of the suum cuique (‘to each their own’) of the ancient and Christian tradition as formative premise. Only with the resurgence of justice discourses in the wake of John Rawls and his book A Theory of Justice, which shaped the modern debates, did aspects of procedural justice gain centre stage.

The ongoing debate on ‘global justice’ takes up these discourses and asks, whether at all or to what extent validity claims of specific justice postulates can be meaningfully raised beyond the boundaries of particular, historically evolved traditional communities - claims that are certainly denied by communitarian philosophies.  What remains largely unheeded in these debates is the fundamental question, whether the central categories of contemporary justice debates, which are rooted in the theological and philosophical traditions of European intellectual history, are actually compatible with a global perspective. Attempts at an intercultural comparative study of justice concepts have so far barely progressed beyond the first initiatory steps.

And yet, a cursory review of the, albeit limited, body of relevant work shows that thinking in terms of justice categories does indeed seem to be something of a universal constant beyond all cultural differentiation. At the same time, however, from a systematically comparative perspective we know very little about the concrete norms of the respective justice concepts in different cultures.  There seem to be certain similarities across many cultures with view to the close bond between concepts of justice and models of sociality, and the idea of ‘to each their own’, but at the same time these premises are substantiated concretely by very different forms of manifestation in detail. 

The vivid multidisciplinarity of the Academy promises to be particularly conducive for an exemplary in-depth analysis from an intercultural comparative perspective. The variety of specific disciplinary approaches allows to address widely distinct tones and nuances that characterise the negotiation of justice issues in different cultures and communities. At present, the cultural range covered by the group includes Europe, the Islamic region, India, and Africa.


  • WS 2022/23: Lecture series on concepts of justice in different cultural contexts for the working group only
  • 2023: Workshop with international guests to discuss ideas of justice in global comparison
  • Autumn 2023: Participation in the Academy Day of the Union of Academies in Berlin on the topic  ‘How to be just?  Concepts of Justice in Global Comparison´
  • 2023/2024: Lecture series with both in-house and external academic speakers for the general public
  • 2024: International workshop on concepts of justice
  • 2025: Conference ‘Concepts of Justice in Global Comparison’
  • 2026: Book publication (anthology)

Members of the Working Group

Position Name Discipline
Prof. Dr. Gabriele Clemens Modern Western European History and European Integration History
Prof. Dr. Philippe Depreux Geschichtswissenschaften
Dr. Hermann Diebel-Fischer Theologie
Dr. Anne Dienelt Legal Studies / Public Law / International Law
Dr. Vincent Gengnagel Soziologie
Prof. Dr. Silke Göttsch-Elten European Ethnology / Folklore
Spokesperson Prof. Dr. Anna Margaretha Horatschek English Literature
Prof. Dr. Ulrike Jekutsch Slawische Literaturwissenschaft
Jun. Prof. Dr. Franziska Neumann Geschichtswissenschaften
Deputy Spokesperson Prof. Dr. Stefan Oeter Deutsches und ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht
Prof. Dr. Anja Pistor-Hatam Islamwissenschaft
Prof. Dr. Angelika Redder Germanic Linguistics and General Linguistics
Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. h. c. Johannes Schilling Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte
Jun.-Prof. Dr. Alexander Stark Rechtswissenschaften
Prof. Dr. Christine Straehle Philosophy
Prof. Dr. Dana-Sophia Valentiner Rechtswissenschaften
Dr. Colin von Negenborn Philosophy
Prof. Dr. Stephanie Zehnle Geschichtswissenschaften
Dr. Larissa Zwar Psychology