Fall 2017 Seminar

Law, Religion, and Politics Seminar (L57 425)

Fall 2017

Mondays, 2-5 pm

This is a 3-credit, 400-level undergraduate seminar.  I anticipate that it will be cross-listed in political science, religious studies, legal studies, and American culture studies.


What is the role of religious argument in politics and law? What kinds of arguments are 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.



• 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 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

Possible Texts

• 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)
• 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)

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) questions about the readings submitted before class;

(3) meeting the deadlines for the writing project;

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

Research Paper: 30% (first draft); 50% (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 to encourage dialogue, feedback, and revisions that will benefit your final written work.