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Law, Religion, and Human Rights

Human rights is a primary area where law and religion intersect. This program has focused on international human rights through the work of Johan Van der vyver, I. T. Cohen Professor of Law and Human Rights and an expert on international criminal law and international human rights, and Michael J. Perry, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law and an internationally known Constitutional Law scholar.  Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na-im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law, has worked extensively in this area, as has John Witte, Jr., Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law and CSLR director. This program includes our Restoring Religious Freedom project.


The Restoring Religious Freedom project launched in 2015 to give students hands-on experience while providing accessible, nonpartisan information and opening up new opportunities for dialogue. Made possible by an anonymous $1 million gift, this four-year project provides students with internships and externships as well as the opportunity to work on amicus briefs and religious freedom cases. Through conferences and lectures, the project convenes scholars and students from around the world to share research in this growing field.
Most famously formulated in the American Declaration of Independence, "the pursuit of happiness" theme is an ancient and enduring Western ideal grounded in various Hebrew, Greco-Roman, Christian, and Enlightenment sources. Recent developments in positive psychology have brought the idea of happiness back to public attention with a flurry of books and undergraduate courses. By putting religion and science in conversation, and by focusing on the relation between altruistic love and happiness, this project retrieved some of the rich traditional teachings captured in this ideal and reconstructed them for the present, in light of new findings of the human and social sciences and of new liberties of constitutional democracies.
This project is an interdisciplinary exploration of children, with focus on birth, naming, and growth; children's rights and rites; education and formation; child abuse, poverty, and homelessness; juvenile delinquency, violence, public policy responses, and reforms.
This project reflects the work of CSLR Founding Director Frank Alexander, who provides technical assistance to local governments and nonprofit community development organizations as they determine how to revitalize blighted neighborhoods and return abandoned, vacant, and tax delinquent properties to productive use. Learn more about Alexander's work at the Center for Community Progress.
This project examines how Western democracies with Muslim minorities can have a productive conversation with Muslim countries that implemented Shari’a, particularly on issues of marriage and family law. The project's core question is whether there can be a responsible jurisdictional pluralism of religious and legal norms in domestic relations that respects both the religious freedom concerns of religious communities and rule of law concerns of the state.
This project analyzed and celebrated the work of Harold J. Berman, Michael J. Perry, Martha A. Fineman, and Martin E. Marty on the historical, moral, social, and religious foundations of law. The project yielded a 2004 conference with 15 speakers and 500 participants as well as "Foundations of Law" in Emory Law Journal 54 (2005): 1 - 375. This project was sponsored by Emory University School of Law and directed by Thomas C. Arthur and John Witte, Jr. 
This project explored the cultural transformation in Africa, with particular emphasis on the improvement of women's rights to and control over land as a vital economic resource and vindication of second generation rights. Directed by Jonan van der Vyver and Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, this project yielded roundtable conferences in Atlanta in 1996 and in Cape Town, South Africa in 1997, which was co-organized with the Center for African Studies at the University of Cape Town. The conferences were summarized in Emory International Law Review 11 (1997): 287-349. This project also yielded two books: Cultural Transformation and Human Rights in Africa (Zed Books, 2002), by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im; and Women and Land in Africa: Culture, Religion, and Realizing Women's Rights (Zed Books, 2003), by L. Muthoni Wanyeki. 

This project consisted of five roundtable conferences of 12 to 15 scholars who discussed new books in law and religion. Michael J. Perry was project director. In 2004, scholars discussed Divine Justice, by Nicholas P. Wolterstorff; in 2005, scholars discussed Toward a Theory of Human Rights, by Michael J. Perry; In 2006, scholars discussed Political Agapism, by Timothy P. Jackson; in 2007, scholars discussed Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari'a, by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na-im; and in 2008, scholars discussed religious and moral freedom.


This multidisciplinary project analyzed how liberal societies and religion affect each other and the political implications of this interaction. J. Judd Owen directed the project. 

This project explored the sources of the Christian and Enlightenment sources of American constitutionalism in the 18th century. Frank S. Alexander and John Witte, Jr. were directors. The Georgia Bar Foundation and Harold J. Berman sponsored this project, which yielded a conference in 1988 with 20 speakers and 250 participants and the article "A Symposium on Religious Dimensions of American Constitutionalism," Emory Law Journal 39 (1990): 1 - 266. Additional articles included "From Establishment to Freedom of Public Religion," by John Witte, Jr., Capital University Law Review, Vol. 32, No. 3 (2003): 499-518; "Legal Limitations to Freedom of Religion or Belief in School Education," Emory International Law Review, Vol. 19 (2005): 557-586; and "Republic and Liberal State: The Place of Religion in an Ambiguous Polity," Emory Law Journal, Vol. 39 (1990): 191-202. 



This project analyzed the past, present, and potential contributions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the cultivation and protection of human rights, particularly religious rights and liberties, in international law and in various nation-states in the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Russia. Directed by Johan D. van der Vyver and John Witte, Jr., this project was sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts. It produced seven roundtable conferences between 1991 and 1993 in Atlanta, Mexico City, Oxford, Dakar, Cape Town, Budapest, and Dresden, as well as an international conference in Atlanta in 1994, which included 46 speakers and had 750 participants. The project also yielded one book: Spiritual Weapons: The Cold War and the Forging of an American National Religion (Praeger Publishers, 2008), by T. Jeremy Gunn.



This project analyzed the eroding protections of religious liberty in post-glasnost Russia, particularly for religious minorities and foreign faiths. The project was directed by Ernst van Eeghen, World Council of Churches, and W. Cole Durham, Jr., Brigham Young University, with Harold J. Berman and John Witte, Jr. participating. The DeBurght Conference was a sponsor. The project included a roundtable conference in 1994 in Berkenrode, The Netherlands and three articles: "The Future of Religious Liberty in Russia: Report of the De Burght Conference on Pending Russian Legislation Restricting Religious Liberty," by John Witte, Jr., Lauren B. Homer, Pieter van Dijk, and W. Cole Durham, Jr.,  Emory International Law Review, Vol. 8 (1994): 1-66; "Liberte de religion et confessionnalite. Les projects de revision de la loi de 1990 dansla Federation de Russie," by W. Cole Durham, Jr., Praxis Juridique et Religion, Vol. 14 (1997): 3-84; and "Russia's 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations: An Analytical Appraisal," by Lauren B. Homer and W. Cole Durham, Jr., Emory International Law Review, Vol. 12 (1998): 101-246

This project was an empirical and normative study of the new war for souls breaking out in various new democracies of the world between and among indigenous faiths and foreign proselytizing faiths. Directed by Johan D. van der Vyver and John Witte, Jr., this project was sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, with co-sponsorship from the Keston Institute of Oxford and the Department of Latin American Studies at Princeton University. This project yielded regional conferences in Atlanta (1995, 1997), Oxford, (1995-1997), Mexico City (1995), Budapest (1995), Dakar (1996), Cape Town (1996), Dresden (1996), Moscow (1997), and Princeton (1997). 


Q & A with the Experts: Johan D. van der Vyver

Johan D. van der Vyver, I. T. Cohen Professor of International Law and Human Rights, discusses his long career and his relationship with the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory. Learn more about van der Vyver's role in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa here

Human Rights and American Muslims: Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law, discusses human rights and being an American Muslim.

Freedom of Religion, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Catholic Church

Michael J. Perry, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, gave the 2012 Currie Lecture. In his introduction, John Witte, Jr. describes Perry as "one of the world's great authorities on law, religion, and morality."