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HIST5542 Special Topics in Comparative History (Global Studies):
Law and Religion in World History

Semester 2 (2021-2022)

Lecture TimeWednesday 6:30pm - 8:15pm

VenueYIA LT5


Lecturer James MORTON (

Teaching Assistant Chen Qingyan (

Course Description


This course will offer students the change to explore the important historical links between systems of religious belief and legal practice in the world’s major cultural traditions. Beginning with the earliest recorded evidence of law and religion in the Bronze-Age Middle East, the course will also cover Traditional China, ancient India, the Graeco-Roman world, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and modern issues of pluralism, colonialism, and secularism.

Each week, students will read important recent works of scholarship on each topic, while lectures and tutorials will give a chance to compare and contrast the ways in which the connection between law and religion has developed in different historical societies. At the end of the course, students will produce a substantial research paper on a topic of their choosing that addresses significant matters that have arisen in the course readings and class discussions.


Learning Goals

This course has three main goals:

  1. To teach you with the fundamentals of the legal and quasi-legal systems of the world’s major historical religions: key dates, events, places, states, beliefs, innovations, etc.

  2. To familiarise you with the similarities and differences between various historical

    societies’ constructions of the relationship between law and religion.

  3. To help you understand and be able to discuss/debate the ways in which historians have

    interpreted the development of different societies’ legal and religious systems.


12 Jan

1. Introduction: Law as Narrative

Robert Cover, ‘The Supreme Court, 1982 Term – Foreword: Nomos and Narrative’, Harvard Law Review 97.4 (1983): 4–68.

19 Jan

2. At the Origins of Law and Religion: The Bronze Age

Raymond Westbrook, ‘The Character of Ancient Near Eastern Law’, in A History of Ancient and Near Eastern Law, ed. Raymond Westbrook (Leiden, 2003), 1–92.

26 Jan

3. Traditional China: Confucianism and Legalism

John W. Head and Yanping Wang, Law Codes in Dynastic China: A Synopsis of Chinese Legal History in the Thirty Centuries from Zhou to Qing (Durham, NC, 2005), chs. 1–3.

2 Feb

Public Holiday – No Lecture or Tutorial!

9 Feb

4. Dharma: Law in Indian Religious Traditions

Ludo Rocher, Studies in Hindu Law and Dharmaśāstra, ed. Donald R. Davis, Jr (London, 2012), Part I: ‘The Nature of Hindu Law’.

Tutorial 1 (Readings from Weeks 1–3)

16 Feb

5. Polytheistic Law: The Graeco-Roman World

Michael Gagarin and David Cohen (edd.), The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Law (Cambridge, 2006), chs. 3, 22.

Olga Tellegen-Couperus (ed.), Law and Religion in the Roman Republic (Leiden, 2012), chs. 7–8.

23 Feb

6. Monotheistic Law: Jewish Halakha

Anselm C. Hagedorn and Reinhard G. Kratz (edd.), Law and Religion in the Eastern Mediterranean: From Antiquity to Early Islam (Oxford, 2013), chs. 8–11.

2 Mar

7. Roman Monotheism: The Christian Canons

Christopher W.B. Stevens, Canon Law and Episcopal Authority: The Canons of Antioch and Serdica (Oxford, 2015), Introduction, chs. 5–6.

Tutorial 2 (Readings from Weeks 4–6)

9 Mar

8. Sharia: The Islamic Way

Wael B. Hallaq, The Origin and Evolution of Islamic Law (Cambridge, 2004), chs. 1–3, 7–8.

16 Mar

9. Unam sanctam: Law and Revolution in the Medieval Church

Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge, MA, 1983), chs. 2, 5–6.

23 Mar

10. Cuius regio, eius religio: Early Modern Tolerance and Persecution

Gerald Strauss, Law, Resistance, and the State: The Opposition to Roman Law in Reformation Germany (Princeton, NJ, 2015), ch. 7: ‘Law and Religion: The Reformation’.

Karen Barkey, Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge, 2008), ch. 4: ‘Maintaining an Empire: An Expression of Tolerance’.

Tutorial 3 (Readings from Weeks 7–9)

30 Mar

11. Natural Law and Toleration: The Enlightenment

Jon Parkin and Timothy Stanton (edd.), Natural Law and Toleration in the Early Enlightenment (Oxford, 2013), chs. 3–4.

6 Apr

Reading Week – No Lecture or Tutorial!

13 Apr

12. Law, Religion, and Colonial Encounters

Thomas D. Dubois, ‘Hegemony, Imperialism, and the Construction of Religion in East and Southeast Asia’, History and Theory 44.4 (2005): 113–131.

Angela B. Xavier, ‘Conversos and Novamente Convertidos: Law, Religion, and Identity in the Portuguese Kingdom and Empire’, Journal of Early Modern History 15 (2011): 255–287.

Yarina Liston, ‘The Transformation of Buddhism during British Colonialism’, Journal of Law and Religion 14.1 (1999–2000): 189–210.

20 Apr

13. Epilogue: Law and Religion in the Modern Era

Lorenzo Zucca, A Secular Europe: Law and Religion in the European Constitutional Landscape (Oxford, 2012), ch. 3: ‘Law v Religion’.

Tutorial 4 (Readings from Weeks 10–12)

6 May

Research Paper Due


Assessment & Assignments

Your performance in the course will be assessed on the cumulative basis of different types of assignment (described in more detail below) and your attendance. There will not be an exam or quiz component. The weighting of the different factors is as follows:

Research Paper                                  30%
Participation                                       30%
Argument Summaries                       30%
Attendance                                          10%


Argument Summaries

After each lecture, you will complete that week’s readings and then write a short summary (max. 500 words) describing the central argument of what you have read. This is a reading comprehension exercise that will help to develop your skills in analysing and explaining academic scholarship in a short space. You should submit your argument summary to me in hard copy during the next week’s lecture. Sample argument summaries will be available on the course Blackboard site to give you a clear idea of what to aim for.

You will only need to write reading summaries for ten out of the thirteen weeks. This means that you get to skip three reading summaries; you can choose which ones.


Research Paper

I will ask you to write a research paper (3,000–5,000 words) at the end of the semester, due on 6th May. This essay will require you to reflect on the major themes of the course and to develop your own argument or interpretation relating to law and religion in world history. You will be free to choose your own topic and title, on two conditions:

  1. The essay must explore an aspect of the historical relationship between law and religion.
  2. You must come to my open-door hours at least once before Reading Week to discuss your idea for your final paper.

The essay should be written to academic standards with a central thesis, reference to primary sources and secondary literature, and appropriate citations in footnotes. You are free to follow any accepted academic citation style such as Chicago, Harvard, or MLA. If you are not sure about how to write citations, I recommend looking at the Chicago Manual of Style quick citation guide:

If you have any questions about the final essay, let me know and I will be happy to answer.


Assignment Submission, Extensions, and Lateness Penalties

You will be expected to submit your research paper by 11:59pm on the date specified in the course schedule below by uploading them to the relevant section of the Blackboard course website along with a signed declaration of academic honesty from VeriGuide.

Scheduling conflicts and unforeseen circumstances can sometimes make it difficult to meet deadlines. If you are unable to submit your work on time, please contact me as soon as possible and I will be happy to grant you an extension if you have a legitimate reason to require one.

If you fail to submit work on time and I have not granted you an extension, you will incur a daily lateness penalty of 1 percentage point. For example, if you submit your research paper (worth 30%) 3 days after the deadline, you will lose 3 of the 30% available; if you submit it 5 days late, you will lose 5 of the 30%, etc. I will not accept any further submissions after 7 days have passed unless I have granted special permission.


Tutorials and Participation

In addition to regular seminars, there will be a total of four tutorial sessions during the semester. These will serve as opportunities for broader discussion of the course’s themes. They will also be a chance to discuss course assignments (particularly the final essay) and for you to ask any questions that you might have. Remember that active participation in both seminar and tutorial discussions is expected and will be 30% of your overall course grade – so don’t be shy!

Attendance and Absences

You are expected to attend all lectures and tutorials. This will comprise 10% of your overall course grade. If you have a valid reason for being absent from a lecture or tutorial (such as a doctor’s appointment, a family emergency, or similar), please contact me as soon as possible to ask for permission.

Your final letter grade will be determined by your overall course percentage. You will not be graded on a curve. Grades will be assigned according to the following set thresholds:

A         90%                             C+       65%
A-        85%                             C         60%    
B+       80%                             C-        55%
B         75%                             D         50%
B-        70%                             F          <50%


Grade Descriptions

A                     Exceptional: Exceeds expectations. Demonstrates impressive knowledge, clarity, analytical ability, and a firm grasp of course material.

A-                    Strong: Has most of the qualities of A-grade work but has some minor areas for improvement.

B (+/-)             Good: Shows a solid understanding of course material. Has some flaws in writing or argumentation and may contain minor errors or misunderstandings.

C (+/-)             Satisfactory: Demonstrates an acceptable level of knowledge but suffers from lack of clarity, misunderstandings, historical errors, or weak argumentation.

D                     Unsatisfactory: Achieves the minimum passing grade but fails to meet most expectations of knowledge and argumentation.

F                      Fail: Does not meet basic expectations of knowledge, understanding, and/or timeliness in submission.




9 Feb

Tutorial 1 (Readings from Weeks 1–3)

2 Mar

Tutorial 2 (Readings from Weeks 4–6)

23 Mar

Tutorial 3 (Readings from Weeks 7–9)

20 Apr

Tutorial 4 (Readings from Weeks 10–12)


Each week you will be assigned approximately 80–100 pages of reading. This will consist of significant pieces of academic literature – mainly journal articles and book chapters – that explore important aspects of the week’s theme. All required course readings will be posted on the Blackboard course website at the beginning of the semester. You will not need to purchase or acquire any course materials yourself.

For a general introduction to the subject, I can recommend the following (non-compulsory) books, all of which are available in the CUHK library system or online:

James A. Brundage, Medieval Canon Law (London, 1995).

Wael B. Hallaq, An Introduction to Islamic Law (Cambridge, 2009).

François-Xavier Licari, An Introduction to Jewish Law (Cambridge, 2019).

Timothy Lubin, Donald R. Davis Jr, and Jayanth K. Krishnan (edd.), Hinduism and Law: An Introduction (Cambridge, 2012).

Geoffrey MacCormack, The Spirit of Traditional Chinese Law (Athens, GA, 1996).

Antonio Padoa-Schioppa, A History of Law in Europe: From the Early Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 2017).

Rebecca Redwood French and Mark A. Nathan (edd.), Buddhism and Law: An Introduction (Cambridge, 2014).

Peter Stein, Roman Law in European History (Cambridge, 1999).

Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at

With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed declaration that they are aware of these policies, regulations, guidelines and procedures.

  • In the case of group projects, all members of the group should be asked to sign the declaration, each of whom is responsible and liable to disciplinary actions, irrespective of whether he/she has signed the declaration and whether he/she has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the problematic contents.
  • For assignments in the form of a computer-generated document that is principally text-based and submitted via VeriGuide, the statement, in the form of a receipt, will be issued by the system upon students’ uploading of the soft copy of the assignment.

Assignments without the properly signed declaration will not be graded by teachers.

Only the final version of the assignment should be submitted via VeriGuide.

The submission of a piece of work, or a part of a piece of work, for more than one purpose (e.g. to satisfy the requirements in two different courses) without declaration to this effect shall be regarded as having committed undeclared multiple submissions. It is common and acceptable to reuse a turn of phrase or a sentence or two from one’s own work; but wholesale reuse is problematic. In any case, agreement from the course teacher(s) concerned should be obtained prior to the submission of the piece of work.

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