Winter 2008: Of Note
The Ethical University
The study of Law and Religion addresses larger questions of meaning and purpose
By Mary J. Loftus
Universities must prepare students for lives of purpose beyond self-profit and should be places of inspiration as well as instruction, said Emory President Emeritus James T. Laney 94H at an October conference honoring the silver anniversary of Emory’s Law and Religion Program. As such, he added, the academy should not shy away from examining ethics and social responsibility.
The ascendance of science, intellect, and the free market has led to spectacular achievements and successes, said Laney, who delivered the conference keynote. “But larger questions of life and purpose have somehow been muted,” he said. “Where will those questions be asked? What models of character will be held up as worthy? Where is the ‘education of the heart’ to take place if not on campuses?”
Recovering the role of the humanities, including religion, is essential to balance the “flattened” ethos that has pervaded modern life, he said.
“We can no longer dismiss the issue of religious motivation among the billions of people in the world,” said Laney, who helped to establish Emory’s program—now the Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR)—in 1982.
The CSLR has long been a place where such questions are routinely discussed, said Laney, who called it a catalyst for similar interdisciplinary efforts: thirty such law and religion programs have now emerged at universities across the country.
During the conference, two dozen legal and religious scholars spoke on topics from interreligious strife to human rights, family primacy to global equality, civic religions to the dangers of legislating matters of morality.
“Without law, religion slowly slides into shallow spiritualism. Without religion, law gradually crumbles into empty formalism,” said CSLR director John Witte Jr. “It is the dialectical interaction that gives these two disciplines and these two dimensions of life their vitality and their strength.