Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2006

Publication Citation

16 Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 85 (2009)


The twentieth century has seen a fundamental shift in the ways in which constitutions are understood. By the middle of the twentieth century, a new sort of constitutionalism emerged, rejecting the idea of the legitimacy of every form of political selfconstitution. The central assumptions of this new constitutionalism were grounded in the belief that not all constitutions were legitimate, and that legitimate constitutions shared a number of universal common characteristics. These common characteristics were both procedural (against arbitrary use of state power) and substantive (limiting the sorts of policy choices states could make in constituting its government and exercising governance power). These procedural and substantive norms were, in turn, an articulation of a "higher law" of the community of nations, reflecting a global communal consensus evidenced in common practice or international agreements. The authority and legitimacy of this global secular transnational constitutionalism has not gone unchallenged. On the one hand, state power traditionalists reject the notion of extra-national normative constraints on constitution making. On the other hand, there has been an intensification of challenges from universalists of different schools, from natural law theorists to pluralist constitutionalists. Among the most potent of these groups have been religious transnational constitutionalists who have argued that one or another of the current crop of universalist religions ought to serve as the foundation of normative disciplining of constitution making. But do these movements represent constitutionalism? If they do, then what are their characteristics?

This article examines these questions from the context of the most developed form of theocratic transnational constitutionalism - that of Islam. The object will be to examine the great variation of Islamic and Islamic-influenced constitutions to see if these represent the emergence of a constitutionalism with characteristics that can be clearly articulated, if it is possible within this system to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate constitutions, and if there are characteristic of this constitutionalism that clearly distinguish it from secular transnational constitutionalism. Part I critically reviews the main currents of twenty-first century notions of constitutionalism and focuses on theocracy as a principle of governance. Part II suggests the possibility of fusing the legitimating structures of modern constitutionalism with the substantive framework of theocracy to produce a possible set of characteristics that would mark a legitimate Islamic constitutionalism, distinguishing Islamic constitutions from Islamic constitutionalism. Part III then applies this understanding of theocratic constitutionalism to the constitutional "families" of religious constitutions in which Islamic law has become part of the structural architecture of the constitution itself, suggesting points of convergence and divergence with the values and norms of secular transnational constitutionalism.

Operationalizing Global Governance, Symposium. Indiana University Maurer School of Law-Bloomington, Indiana, March 19-21, 2008