nl en

Constitutions and Constitutionalism


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • Sovereignty and Statehood

Recommended course(s):

  • Legal Methods Lab


Constitutions, such as the U.S. Constitution or the Dutch Grondwet, are the highest laws within their respective countries. They establish the form of government, core institutions, and enshrine fundamental rights—in short, they constitute a polity in its essential characteristics. The idea of constitutionalism comes into play where constitutions successfully create a separation of powers, ensure democratic legitimacy, and foster a rule of law culture. A thorough knowledge of constitutions and constitutionalism is indispensable for working within any legal system.

Increasing internationalization, globalization, and in some parts of the world, regionalization, have also left their mark on constitutions and the idea of constitutionalism, and on the way that we understand and use constitutional texts. This includes, fundamentally, the question whether states are the only entities capable of having constitutions. Much work remains, however, to truly globalize research and thinking of constitutions and constitutionalism.

This course traces the history of the idea of constitutional government, discusses essential elements and theories of constitutionalism, and analyses them in the context of contemporary forms of multilevel and multistakeholder governance. It takes students from the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, via modern national constitutions from around the world to the UN Charter, today’s complex “European Constitutional Space”, and current political upheavals and backlashes. It is about sets of rules and norms, often but not always codified, which claim supremacy within a particular political community. The course provides an introduction into constitutional law from a comparative and multilevel perspective, including national, regional, and international dimensions.

Course Objectives

After successful completion of the course, students are able to, in terms of knowledge:

  • Goal 1: describe the origins and evolution of constitutional government, its essential elements and different forms;

  • Goal 2: explain central concepts, themes and theories within the field of constitutional law, including theories of “constitutionalism” and the role and functions of constitutional adjudication.

After successful completion of the course, students are able to, in terms of skills:

  • Goal 3: interpret constitutional texts from around the world and case law and use them to make “constitutional arguments”.

  • Goal 4: compare and classify different constitutions according to their content, legal tradition, and other core characteristics;

  • Goal 5: analyze various ways in which constitutions have been affected by processes of regional integration, internationalization, and globalization, and discuss how the study of constitutions itself can be “globalized”.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course uses a variety of teaching methods, including lecturing, class discussions and exercises, student-led debates, and legal case problems. Teaching materials include both primary sources (such as constitutional texts and court judgments) and secondary literature.

Assessment Method

  • General participation (including pop-quizzes); Goals 1 and 2; ongoing weeks 1-7 (16%)

  • Constitutional debate leadership; Goals 2, 3, 4, and 5; weeks 1-7 (17 % for the debate; 17% for the write-up)

  • “Paper pitch” on the topic of the case study; Goals 2, 3, 4, and 5; weeks 6/7 (10%)

  • Written case study essay; Goals 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5; due in week 8 (40%)

Reading list

Course textbook to be acquired by students:

  • Mark Tushnet, Advanced Introduction to Comparative Constitutional Law (2nd edition, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2018), ISBN: 9781786437204

Course textbooks available via Leiden Library:

  • Michel Rosenfeld and András Sajó (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

  • Jeffrey Dunoff and Joel Trachtman (eds), Ruling the World? Constitutionalism, International Law, and Global Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)

Generally recommended readings and research resources:

  • The book series Constitutional Systems of the World by Hart:

  • Larry Alexander (ed), Constitutionalism: Philosophical Foundations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

  • Daniel Bonilla Maldonado (ed), Constitutionalism of the Global South (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)

  • Mauro Bussani and Ugo Mattei (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Comparative Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)

  • Rosalind Dixon and Tom Ginsburg (eds.), Comparative Constitutional Law in Latin America (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2017)

  • Tom Ginsburg (ed), Comparative Constitutional Law (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2017)

  • Aalt Willem Heringa, Constitutions Compared: An Introduction to Comparative Constitutional Law (5th edn, Antwerp: Intersentia, 2019)

  • Anthony F. Lang, Jr. and Antje Wiener (eds.), Handbook on Global Constitutionalism (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2017)

  • Charles Parkinson, Bills of Rights and Decolonization (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007)

  • Kaarlo Tuori, European Constitutionalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)

  • Mark Tushnet, Mark A. Graber, and Sanford Levinson (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the U.S. Constitution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)

  • Mark Tushnet, Thomas Fleiner, and Cheryl Saunders (eds), Routledge Handbook of Constitutional Law (London: Routledge, 2013)

  • Armin von Bogdandy and Jürgen Bast (eds), Principles of European Constitutional Law, 2nd edition (Oxford: Hart Publishing/Munich: C.H. Beck, 2011)


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Joris Larik,