Losing Faith in the Legal Academy

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Law & Liberty

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Ten years ago, when I started teaching and writing in law and religion, I noticed an interesting thing. When I told people, particularly in a professional setting, about my area of scholarly interest, I often received a puzzled, wary question: “What makes you interested in that”? No one had ever asked me such a question in the early part of my career, when I wrote about contract law, statutory interpretation, and international trade. In those days, people would nod absent-mindedly when I told them about my work. Such subjects were taken as a given, I suppose. They were the sort of things in which law professors naturally would take an interest.

Law and religion was different. I didn’t usually perceive hostility in the questions (though once at a conference, a professor from a foreign university whom I had just met, upon hearing my scholarly interest, launched into a denunciation of accommodations for religious believers in his country, a subject on which I had not expressed an opinion). But I detected, as I say, a puzzlement and a wariness, as though I had unintentionally, and perhaps unwisely, revealed something about myself. For a law professor to take an interest in religion was unusual and a bit unsettling. It was something one had to explain.