—Richard Albert, The University of Texas at Austin
In “Five Questions” here at I-CONnect, we invite a public law scholar to answer five questions about his or her research.
This edition of “Five Questions” features Farrah Ahmed, Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Research at Melbourne Law School. Her full bio follows below:
Farrah Ahmed is an Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Research at Melbourne Law School. Before this, she was a Lecturer in Law at the Queen’s College, University of Oxford. Her educational history includes an LLB from the University of Delhi, and a Bachelor of Civil Law, an MPhil and a DPhil in law from the University of Oxford.
Her research spans public law, legal theory and family law. Her recent work on constitutional statutes, religious freedom, the doctrine of legitimate expectations, the duty to give reasons, public interest standing and social rights has been published in the Cambridge Law Journal, the Modern Law Review, the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Public Law, and the Law Quarterly Review. Her book Religious Freedom under the Personal Law System was published by Oxford University Press in 2016. Farrah is currently a Chief Investigator on an Australian Research Council Discovery grant studying religious dispute resolution processes. Farrah is a founding editor of the Indian Law Review and the Admin Law Blog.
1. Tell us about something you are working on right now.
I’m currently intrigued by common claims that laws on a range of matters – voting processes, healthcare, discrimination, seatbelts – express attitudes like hatred, contempt, endorsement, concern, respect or indifference towards particular groups. I’m trying to figure out whether these claims are justified. I’m hoping to end up either with a better account of what these laws express than the ones currently on offer, or with a compelling argument for why we should stop worrying about what these laws express.
This project is connected to another one on the justifiability of ‘symbolic establishment’ – prayers in Parliament, references to God in Constitutional preambles, religious symbols on flags. I am interested in symbolic establishment because it is often treated as relatively unproblematic, and because it is not clear whether and why we should worry about this kind of establishment.
I am also enjoying working with Richard Albert and Adam Perry on how common law judges engage, and ought to engage, with constitutional conventions; with Ghena Krayem on a book on sharia processes and family law; and with Swati Jhaveri on the arbitrariness doctrine in Indian constitutional law.
2. How and when do you write? Do you have a routine or do you write whenever and wherever you find the time?
I definitely need a routine! It needs to be flexible to accommodate teaching, travel, administrative obligations and other commitments, but I try to write at least 3 days a week. I am a morning person, so I try to write as much as I can as early as I can – ideally before most other people are up. Like everyone else, I’ve written on dank underground trains, bumpy flights, noisy public spaces and farms with no wifi. But I have the good fortune to have colleagues and family who largely respect and protect my writing space and time.
3. Whose scholarship jumps to the top of your reading list when she or he publishes something new?
I’m more responsive to particular themes than particular authors, I think. Anything on morality and public law, empirical work that looks like it might overturn assumptions that (as a non-empirical legal scholar) I have been relying on, or anything new on Indian public law (which usually crosses my desk via the Indian Law Review) will always grab my attention.
4. Is there an article or book that influenced you as a student and that continues today to be an important reference point for you?
Joseph Raz’s The Morality of Freedom, both for its ambition and its optimism.
5. What are some of the big questions ripe for inquiry in your area of research interest?
Does it matter if our constitutional arrangements are secular? What is arbitrariness; why should public law protect against it? What (if anything) justifies religious freedom? How has administrative law developed in the common law world beyond the UK, Canada and Australia?