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Religion and Law




Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 200-level and 300-level courses. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation.


In ‘Religion & Law’ we will study the relations between these two normative sources. We will discuss concepts like positivistic (‘man-made’) and divine law, and apply their characteristics to several so-called ‘religious laws’, such as Christian, Islamic, Hindu and Jewish law. We will see that many Western laws have strong religious foundations, while many religious laws are mostly man-made. We will then try to answer the question: what makes law religious, and what makes religion legal?

Another aspect of law and religion is the political-legal situation in which the two entities are separated, and whereby law serves as an instrument of protection of religion. We will discuss this in a contemporary context, and look into questions as freedom of religion, blasphemy, and the (im)possibilities of applying religious family law in modern legal systems. We will also examine the relation between state and religion, in particular concepts like secularism and religious tolerance, on the basis of several country studies.

The following subjects will be discussed in this course:

  • Concepts: What is religion; what is law? Positivistic and divine law; Religious law and legal religion; Secularism and theocracy; Tolerance and blasphemy.

  • Religious law: Christian law; Islamic law; Hindu law; Jewish law.

  • Religion protected by law: Freedom of religion; Religious family law in western states; Blasphemy vs the freedom to insult religions.

  • Religion and the state: Religious tolerance; Religious minorities; Theocracies and secular states.

  • Topical issues: Islam and the Arab spring; Wilders court case; religious fundamentalism in US, Pakistan, Israel

Course Objectives

  • The course is designed to make students reflect on questions that are as complex as they are self-evident. By the end of the course, the students will:

  • have a clear understanding of several important concepts related to religion and law;

  • know how these concepts interact in a variety of settings and countries;

  • be able to critically analyse contemporary issues related to religion and law.

Mode of Instruction

  • Literature: course literature is provided through blackboard;

  • Lectures: The lectures are meant to structure and discuss the weekly topics in an analytical way that will help the students to understand the course material and motivate them to discuss them in class;

  • Essays for each class the students will write a short essay (1-2 pages) in which they will discuss a question on the basis of the literature prescribed for that class.





Contact Information

Prof Dr Maurits S. Berger, LLM [m.s.berger@hum.leidenuniv.nl]

Weekly Overview

Week 1: Introduction to law and religion
Week 2: Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish law
Week 3: Freedom of religion
Week 4: Religious minorities
Week 5: Tolerance and blasphemy
Week 6: Issues of secularism (France, Turkey, United States)
Week 7: Issues of theocracy (Iran, Saudi-Arabia)

Preparation for first session