Dr. Jacob Abolafia

Areas of specialization:

History of Political Thought and Critical Theory

Areas of competence:

Political Philosophy and Ancient Philosophy


I am a political theorist who writes on the history of political thought and critical theory, broadly construed.

My first book project, based on my dissertaition “Penal Modernism before Modernity: Correction and Confinement in the History of Political Thought”, advances a new theory of how penal incarceration came to capture the Western philosophical imagination. It traces institutional accounts of incarceration, the moral psychology of crime and the political economy of punishment from Plato’s Athens to Jeremy Bentham’s London, with an eye towards our present carceral dysfunction.

I have  published and taught on the history of political thought from classical antiquity to the present day. My ongoing research interests include social and political philosophy from early modernity through the critical theorists, Jewish and Islamic political thought, classical philosophy, and the philosophical basis of political economy.

I hold a BA (Hons.) in Philosophy from Yale University (2010), and completed M.Phils in Political Thought and Intellectual History (2011) and Ancient Philosophy (2012) at Cambridge, where I was a Paul Mellon Fellow at Clare College until 2013. After receiving my doctorate from Harvard’s Government Department, I was the 2019-2020 Harvard-Tel Aviv Exchange Fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Tel Aviv University.


Reform, Incarceration, and Democracy in the History of Political Thought (Book manuscript in progress)

“Plato and the Ancient Theory of Incarceration” Ramus (Special issue on Classics and Political Theory), Expected Fall 2020.

“Josephus in Jewish Political Thought from Menasseh and Spinoza to Moses Mendelssohn” in Josephus in Modern Jewish Thought, ed. Andrea Schatz (Leiden, Brill: 2019), pp. 17-41.

“Essentialism and Pluralism in Aristotle’s ‘Function Argument’ (NE 1.7)”, Epoche: A journal of the history of philosophy, Volume 21, Issue 2, Spring 2017, pp. 391-400.

“Solar Theology and Civil Religion in Plato’s Laws”, POLIS: The Journal of Ancient Greek Political Thought, Volume 32 (2015), pp. 369-392.

“Spinoza, Josephus, and the Critique of the Hebrew Republic” History of Political Thought, Volume 35, Number 2, 2014, pp. 295-316.

“A Reappraisal of Contra Apionem 2.145 as an Original Contribution to Political Thought.” Scripta Classica Israelica, Volume 32, June 2013, pp. 153-73.