Decolonial Comparative Law

Decolonial Comparative Law

Ralf Michaels (MPI Director) and Lena Salaymeh (British Academy Global Professor, University of Oxford) have established a long-term collaborative research project on decolonial comparative law.

Decolonial comparative law both identifies how the matrix of modernity/coloniality structures prevalent understandings of law and offers decolonial alternatives. (Coloniality means not merely colonialism, but rather a totalizing and universalizing mode of thought that underlies modernity.)

Conventional comparative law rests on epistemic assumptions that emerge from the modernity/coloniality matrix and this has implications for a number of core presumptions or practices in comparative law: using the nation-state as a category of analysis, privileging secular law over religious law, viewing modern law as superior to precolonial and anticolonial legal traditions. Decoloniality seeks to overcome the center-periphery structure, a key aspect of the modernity/coloniality matrix, through the concept of pluriversality, meaning the legitimacy of multiple traditions and social orderings.

Rather than organizing comparative law around the objective of unifying or “modernizing” law, we advocate using comparative law to decolonize legal thinking and to create conditions for legal pluriversality. A decolonial analysis reveals the coloniality within conventional comparative law and thereby helps move beyond it.


Lena Salaymeh, Ralf Michaels
Decolonial Comparative Law: A Conceptual Beginning
Rabels Zeitschrift für ausländisches und internationales Privatrecht 86 (2022), 166–188.
Ralf Michaels
Das rechtliche Erbe der Kolonialzeit
Max Planck Forschung 4 (2021), 16-21.
Lena Salaymeh
Comparing Islamic and International Laws of War: Orthodoxy, Heresy, and Secularization in the Category of Civilians
American Journal of Comparative Law 69, no. 1 (2021): 136-67.
Lena Salaymeh
Decolonial translation: destabilizing coloniality in secular translations of Islamic law
Journal of Islamic Ethics 5 (2021): 250-77.
Lena Salaymeh
Traduction décoloniale: contre la colonialité dans la conversion séculière du droit islamique en ‘charia’
Clio@Themis, 20:1 (2021)

Decolonial Comparative Law Workshop 2022 / Call for Papers

Theme: Decolonial comparative legal history: indigenous and global South law prior to colonialism
9-10 September 2022, Oxford, United Kingdom

Paper submission deadline: 9 February 2022
Decisions: 9 May 2022

The second Decolonial Comparative Law Workshop will focus on comparing indigenous law and pre-colonial law, both in settler-colonial regions of the global North and in the area now often referred to as the global South. 

For detailed information, please see the Call for Papers:

Virtual workshop 6-7 October 2020

The Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law (Hamburg) and the University of the Witwatersrand School of Law organized a virtual workshop on decolonial comparative law on 6-7 October 2020 (see schedule below).

Program (PDF)

Co-organizers: Tshepo Madlingozi & Emile Zitzke (University of Witwatersrand) and Ralf Michaels & Lena Salaymeh (Max Planck Institute for Comparative and Private International Law)

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