Berman Returns from Tour of China

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Harold J. Berman
Berman and wife, Ruth, with hosts from Zhejiang University

By April L. Bogle

Emory University law professor Harold J. Berman has returned from China (see photo), where he spoke on law and religion, the Western legal tradition, and world law during a May 9-19 lecture tour sponsored and hosted by Shandong University Law School in Jinan. The tour included seven lectures on law and several short presentations in various cities throughout China.

Berman -- considered the father of the field of law and religion by jurists and scholars around the world -- was invited on the heels of the Chinese translation of one of his path-breaking books, Law and Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition, first published in 2003. The book is being issued in China as a two-volume set with Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition, first published in 1983 and translated into Chinese in the early 1990s.

Berman, age 88, is currently working on Law and Revolution III and says the Chinese will be interested in this volume, too, “if I live long enough to finish it. It all depends on whether God wants to read my third volume,” he quipped.  

“Professor Berman is the leading scholar in the world in law and religion, having laid the scholarly foundations for research and teaching in this field over the past 50 years,” said Frank S. Alexander, interim dean and professor of law at Emory. “This invitation to lecture throughout China is indicative of his international stature and the positive impact of his work throughout the world.”

Berman’s rigorous schedule included lectures at the top law schools in China, including Shandong University, Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, Fudan University Law School in Shanghai, and in Beijing at Beijing University Law School and the Pu shi Social Science Institute. The visit also included a meeting with the president of Shandong University, presentations at four colloquia, and short speeches at special functions. At each event, Berman integrated the three major schools of jurisprudence: positivism, natural law, and the historical school.

"The Chinese are very interested in the role of law in the West. They want to know not just the rules, but what lies behind them – the history and morals,” he said. “There are lots of new law schools and they are pouring out lawyers and legal scholars by the hundreds of thousands.”

Qingkun Xu, an Emory Law School visiting scholar from Shandong University Law School who invited Berman to visit China, said he hopes that Berman’s visit will enhance friendship between the two schools and that his lectures will help clear up misunderstandings in China around the issues surrounding rule of law and democracy. “With China in the process of transition from traditional society to modern society, rule of law and democracy are hot topics. Hopefully Professor Berman’s tour will help faculty and students of several law schools better understand the western legal tradition.”

Berman said large crowds turned out for his appearances in this country of 1.3 billion people. “I am probably better known in China than in the United States. As the old saying goes, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country!’” he said.

Qingkun Xu, also a doctoral candidate and staff member at Shandong University, agrees. “Professor Berman’s Law and Revolution books are very popular in China. Almost every law school student in China knows his name.”

A Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, Berman came to Emory University in 1985 from Harvard University, where he taught for 37 years and is James Barr Ames Professor of Law Emeritus. A fellow of the Carter Center of Emory University, Berman is the author of more than 300 articles and 24 books. He is the director of the World Law Institute of Emory University as well as the principal founder of the American Law Center in Moscow, a joint venture of the Emory University School of Law and the Law Academy of the Russian Ministry of Justice. A leading authority on comparative legal history, jurisprudence, Russian law, and international trade law, he has lectured widely in the United States, Europe and Asia, and his writings have appeared in more than 20 languages.


The Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR), of which Berman is a senior fellow, is home to world class scholars and forums on the religious foundations of law, politics, and society. It offers expertise on how the teachings and practices of Christianity, Judaism and Islam have shaped and continue to transform the fundamental ideas and institutions of our public and private lives. The scholarship of CSLR faculty provides the latest perspectives, while its conferences and public forums foster reasoned and robust public debate.

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