Professor James Renton

Professor of History & Director, ICR.

Department of English, History & Creative Writing


I am interested in the history of race, empire, and anti-colonial nationalism. My research and teaching focus on western Europe, Asia, and north Africa, from the 16th century to the present, especially in relation to the British and French empires, and their postcolonial afterlives. I am the founding Director of the International Centre on Racism (2019-).

I have a strong interest in bridging the gap between academic research and wider society, including civil society organisations, policymakers, and the general public. In that connection, I am the Academic Advisor at MONITOR Global Intelligence on Racism, the world’s first online magazine dedicated to bringing research insights to these communities, which is based at the European University Institute.

For my PhD, I had the great fortune to study under Michael Berkowitz at University College London, in the magnificent Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, chaired by the late Professor John Klier and Professor Ada Rapoport Albert . I spent the final year of my doctoral studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and later returned to UCL as a Hanadiv postdoctoral fellow before I moved to Edge Hill in 2007.

During the last decade, my research has focused on two interconnected large-scale projects: ‘Race in Europe over the longue durée, from the Crusades to the 21st Century’, and ‘The Middle East: The Rise and Fall of an Idea’. The first of these was a collaborative project, which put forward a new transnational relational approach to the history of racisms in Europe, focused on antisemitism and Islamophobia, over the last millennium. The research showed the importance of examining both continuity and change in racisms transnationally over centuries, across shifting political, cultural and intellectual contexts, particularly in reference to religion, empire, the postcolonial, and the War on Terror. The project resulted in the publication of two edited collections, Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Story? (Palgrave Macmillan 2017), co-edited with Ben Gidley, and Islamophobia and Surveillance: Genealogies of a Global Order (Routledge 2019), along with a journal special issue on ‘Jean Bodin and the Sovereignty of Exclusion’ for Political Theology (2020), co-edited with Anya Topolski. Each of these publications has benefited from collaborations with scholars in a wide range of disciplines: history (ancient, medieval, and modern), anthropology, sociology, philosophy, comparative literature, and theatre studies.

My project on the idea of the Middle East is a major intervention in the history of Orientalism, and the political relationship between Europe and Western Asia. Focused on the British and French empires’ attempt to re-invent the region as the ‘Middle East’ during and after the First World War, the research puts forward a new explanation of the systemic violence and conflict that has haunted post-Ottoman western Asia. I contend that after the fall of the Ottomans, Western Europe and Western Asia constituted a single political system defined by a clash of colonial and post-colonial conceptions of sovereignty. In turn, this dysfunctional political system is rooted, I argue, in Western European ideas of religion, race, and sovereignty that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Parts of this research have been published in The Historical Journal, The International History Review, and Ethnic and Racial Studies. For this project, I was awarded an Early Career Fellowship by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2012-2013), and a Jean Monnet Fellowship at the European University Institute in Florence (2016-2017).

Outside of the academic world, I have featured in international press including Ha’aretztaz die tageszeitung, Deutsche Welle, and Jüdische Allgemeine. On television and radio, I have been in programmes on BBC Radio 4, Al Jazeera International, the Yesterday Channel and Deutschlandfunk Kultur.

I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, President-Elect of the British Association for Jewish Studies (2022-2023), and a member of the Northern UK Jewish Studies Partnership.

PhD students:

Travis Frain, ‘Paradox in practice? A critical assessment of Anglo-American foreign policy towards Islamist Extremism, 1976-1990.’

Elena Ghiggino, ‘Black Disabled Britons in the Late Georgian Period.’

Tabassum Hameed, PhD student, Director of Studies, ‘South Asian Participation in British Politics Before 1950.’

‘Minorities, xenophobia, and the state in provincial Lancashire, 1918-1926.’


My teaching currently focuses on the end of the colonial order, race, antisemitism, Orientalism, and the origins of the Israel-Palestine conflict.


With Anya Topolski (eds), ‘Jean Bodin and the Sovereignty of Exclusion’, special issue, Political Theology, Vol. 21, No. 6 (2020).

With Anya Topolski, ‘Bodin Now; or, What’s Wrong With Intellectual History?’, Political Theology, Vol. 21, No. 6 (2020), pp. 475-478.

With Monica Gonzalez Correa, ‘Social Media & Antisemitism: New Data and Recommendations‘, Policy Paper, MONITOR Global Intelligence on Racism, Feb. 2020.

With Stephen D. Ashe, ‘Antisemitism at Work in the UK: Ignorance and Denial‘, MONITOR Global Intelligence on Racism, June 2019.

‘Interview with James Renton’, Contemporary Levant, Vol. 4, Issue 1 (2019), pp. 8-13.

Ed. Islamophobia and Surveillance: Genealogies of a Global Order (London: Routledge, 2019).

‘The Global Order of Muslim Surveillance and its Thought Architecture’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 41, Issue 12 (2018), pp. 2125-2143.

‘The Figure of the Fanatic: A Rebel Against Christian Sovereignty‘, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 41, Issue 12 (2018), pp. 2161-2178.

Ed., ‘Islamophobia and Surveillance: Genealogies of a Global Order’, Special Issue, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 41, Issue 12 (2018).

Why Don’t We Just … Start a New Politics Against Racism?‘, The Big Issue North, 18 June 2018.

Does the World Really Need More Experts on Anti-Semitism and Racism?’, Ha’aretz, 31 May 2018.

‘Does Europe’s Far Right Hate Muslims the Same Way They Hate Jews?’, Ha’aretz, 1 Dec. 2017.

‘The Balfour Declaration’s Deep Anti-Semitism and Racism- And Why it Still Matters’, Ha’aretz, 26 Oct. 2017.

British Imperialism and ‘The Tribal Question’: Desert Administration and Nomadic Societies in the Middle East, 1919-1936  by Robert S.G. Fletcher, Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 28 (3) (Sept. 2017), pp. 474-6. (review)

‘The End of the Semites’, in James Renton and Ben Gidley (eds) Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Story? (Palgrave Macmillan, pbk, 2017), pp. 99-140.

With Ben Gidley, ‘The Shared Story of Europe’s Ideas of the Muslim and the Jew: A Diachronic Framework’, in James Renton and Ben Gidley (eds), Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Story? (Palgrave Macmillan, pbk, 2017), pp. 1-21.

Co-ed. with Ben Gidley, Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Story? (Palgrave Macmillan, pbk, 2017).

‘The British Empire’s Jewish Question and the Post-Ottoman Future’, in David Wertheim (ed.), The Jew as Legitimation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

‘The Shared Story of Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism’, Interview, ProMosaik/MintPress News, 22 June 2016.

‘Europe’s Undeclared War on Islam’, Middle East Monitor, 8 March 2016.

‘The Post-Colonial Caliphate: Islamic State and the Memory of Sykes-Picot’, The Conversation (Australia), 23 Feb. 2016/’Décrypter Daech : le califat et le spectre des accords Sykes-Picot’, The Conversation (France), 4 Mar. 2016.

‘Why is Europe Desperate to Spy on its Muslims?’, openDemocracy, 23 September 2015.

‘The West’s War Against Palestinian ‘Extremism’ is Doomed to Fail‘, The Conversation, 3 August 2014.

‘The Age of Nationality and the Origins of the Zionist-Palestinian Conflict’, The International History Review, Vol. 35, No. 3 (2013), pp. 576-599.

‘Should Britain Apologize for the Balfour Declaration?‘, Ha’aretz, 29 April 2013. Hebrew edition, 19 May 2013.

‘Yad Chaim Weizmann and the Westernness of Israel’, Jewish Historical Studies, Vol. 44 (2012), pp. 27-50.

British Pan-Arab Policy, 1915-1922: A Critical Appraisal by Isaiah Friedman’(review), Israel Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring 2012), pp. 180-183.

‘Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero by Abigail Green’ (review), Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2 (2012), pp. 291-293.

‘Palestine’s UN Bid: Lessons from the History of Zionism‘, openDemocracy, 21 September 2011.

‘Interpreting the Balfour Declaration: A Marriage of History and Politics?’, Teaching History, 143 (June 2011), pp. 50-51.

‘Jerusalem: From the Ottomans to the British by Roberto Mazza’, (review) Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. 73, No. 3 (Oct. 2010), pp. 538-540.

‘WikiLeaks: Imperial Precedent‘, openDemocracy, 21st December 2010.

‘Flawed Foundations: The Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate’, in R. Miller (ed.), Britain, Palestine and Empire: The Mandate Years (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), pp. 15-37.

‘Forgotten Lessons: Palestine and the British Empire’, openDemocracy, 19 March 2010.

‘Churchill’s Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft by Michael Makovsky’, (review) Diplomacy & Statecraft, Vol. 19, No. 2 (2008), pp. 367-369.

The Zionist Masquerade: The Birth of the Anglo-Zionist Alliance, 1914-1918 (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Longlisted for the 2009 Longman/History Today Book of the Year Prize.

‘Changing Languages of Empire and the Orient: Britain and the Invention of the Middle East, 1917-1918’, The Historical Journal, 50, 3 (Sept. 2007), pp.645-667.

‘Reconsidering Chaim Weizmann and Moses Gaster in the Founding Mythology of Zionism,’ in Michael Berkowitz (ed.), Nationalism, Zionism and Ethnic Mobilization of the Jews in 1900 and Beyond (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2004), pp.129-152.

‘A Broken Trust: Herbert Samuel, Zionism and the Palestinians by Sahar Huneidi’, (review) Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Spring 2003), pp. 197-200.

‘The Israel/Palestine Question edited by Ilan Pappé’, (review) The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms, Vol. 7, No. 2 (2002), pp. 261-263.

‘The Middle East and Europe: The Power Deficit edited by B.A. Roberson’, (review) The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms, Vol. 7, No. 1 (2002), pp. 139-141.

‘Between Memory and Desire: The Middle East in a Troubled Age by R. Stephen Humphreys’, (review) The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms, Vol. 6, No. 6 (2001), pp. 857-859.

‘Science, Jews, and Secular Culture by David A. Hollinger’, (review) The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms, Vol. 6, No. 4 (2001), pp. 559-561.

‘The Historiography of the Balfour Declaration: Toward a Multi-Causal Framework,’ The Journal of Israeli History, 19, 2 ([published 2000] 1998), pp. 109-129.

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