Law and Theology Seminar

This is the tentative syllabus for my Fall 2019 seminar. Please check back for the final version.


This course provides an introduction to the intersection of law and theology (as distinct from law and religion, law and political theory, or jurisprudence).  The course focuses on Christian theology due to the influence of Christianity on the Western legal tradition, much as a course on jurisprudence would typically focus on Anglo-American jurisprudence to the neglect of important works of Islamic jurisprudence, Chinese legal thought, and other non-Western traditions.  Students are welcomed and encouraged to approach this class sympathetically, critically, or comparatively.

This course has no formal prerequisites, but students should have a passing familiarity with Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Locke, and Rawls.  Students without this background should read Sheldon Wolin’s Politics and Vision prior to the beginning of the semester.  The course is geared toward law students but is also open to advanced graduate students with a basic understanding of American legal education (e.g., graduate students who have a J.D. or whose graduate work has focused on American law).



  • Understand, appreciate, and craft arguments from different perspectives

  • Make principled distinctions and defend them

  • Learn how to ask good questions

  • Recognize the value of interdisciplinary approaches to law

  • Write clearly, cogently, and provocatively

  • Provide lucid and helpful feedback to one another


  • Gain familiarity with some of the leading voices in contemporary law and theology

  • Integrate philosophical, theological, and jurisprudential critiques of law


Students will be required to acquire the following books and volumes:

  • Aquinas, Treatise on Law (with introduction by Ralph McInerny) (1996)

  • E.M. Atkins and R.J. Dodaro, eds., Augustine: Political Writings (2001)

  • Robert Cochran, Michael McConnell, Angela Carmella, eds., Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought (2001)

  • Jean Bethke Elshtain, Augustine and the Limits of Politics (1996)

  • Harro Höpfl, trans., Luther and Calvin on Political Authority (1991)

  • Cathleen Kaveny, Ethics at the Edges of Law: Christian Moralists and American Legal Thought (2018)

  • John Inazu, ed., Theology and Law: Engaging Stanley Hauerwas (symposium edition of Law and Contemporary Problems) (2012) (selected articles)

  • H. Richard Niebuhr, Radical Monotheism and Western Culture (1993)

  • Oliver O’Donovan, Common Objects of Love: Moral Reflection and the Shaping of Community (2001)

  • H. Jefferson Powell, The Moral Tradition of American Constitutionalism: A Theological Interpretation (1993)

  • Steven D. Smith, ed., The Freedom of the Church (symposium edition of Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues) (2013) (selected articles)

Assignments and Course Grade

Class Participation: 20%

Your class participation grade will be based upon four factors:

(1) your participation in the class discussion;

(2) two critical summaries of the readings submitted before class;

(3) meeting the deadlines for the writing project (all deadlines are by 10:00 pm on the date specified);

(4) your peer review on draft papers from two of your classmates.

The critical summaries are intended to push you to be more precise in your reading, writing, and thinking.  They should be more critique than summary, briefly synthesizing the main arguments of the assigned readings and then raising questions or critiques about those readings.  Each summary should be between 300-500 words long. That short word limit means that you will have to choose your wording carefully and precisely.  The summaries will not count for a substantial part of your grade, but you will need to submit them to me by email at least 24 hours before our class meeting.  I may distribute copies of your summaries to the class, and we may focus critically on both the substance and clarity of your writing during our class time.

 Given that we will need to spread these reviews across the semester to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to present, I will distribute a signup sheet on the first day of class—you might want to preview the syllabus and select several possible readings of interest in case your top choices are taken by others.

Research Paper: 80%

The bulk of your course grade will be determined by a research paper 15-20 pages in length on a topic that you choose in consultation with me.  I encourage you to choose something that interests you and that might develop into a future article or writing sample. (You might need to read ahead or pursue some outside reading to help identify your topic of interest.) 

Your writing project will develop along scheduled deadlines that you may not have encountered in other classes.  I impose these deadlines to encourage dialogue, feedback, and revisions that will benefit your final written work:

  • Shortly into the semester, you will need to email me a one-paragraph research proposal of the topic you want to explore and the issues that you anticipate addressing. I will work with you to refine the topic or select a different topic if I anticipate problems with your initial choice. After I have approved all of the proposals, I will circulate them to the class so that you can be aware of what others are doing and provide optional feedback or suggestions.

  • You will submit a draft of at least ten pages to me by October 15.  You are also welcome to turn in the draft before you leave for fall break—I want to accommodate those who want to head to the break free and clear and those who plan on using it to catch up on work.  I will provide feedback on your drafts and suggestions for further research and revisions. 

  • Your final draft will be due to me and two of your classmates (whom I will select in advance) by November 22.  I will not read your drafts at this point, but I will skim them to make sure they are legitimate drafts rather than speculative musings.  This draft should be at least twenty pages in length.  (The length exceeds the minimum length of the final paper because I anticipate that most of you will need to tighten parts of your papers and because many of you will have sections or arguments that you will end up cutting from your final paper.)

  • Your two reviewers will have five days to complete a substantive peer review of your draft.  Each reviewer will email comments on your draft to you by November 27.  Reviewers should copy me on these comments, which I will review for thoroughness and thoughtfulness. 

  • Your final paper will be due to me at the end of the exam period.  You are also free to submit your final paper at an earlier time (any time after you have incorporated your peer review).

I expect you to follow my writing guidelines for all written submissions for this course.

Attendance and Classroom Policies

Your attendance and contribution to the discussion are crucial to making this class successful and a necessary part of engaging with the complex ideas that we’ll encounter. I recognize that many of you will have occasional foreseen and unforeseen conflicts, and I will accommodate those at the margins. But you should not take this course if you think you’ll miss a significant number of classes.

Laptop computers, phones, and other gadgets are not permitted in class. Students who violate the computer or phone use policy may have their semester grades lowered.


I do not have set office hours, but I am available to meet throughout the semester. Please schedule appointments through this site. If you are unable to find a time online that works with your schedule, you can email me to set up a time.

 I will make every effort to respond to your emails within one day of your having sent them, with the exception of emails sent over the weekend or holidays, which I will answer by the following business day.

You should feel free to use office hours not only to discuss our substantive readings but also to obtain help on your writing, to ask questions about graduate school or law school, or to talk about other academic or career interests.

Course schedule (tentative)

PART I: Introduction and Background

August 28 - Introduction and Biblical Texts

September 4 - Augustine

September 11 - Aquinas

September 18 - Calvin and Luther

PART II: Contemporary Thinkers

September 25 - Niebuhr

October 2 - Elshtain

October 9 - O’Donovan

October 16 - NO CLASS

October 23 - Hauerwas

October 30 - Kaveny

Part III: Legal Applications

November 6 - Legal Doctrine

  • Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought (selections)

November 13 - Constitutional Theory

  • Powell, The Moral Tradition of American Constitutionalism

November 20 - Constitutional Doctrine

  • The Freedom of the Church (Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues)

November 27 - NO CLASS