CV and  Bio





Jack Donnelly

I received my PhD in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1982. As a student at Berkeley, I studied political theory (principally with Hanna Pitkin) and international relations (with Ernie Haas and Ken Waltz) and did my dissertation on the development of the concept of human rights -- a good way to combine my fields in an interesting substantive area of obvious policy relevance. Human rights has remained my principal scholarly interest ever since.

Most of my writings have been in the broad, multidisciplinary field of human rights.  They include three books -- The Concept of Human Rights, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice (second edition, 2003), and International Human Rights (third edition, 2006) -- and over fifty articles and book chapters, which have been translated into nine languages. I am perhaps best known for a series of articles on human rights and cultural relativism, which advance a strong argument for a relatively universalistic approach to implementing internationally recognized human rights. I have also written on the theory of human rights, the development and functioning of international human rights regimes, human rights and development, group rights, humanitarian intervention, and democracy and human rights.  If you want to see a sampling of my work, the second edition of my best known book, Universal Human Rights, is probably the place to look.  My current human rights work focuses on a book-length project comparing conceptions of human dignity, with extended case studies of the West and China from "ancient" to "modern" eras.

Realism and International Relations (Cambridge University Press, 2000) was a project of a very different nature.  It offers a broad and critical reading of the realist tradition that nonetheless attempts to be fair to and to recognize the positive contributions of realism. The thrust of my argument is that the tradition is actually much more diverse and open than many (both within and outside of it) imagine, and that standard arguments for restricting policy largely to the national interest defined in terms of power do not stand up to careful scrutiny.  In the area of international theory, I am currently working on a series of articles that aim to reconstruct our understanding of the nature and dimensions of international political structures.  So far, two have come out in print:  Sovereign Inequalities and Hierarchy in Anarchy: American Power and International Society, European Journal of International Relations 12 (2006): 139-170 and Rethinking Political Structures: From 'Ordering Principles' to 'Vertical Differentiation' -- and Beyond. International Theory 1 (2009): 49-86.  (A long contemplated book on ancient Greek international society is, once again, on hold.)

My principal teaching responsibilities in the graduate programs at the Korbel School  lie in the area of international relations theory. Pretty much every year I teach what I describe as first, second, and third year international politics theory courses. The first year course, which is part of the International Studies Core, focuses on realism and its critics, introducing students to a variety of realist theorists, as well as a number of critical perspectives, ranging from mainstream institutional approaches through hard core postmodernism. My current second year course, aimed at advanced MA and PhD students, is Comparing International Societies (which looks at a number of historical international societies, going back to ancient Sumeria). The third year course, intended primarily for PhD students, looks at recent theoretical work undertaken from a variety of "social constructivist" perspectives, rather broadly understood. 

My other principal areas of teaching responsibility are human rights. I regularly offer our Introduction to Human Rights course and a course on Human Rights and Foreign Policy.  As time allows, I also teach Ancient Political Theory, Modern Political Theory, and Classics of International Theory, a course that cuts across political theory and international politics.  Current and past syllabi for these and other courses I teach are available at

Like most of the faculty here, I see my teaching and research work as closely interconnected. For example, the realism book both grew out of and helped to shape the material I present in the introductory international politics theory course. The Greeks project has both generated and benefitted from the course on Comparing International Societies, which also helped to spur the new book project on human dignity.  When I teach human rights, I am able to draw on three decades of intensive study of the field. And I hope that my students benefit from having direct access -- things are pretty informal at the Korbel School, and I am one of the more informal of the bunch -- to one of the leading scholars in the field. I also, like most of my colleagues, take my teaching very seriously. Some classes go better than others, of course, but I try to teach demanding yet lively classes, even when dealing with theoretical material that some students initially consider dry and arcane. I received the Graduate Student Association's "Best Professor" award no less than the University's "Distinguished Scholar" award. 

Away from school, I am afraid that both my body and my bank account have made riding impossible (although you can see some remnants of that past life on this website).  I have started playing volleyball, with enthusiasm if not much skill, and more recently tennis.  I enjoy folk music, both traditional British (above all, the incomparable Martin Carthy) and contemporary American singer songwriters (e.g., Christine Lavin, Ellis Paul, David Roth, Patty Larkin, Susan Werner, along with old guys of my own generation, such as Tom Rush).  Most importantly, in March 2002 I married the love of my life, Katayoun Azizpour (pictures above).  


Revised 15 November 2009