Law, Religion, and Politics Seminar (L57 425)

This 3-credit undergraduate course meets Mondays from 2-5 pm in January 20.


What is the role of religious argument in politics and law? What kinds of arguments advanced, and how do they differ from one another? Are some of these arguments more acceptable than others in a liberal democracy? This course will explore these questions through the work of legal scholars, theologians, and political theorists. Our topics include the nature of violence and coercion in the law, constraints on public reason, the relationship between religion and government, and the nature of religious practice and tradition.

This course is listed with Religion and Politics and cross-listed with American Culture Studies, Legal Studies, Political Science, and Religious Studies.



  • Understand, appreciate, and craft arguments from different perspectives

  • Identify both strengths and weaknesses of different arguments and opposing viewpoints

  • Make principled distinctions and defend them

  • Learn how to ask good questions

  • Recognize the value of interdisciplinary approaches to contested issues

  • Write clearly, cogently, and provocatively

  • Provide lucid and helpful feedback to one another


  • Gain an appreciation for the tensions between religion and liberal democracy

  • Understand the key figures and arguments in these debates

  • Recognize some of the varied religious responses and the differences between them

  • Identify and critique the problems inherent in secular and religious “solutions” to the struggle between religion and liberal democracy


Students will be required to purchase the following books:

  • Joseph Bottum, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America (2015)

  • J. Caleb Clanton (ed.), The Ethics of Citizenship (2009)

  • Stanley Hauerwas, The Work of Theology (2015)

  • Eboo Patel, Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise (2018)

  • Nancy Rosenblum (ed.), Obligations of Citizenship and Demands of Faith (2000)

  • Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence (2015)

  • Steven Smith, The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (2010)

  • Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (2019)

  • Asma Uddin, When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America's Fight for Religious Freedom (2019)

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) 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.

You will write three critical summaries on the readings over the course of the semester. These summaries should synthesize the main argument of the reading and raise questions or critiques about that argument. They 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 on time (by 10:00 pm on the day before class). I will also distribute copies of your summaries to the class, and we will focus critically on both the substance and clarity of your writing during our class time. This component of the class is intended to push you to be more precise in your reading, writing, and thinking. I will pass around a sign-up sheet on the first day of class for you to select the dates for your three summaries.

Research Paper: 80% (30% for your first draft and 50% for your final paper)

The bulk of your course grade will be determined by a 15-20 page research paper 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 10-12 pages to me on October 14. I will provide feedback on your drafts and suggestions for further research and revisions. This draft will comprise 30% of your course grade.

Your final draft (at least 15 pages at this point) will be due to me and two of your classmates (whom I will select in advance) on November 20. I will not read your drafts at this point, but I will skim them to make sure they are legitimate drafts rather than early musings.

Your two reviewers will have one week 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. You should make your comments using the track changes function in Microsoft Word.

Your final paper will be due to me by December 9. You are also free to submit your final paper at an earlier time (any time after you have incorporated your peer review). This paper will comprise 50% of your course grade.

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. If you anticipate missing a class, you should notify me at least 24 hours in advance of our meeting.

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 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 can schedule office hours with me through this link.

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.

I have posted some basic writing guidelines and stylistic preferences. You should familiarize yourself with those guidelines, and I will expect you to follow them for all writing in this course. I also commend to you the additional resources listed on that page.

Course Schedule

EC = Ethics of Citizenship

OC = Obligations of Citizenship

Additional readings are linked below or will be provided in class.

August 26: Introduction

  • John Rawls, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited” (EC 27-58)

  • People v. Harlan (Colo. 2005)

September 2: NO CLASS (LABOR DAY)

September 9: Suspicions About Religious Argument

  • Robert Audi, “Religious Convictions and Secular Reasons” (EC 59-92)

  • Stephen Macedo, “Liberal Civic Education & Religious Fundamentalism” (EC 93-118)

  • Richard Rorty, “Religion as a Conversation-Stopper” (EC 135-140)

September 16: In Defense of Religious Argument

  • Jeffrey Stout, “Religious Reasons in Political Argument” (EC 261-292)

  • Richard John Neuhaus, “The Vulnerability of the Naked Public Square” (EC 327-344)

  • Michael Sandel, “The Public Philosophy of Contemporary Liberalism” (EC 345-364)

September 23: Religious Practice

  • Nancy Rosenblum, “Religious Autonomy & Moral Uses of Pluralism” (OC 165-190)

  • Michael McConnell, “God is Dead and We Have Killed Him!: Freedom of Religion in the Post- modern Age,” 1993 BYU L. Rev. 163 (1993)

  • Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC (2012)

September 30: The Dangers of Religious Practice

  • Yael Tamir, “Remember Amalek: Religious Hate Speech” (OC 321-333)

  • Martha Nussbaum, “Religion and Women’s Equality” (OC 335-384)

  • Carol Weisbrod, “Women and International Human Rights” (OC 403-420)

October 7: Secular Discourse

  • Steven Smith, The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (2010)


October 21: Theological Critiques

  • John Inazu, “Stanley Hauerwas and the Law: Is There Anything to Say?” 75 Law & Contemp. Prob. i (2012)

  • Stanley Hauerwas, The Work of Theology (2015) (Introduction, Chapters 1, 4, 9-12)

October 28: Islam and Religious Freedom (Guest: Asma Uddin)

  • Asma Uddin, When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America's Fight for Religious Freedom (2019)

November 4: Theology and Race (Guest: Jemar Tisby)

  • Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (2019)

November 11: NO CLASS

  • [use this week for incorporating my feedback on your midterm drafts]

November 18: The Limits of Religious Pluralism (Guest via Skype: Eboo Patel)

  • Eboo Patel, Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise (2018)

November 25: Filling the Void?

  • Joseph Bottum, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America (2015)

December 2: Religion and Violence

  • Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence (2015)