Welcome! Thank you for your interest in the Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR) at Emory University.
The Center is dedicated to studying the religious dimensions of law, the legal dimensions of religion, and the interaction of legal and religious ideas and institutions, norms and practices. Our study is predicated on the assumptions that religion gives law its spirit and inspires its adherence to ritual and justice. Law gives religion its structure and encourages its devotion to order and organization.
Our Center engages thousands of scholars and students each year through its courses, degree programs, fellowships, research projects, publications, and public programming. Together with Cambridge University Press, the Center publishes the leading periodical, Journal of Law and Religion, as well as two book series on Law and Christianity and Law and Judaism. The Center is known best for its path-breaking work in the fields of faith, freedom, and the family; legal and political theory; and the place of religious legal systems in modern democracies.
We are interdisciplinary in perspective, seeking to bring the wisdom of religious traditions into greater conversation with law, public policy, and the humane and social sciences. We are international in orientation, seeking to situate American debates over interdisciplinary issues of law and religion within an emerging global conversation. We are interreligious in approach, engaging with the many different religious traditions of the globe.
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John Witte, Jr.
Silas W. Allard
Emory University founded a program in law and religion in 1982 as part of its mission to build an interdisciplinary university and to increase understanding of the fundamental role religion has played in shaping law, politics, and society. Over the last three decades, the program has developed into the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, offering six degree programs, pursuing multi-year research projects, producing more than 300 books, and hosting major international conferences and distinguished lecture series. Back in 1982, no major law school in America was devoting serious scholarship or teaching to the field of law and religion. In fact, Emory’s vision of bringing religion into the study of law and other professional disciplines met with suspicion, even fear and hostility, from other academic institutions.
The founders of the law and religion program, Emory President James T. Laney and Emory Law Professor Frank S. Alexander, believed that the need for focused scholarship and teaching in this vital field of inquiry was paramount. Where else could students and scholars learn the fundamentals of church and state, religion and politics, faith and order? How could they learn to balance justice and mercy, rule and equity, discipline and love in their work as legal and religious professionals? Where could they come to understand the inner workings of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic laws, and their respective places in the modern nation-state and global order? How could they explore the essential religious foundations and dimensions of law, politics, and society, in the West and beyond? The burden of proof was on the program’s founders and faculty to demonstrate that law and religion was a legitimate area of serious interdisciplinary scholarship—that it would enhance understanding of law, not dilute or detract from rigorous legal study; that it would widen the horizons of religious education, not proselytize a particular faith or propagate a fundamentalist agenda.
In 1985, Laney convinced Harvard Law School’s Harold J. Berman (1918–2007) to join Emory as the first Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law. Widely regarded around the world as the father of the modern study of law and religion, Berman’s presence brought instant legitimacy to Emory’s program. He also brought John Witte, Jr., a recent Harvard Law graduate and research assistant, who was quickly tapped to be the new director of Emory’s Law and Religion Program.
Under Witte’s direction, the Law and Religion Program quickly grew from offering a joint degree program into a full-fledged research center that administered interdisciplinary research projects, hosted conferences, and produced new scholarly works. Its 1991 conference on Christianity and Democracy launched it into international prominence, bringing together 800 participants from five continents and offering keynote addresses from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. More conferences of similar scope and quality followed, and by 2000, The Pew Charitable Trusts solidified the program’s status with a $3.2 million grant. The program officially became a Pew “Center of Excellence,” and it was eventually renamed the Center for the Study of Law and Religion.
Thereafter, the Center dedicated itself to themes that remain central to its work today: Jewish, Christian, and Islamic legal studies; law and religion and political theory; religion, human rights, and religious freedom; marriage, family, and children. The Center has also, in recent years, taken on new work in law and Asian religions; law, religion, and immigration; and religion, state, and housing. The Center has been generously supported with some $20 million in grant funding, alongside a generous university endowment to support the Center's general operations.