Skip to main content

Our mission is to help the peoples of the world learn how law and religion can balance each other and ultimately stabilize society and politics.
Learn more

Welcome message:


The Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University (CSLR) is an interdisciplinary, interreligious, and international community of scholars devoted to exploring the religious dimensions of law and the legal dimensions of religion. Studying ideas, institutions, and practices, we propose that religion inspires law toward ritual and justice, while law undergirds religion through order and organization.

The Center engages thousands of scholars and students each year through degree programs, research, and public conferences. Together with Cambridge University Press, the Center publishes the Journal of Law and Religion as well as three book series—Law and Christianity, Law and Judaism, and Emory University Studies in Law and Religion. The Center has broken new ground in examining how faith and family intersect; how religion shapes political theory; and how religious legal systems play a role in modern democracies.

Bringing the wisdom of religious traditions into deeper conversation with law, public policy, the humanities, and the social sciences, we situate American debates about law and religion within an emerging global conversation while engaging with the many religious traditions of the globe.

Thank you for your interest in our work.



John Witte, Jr.

John Witte, Jr.

Director

»
Silas W. Allard

Silas W. Allard

Associate Director

»
The mission of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion is to help the peoples of the world learn how law and religion can balance each other and ultimately stabilize society and politics.

History


Emory University founded its program in law and religion in 1982 as part of a larger goal of building a fully interdisciplinary university. The program’s mission was to increase understanding of the fundamental role of religion in shaping law, politics, and society. At the time, no other major US law school devoted serious scholarship or teaching to the field of law and religion. In fact, Emory’s vision of studying religion alongside law and other professional disciplines met with suspicion or hostility from other institutions.

From its modest beginning, however, the program has grown into the Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR), offering six degree programs, pursuing multiyear research projects, producing more than 300 books, and hosting international conferences and lectures.  

The founders of the program, then-president James T. Laney and Emory law professor Frank S. Alexander, believed in the vital need for focused scholarship and teaching in this new field. Here, students and scholars could probe the tension between church and state, religion and politics. Here they could come to understand the nuances of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic laws and their place in modern nations. Here they could explore the religious foundations and dimensions of law, politics, and society. Seeking to prove the legitimacy of the interdisciplinary study of law and religion, the program’s faculty set out to show that it would enhance understanding of law without diluting rigorous legal study, and would widen the horizons of religious education without propagating a particular faith or ideological agenda.

In 1985, President Laney persuaded Harvard Law School professor Harold J. Berman (1918–2007) to join Emory as the first Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law. Regarded around the world as the father of the modern study of law and religion, Berman brought instant stature to Emory’s program. He also brought John Witte Jr., a recent Harvard Law graduate and research assistant, who was soon tapped to be the new director of the Law and Religion Program.

Under Witte’s direction, the program grew from a joint-degree curriculum into a full-fledged academic center sponsoring interdisciplinary research, international conferences, and new scholarly publications. The Center gained international prominence with its 1991 conference, “Christianity and Democracy,” bringing together 800 participants from five continents and offering keynote addresses by former President Jimmy Carter and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. More conferences followed, and by 2000, the Pew Charitable Trusts solidified the program’s status with a $3.2 million “Center of Excellence” grant. The program was renamed the Center for the Study of Law and Religion.

Since then, the Center has continued to focus on several central themes: Jewish, Christian, and Islamic legal studies; law, religion and political theory; religion, human rights, and freedom; and marriage, family, and children. In recent years, the Center also has expanded to encompass the study of law and Asian religions; law, religion, and immigration; and religion, state, and housing. In addition to generous University support for operations, the Center has attracted more than $20 million in grant funding.