Xinzhi Zhao

Position title: Ph.D. Candidate: Political Theory | Comparative Politics



Research Interests

Fields: history of political thought, political philosophy;

Topics: epistemic dimensions of political participation, truth and politics, science and democracy, democratic theory, moral psychology;

Time periods: early modern and modern political thought, Scottish Enlightenment.


Xinzhi Zhao is a Ph.D. candidate in political theory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research areas include 17th– to 19th– century European moral, social, and political thought, the epistemic dimensions of political participation, and the roles of science in producing public knowledge. Her dissertation examines 18th-century accounts of scientific inquiry and moral psychology, from which she recovers theoretical resources that can enable intellectual elites to become conscious of their biases in social interpretations.

Zhao is interested in how the history of political thought can speak to contemporary concerns. She has published in the journals Política & Sociedade and Hobbes Studies. The former article reconstructs Cicero’s account of state legitimacy and argues that it helps clarify the normative commitment to the public nature of the state that underlies the contemporary “realist” and “instrumental” defenses of democracy. The latter article illustrates how incorporating ideological contexts into the study of political theory can enable cross-cultural understanding of political ideas from a foreign tradition.

In addition to research, Zhao enjoys teaching political theory. She received the “Inaugural Teaching Assistant Award” from the Department of Political Science at UW-Madison in 2020 and was selected by the College of Letters and Science at UW-Madison as a Teaching Mentor in 2022.

Zhao comes from Beijing, China. She received bachelor’s degrees in international politics and history (2012) and a master’s degree in comparative politics (2015) from Peking University. She has also been an exchange student at University of Tokyo and Seoul National University. Before coming to Madison, she studied political theory at Duke University as a master’s student and received an M.A. in political science from Duke in 2017.