Francisco Bethencourt

Francisco Bethencourt


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Personal profile

Research interests

  • History of Inequality in the World
  • History of Racism in the World
  • European Expansion (15th-19th centuries)
  • Religious History and the Inquisition
  • Cultural Exchange in the Iberian World
  • Identities in the Portuguese speaking World

Research interests (short)

History of Inequality; History of Racism; Civil Rights; European Expansion; Religious History and the Inquisition; Iberian World; Portuguese Identities

Biographical details

Francisco Bethencourt is a leading historian of the Portuguese-speaking world; he also contributes to world and global history. His book Racisms from the Crusades to the Twentieth Century, published by Princeton University Press, is a case in point. Racisms is largely based on primary sources and compares the Western world to Asia and Africa. His earlier comparative work focused on magic in Portugal and southern Europe, before studying the Inquisition in Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Iberian empires. A major theme in his research has been how individuals interact and shape patterns of behaviour. This led Bethencourt to experiment with socio-metrics when reconstituting networks of sorcerers in two Portuguese towns, or apply methods from the sociology of organisations to understand the ubiquity of inquisitorial bureaucracy and its rootedness in the social fabric. The issue of power in social exchanges has been at the core of his research on religion, first in relation to the competition between magicians and priests, then in relation to the role of the Inquisition within the Catholic Church and its impact on society. He enlarged his scope even further when working on the Portuguese and European expansion across continents. He co-edited with Kirti Chaudhuri the most comprehensive history of the Portuguese expansion in five volumes. The complex relations of power between European structures and native agency increasingly became the focus of his work. Comparative and long term history breaks through local, regional and national frameworks of academic research, highlighting social configurations and institutional behaviour across frontiers. Bethencourt keeps publishing on different aspects of the history of the Portuguese-speaking world, particularly on racism, utopia, cosmopolitanism, and inequality. He received a Major Leverhulme Fellowship to work on The New Christian Trading Elite, 1497-1773 (2017-2019). He is also committed to a long term project on the history of social inequality in the world. In 1993, the PhD on the Inquisition received the Salvador Madariaga prize and, in 2003, Bethencourt was honoured for his achievements as historian with the Order of Henry the Navigator. 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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