Northwestern Events Calendar


GLOBAL LUNCHBOX | The World Imagined: Collective Beliefs and Political Order in the Sinocentric, Islamic and Southeast Asian International Societies (Hendrik Spruyt)


When: Friday, April 23, 2021
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: Free

Contact: Cindy Pingry  


Category: Global & Civic Engagement, Academic, Lectures & Meetings


The Global Lunchbox is a weekly conversation convened by the Weinberg College Center for International and Area Studies that features current research and work-in-progress by Northwestern scholars in the social sciences and humanities working on a range of global issues.

This week we will host Hendrik Spruyt, the Norman Dwight Harris Professor of International Relations at Northwestern, for a conversation about his recent book The World Imagined: Collective Beliefs and Political Order in the Sinocentric, Islamic and Southeast Asian International Societies.

About the book

Taking an inter-disciplinary approach, Hendrik Spruyt explains the political organization of three non-European international societies from early modernity to the late 19th century. The Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires; the Sinocentric tributary system; and the Southeast Asian galactic empires, all of which differed in key respects from the modern Westphalian state system. In each of these societies, collective beliefs were critical in structuring domestic orders and relations with other polities.

These multi-ethnic empires allowed for greater accommodation and heterogeneity in comparison to the homogeneity that is demanded by the modern nation-state. Furthermore, Spruyt examines the encounter between these non-European systems and the West. Contrary to unidirectional descriptions of the encounter, these non-Westphalian polities creatively adapted to Western principles of organization and international conduct.

By illuminating the encounter of the West and these Eurasian polities, this book serves to question the popular wisdom of modernity, wherein the Western nation-state is perceived as the desired norm, to be replicated in other polities.

Praise for the book

'The World Imagined is a path-breaking book of immense stature. It opens with a highly sophisticated tour d’horizon of the fields of anthropology, history, IR and sociology. Through this inter-discipliary dialogue, Spruyt builds a persuasive case for why we need a deeply interpretive approach to understanding historic international societies. He then provides the pay-off with three detailed studies of non-western international societies (East Asian tributary system; Southeast Asian kingdoms; Islamic empires): in each case, shared beliefs about authority and legitimacy defined the membership of the society and inscribed its boundaries. A worthy successor to Spruyt’s earlier, and equally brilliant book, The Sovereign State and its Competitors.'

Tim Dunne, Professor of International Relations and Pro-Vice-Chancellor, The University of Queensland

About the speaker

Hendrik Spruyt is the Norman Dwight Harris Professor of International Relations at Northwestern. He was chair of the Department of Political Science (2005-2008) and Director of the Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies (now the Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs) (2008-2013). Professor Spruyt previously taught International Relations at Columbia University (1991-1999) and Arizona State University (1999-2003) before joining the faculty at Northwestern. 

His previous books include Global Horizons: An Introduction to International Relations (2009), Contracting States: Sovereign Transfers in International Politics (2009), Ending Empire: Contested Sovereignty and Territorial Partition (2005), and The Sovereign State and its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change (1994), which won the J. David Greenstone Book Prize awarded by the Politics and History Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA).

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