Center for the Study of Law and Religion
The Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia 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. This 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. Frank S. Alexander is the founding director and John Witte, Jr., is the director of the Center.
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? 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. 
CSLR is a major scholarly initiative on the Emory campus, involving more than 80 Emory faculty and reaching hundreds of students each year. Its work is interreligious in inspiration, with emphasis on the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is interdisciplinary in perspective, seeking to bring the wisdom of religious traditions into greater conversation with law, public policy, and the humane and social sciences. And, it is international in orientation, seeking to situate American debates over interdisciplinary issues of law and religion within an emerging global conversation.
CSLR focuses its research and teaching on the fundamentals of faith, freedom, and the family—the three things for which people will die. It has helped shaped the field of law and religion -- now emulated by dozens of other universities around the world.
The increasingly volatile relationship of law and religion in the past decade has only underscored the need for continued cultivation of this vital area of interdisciplinary inquiry. The rise of savage fundamentalisms, the clash of religious ideologies, the escalation of religious persecution, and the intensification of religious warfare around the world have made it all the more important for law and religion to learn to balance each other and to stabilize society and politics.
Role of Harold J. Berman
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.
Important Faculty at the Center
- Harold J. Berman
- Frank S. Alexander
- Johan D. van der Vyver
- Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im
- Martha Albertson Fineman
- John Witte, Jr.
- Michael Broyde
- Michael J. Perry
Opportunities Provided by the Center
The Center provides many opportunities for study and scholarship, including 6 degree programs (JD/MDiv, JD/MTS, JD/PhD, LLM, SJD, JM),40 cross-listed courses, 9 major research projects; dozens of individual and side research projects, 4-8 annual public forums, 2 book series, 300 plus published volumes, Visiting scholars and fellows program, 90 Emory senior fellows and associated faculty from twenty fields of study, 1600 corresponding members.