Professor Zinigrad

History, Law, and Society

Professor Zinigrad

Tell us a bit about your background.

Born in the USSR, I moved to Israel at age 10. I studied law and philosophy in Bar-Ilan University, clerked in the Israel Supreme Court for Honorable Justice Salim Joubran, and then went on to receive a master’s degree and a doctorate in law from the Yale Law School. My doctorate looked at the relationship between parents and the state in the realm of education under three constitutional regimes—the United States, Israel, and France—. It sought to explain why some regimes grant parents almost unlimited authority over education while others impose strict limitations on parental discretion. I continue to work on questions of law and education—in 2018, I co-drafted the Abidjan Principles on Privatization of Education—as well as on related topics: law and religion, comparative constitutional law, radical violence, and children’s rights. I arrived in France in 2014, intending to stay for one year to conduct research. I never left.

What brought you to AUP?

AUP offers the quintessential elements of a liberal arts education, alongside a natural embrace of diverse academic cultures. Given my multicultural background and training, I felt right at home. The commitment to research excellence within our department and the Center for Critical Democracy Studies (CCDS) particularly resonated with me. Since I joined AUP in 2021, I have been involved in two international research projects. The first, D. Rad, was funded by the EU and focused on issues of radical violence in Europe. CCDS Director Stephen Sawyer and I now co-lead a new Horizon Europe research project on the construction of resilient social contracts through societal transformations. In September 2023 I took over as program coordinator of the History, Law, and Society major, ready to steer this program toward new accomplishments and milestones.

What’s unique about the AUP experience?

The combination of faculty excellence, interdisciplinary research, an extraordinary faculty-student ratio (1:9), multicultural exposure, and a beautiful location. Small class sizes ensure everyone’s perspectives are heard, and faculty can take the time to advise students on their studies and future prospects. If you are motivated and interested in collaborating with professors, conducting autonomous research, or just looking for mentorship, you can be sure that our faculty and staff will be there to help.

Why major in History, Law, and Society?

The HLS major is designed to be cross-disciplinary and is grounded in the conviction that law cannot be understood outside of history and society. Too often, law is taught in a conceptual vacuum. In response to this, the History, Law, and Society major provides multidimensional—historical, philosophical, political—perspectives on law, explains the intricate dynamics between social and legal institutions, and equips students with a holistic skill set essential to facing 21st-century challenges.

Whether you are considering law school or interested in getting a better grasp of why law plays such a crucial role in our lives, the HLS major is the best gateway to understanding the relationship between law and morals, society, politics, and economics. The course covers human rights, the history of law, constitutional and international law, as well as advanced seminars in comparative law, criminal law, environmental law, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and law in relation to gender and education. It also offers practical Democracy Labs and a legal writing workshop that invites students to rewrite landmark Supreme Court decisions.

Learn how lawyers and judges think, why courts choose to protect or infringe upon the rights of women, children, and minority groups, and how to tackle questions surrounding the historical foundations of law, its impact on democratic institutions, and how legal institutions are designed to serve as drivers of progressive or reactionary causes.

Our law classes encourage students to explore the most pressing present-day issues in the arenas of social and economic justice. Enter any law class at AUP and you are likely to learn about such issues as the evolution of abortion jurisprudence in the United States, Argentina or Germany; the role of British and French Empires in today’s violation of LGTBQ+ rights in the Global South; the racial bias in state regulations of AI and Big Data analysis; or the application of human rights frameworks to the protection of animals and the environment.  

Not in the least, our HLS graduates are eligible to apply not only for JD degrees in the United States as well as for graduate studies in law in France, the United Kingdom, Canada, among other countries in Europe and beyond. This means that they could obtain a master’s degree in law in one or two years (depending on the school) upon graduating from AUP.

What kinds of experiential opportunities are available?

In its best form, experiential learning places students in situations where they are empowered to imagine the society they desire and take action to shape it. This is law and society in action. The Democracy Labs are a great example. Students choose their own research topics and develop projects in collaboration with NGOs, state institutions, or private sector stakeholders. In previous years, we ran Democracy Labs on themes of radical violence and education justice. Another fantastic opportunity to seek meaningful and enriching out-of-classroom learning is the Prison Education Workshop coordinated by Hannah Taieb. In it, students attend weekly meetings with inmates at the La Santé prison in Paris for group readings, artistic activities, discussions, and creative projects. Finally, in my own courses, I ask students to attend cultural events, social protests, or academic conferences and connect the dots with the class topics. A great exercise in independent and critical thinking. 

How have students been involved with CCDS’s work?

Students joining our Center for Critical Democracy Studies can work closely with CCDS Research Fellows, meet distinguished visiting scholars, and assist in organizing conferences and cultural events. More than ten AUP students have collaborated with Stephen Sawyer and myself on the D. Rad project which involved research and coordinating two events: a conference, and an international art exhibition in a Parisian gallery.  

What about the learning process is most valuable to you?

Ultimately, to teach students to think critically and to ask the right questions. Good questions are often more interesting than answers and some of my most satisfying moments in class are when students challenge the studied texts and my own interpretation of them. I want students to leave my classes able to question what is presented to them and take nothing for granted. This is the only way to bring about meaningful social change.

What opportunities does France bring to students’ understanding of history, law and society?

As one of the world’s oldest constitutional democracies, France is the birthplace of some of the world’s most influential legal and political philosophers. Its historical legal accomplishments (from the Code Napoleon to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, to the 2024 enshrining of an explicit right to abortion in the Constitution) have been a model of innovation and justice, and its distinct approach to liberalism and social rights provides an exceptional comparative perspective for international students. Add to this the rich intellectual life, and tradition of social mobilization and protest, and you will see why Paris and AUP are unparalleled in for the study of the interrelationship between history, society, and the law.