Early Modern Natural Law around the Baltic Sea: Teaching and Use

Conference of the Network on Natural Law 1625-1850
in Collaboration with the University of Tartu and the Research Centre for Early-Modern Natural Law (Forschungszentrum Gotha & Max-Weber-Kolleg)

University of Tartu, Estonia, 2–4 September 2021

The aim of the conference is to take a comparative look at the teaching and use of natural law around the Baltic Sea in the early modern period. The region was at that time dominated by two Protestant monarchies, Sweden and Denmark-Norway, which also exercised control over a number of territories on the eastern and southern coasts of the Sea. With its strong links to German and Dutch academic culture, the region stood at the forefront of the formation of natural law as an academic discipline: in Uppsala, natural law was taught on the basis of Grotius as early as in 1655, and Samuel Pufendorf published his most influential works as a professor at the University of Lund in the 1670s. In the Danish Knights’ Academy in Sorø Grotius and Selden were taught between the 1630s and 50s, Pufendorf, Thomasius et al. at the similar academy in Copenhagen and at the University from 1690 onwards. Ius naturae et gentium was also taught at the University of Kiel (Schleswig-Holstein, in union with Denmark) from its foundation in 1665, and it also proliferated in the Swedish provincial universities of Dorpat (Livonia), Åbo (Finland) and Greifswald (Pomerania). As in other European countries, the use of natural law in the region was not restricted to academic teaching and theoretical discussion but became also an intellectual resource for conceptualizing and legitimating political developments, and informing legal, political and social reforms.

Rather than focusing on close textual analysis of particular theoretical works, we look at the uses of natural law in these academic and pragmatic contexts. In particular, we explore:

  • Factors that influenced the introduction (or disappearance) of natural law as a dominant academic discipline, language or culture, and its position in relation to other traditions, in specific national or regional contexts
  • The reception and adaptation of both well- and less-known natural law authors and works (Grotius, Pufendorf, Thomasius, Wolff, Rachel, Burlamaqui, etc.) in the academic environment, either at a particular university, or comparatively in a broader national or regional context
  • The theoretical foci of natural law lectures, disputations, textbooks, etc., and their relationship with various pragmatic contexts of the period
  • The practical and polemical use of natural law in the efforts of legitimation outside academia, both domestically and internationally (e.g., the questions of absolutism, political, social and religious reform and “improvement”, colonialism, serfdom, protection of individual rights, etc).

Participation is free and open to all interested, but it is necessary to register with Pärtel Piirimäe ( )

The conference is organized by the Chair in Intellectual History, University of Tartu (Prof. Pärtel Piirimäe), in conjunction with the international research project “Natural Law 1625-1850” (Halle/Erfurt, directors Knud Haakonssen, Frank Grunert and Louis Pahlow).


For previous conferences and workshops, see the Archive