St. John’s Law Presents Joint Colloquium in Law and Religion

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

This semester, the Center for Law and Religion (CLR) teamed with Villanova Law School to host the first “Joint Colloquium in Law and Religion.” The seminar, taught by CLR Director Mark L. Movsesian and Associate Director Marc O. DeGirolami at St. John’s, and Vice Dean Michael P. Moreland at Villanova, gave faculty and selected students an opportunity to study important issues in law and religion with some of the most prominent thinkers in the field.

The seminar was structured as a series of workshops in which speakers presented papers addressing a variety of law and religion topics and perspectives. Michael Walzer (Institute for Advanced Studies) discussed the ethics of war in classical and contemporary Jewish law. Legal historian Sarah Barringer Gordon (University of Pennsylvania) explained how the availability of the corporate form empowered African-American congregations in the early national period. Kristine Kalanges (Notre Dame University School of Law) explored the relationship between Islamic law and contemporary ideas about constitutionalism and human rights. Kent Greenawalt (Columbia Law School) and Donald L. Drakeman (Cambridge University) both presented papers on Originalism. Greenawalt argued that factors other than the original understanding inevitably will and should play an important role in constitutional interpretation. Drakeman offered a methodological middle ground, one that takes account of both original intent and original meaning. Steven D. Smith (University of San Diego School of Law) critiqued the standard account of American religious freedom, and asked whether religious freedom in America today is suffering a decline.

The virtual classroom enriched the discussions by allowing for a fruitful exchange between participants at the two host schools. After the speakers presented their papers, students had the opportunity to ask questions and present their own insights and opinions on the issues. “The colloquium is a great experience for our students,” Professor Movsesian said. “It allows them to hone their skills in careful reading and clear expression—skills that will be very important to them in practice, even if they never litigate a First Amendment case. And they get to test their ideas in conversations with scholars who have thought about these issues very deeply.”

Reflecting on the colloquium, CLR Student Fellow Jessica Wright ‘14 said: “The idea to join two schools through video link was very innovative. It was refreshing to hear new voices and opinions, and the interplay between St. John’s and Villanova students made the discussions more varied and interesting.”

The joint colloquium exemplifies St. John’s forward-thinking and creative approach to legal education. “As a collaborative venture supported by virtual classroom technology, the joint colloquium allows us to greatly expand the educational resources available to our students,” said Dean Michael A. Simons. “The academic and public dialogue around law and religion is an important one, and we’re proud to provide this unique forum to foster it.”

The Center for Law and Religion provides a forum for the study of law and religion from domestic, international, and comparative perspectives. In addition to the joint colloquium, the CLR hosts academic conferences, public events, and a regularly updated blog, the Center for Law and Religion Forum. For more information, please contact the Center for Law and Religion at clr@stjohns.edu.  

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