The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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HIST5542 Special Topics in Comparative History (Global Studies): Law and Religion in World History

Semester 1 (2023-2024)

Lecture TimeMonday, 18:30 - 20:15

VenueRoom G04, Lee Shau Kee Architecture Building (ARC G04)


Lecturer James MORTON (39431531 /

Teaching Assistant WANG Shu (

Course Description


This course will offer students the chance 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. 

4 Sep 

1. Introduction: At the Origins of Law and Religion 

Mulford Q. Sibley, ‘Religion and Law: Some Thoughts on Their Intersections’, Journal of Law and Religion 2.1 (1984): 41–67. 

Carlo Zaccagnini, ‘Sacred and Human Components in Ancient Near Eastern Law’, History of Religions 33.3 (1994): 265–286. 

11 Sep 

2. 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. 

18 Sep 

3. 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’. 

25 Sep 

4. 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. 

2 Oct 

Public Holiday – No Lecture or Tutorial! 

9 Oct 

5. Monotheistic Law: Jewish Halakha 

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

16 Oct 

6. 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. 

23 Oct 

Public Holiday – No Lecture or Tutorial! 

30 Oct 

7. Sharia: The Islamic Way 

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


6 Nov 


8. 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. 

13 Nov 

9. From the Reformation to the Enlightenment: Tolerance and Persecution 

John Christian Laursen and Cary J. Nederman (edd.), Beyond the Persecuting Society: Religious Toleration Before the Enlightenment (Philadelphia, PA, 1997), 95–106, 169–177. 

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’. 

Jon Parkin and Timothy Stanton (edd.), Natural Law and Toleration in the Early Enlightenment (Oxford, 2013), ch. 3: ‘Natural Law, Nonconformity, and Toleration: Two Stages on Locke’s Way’. 

20 Nov 

10. 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. 

27 Nov 

11. 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’. 

11 Dec 

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 50%  
Argument Summaries (x8) 30% 

Participation 20% 

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. 


Argument Summaries (x8) 

After each lecture, you will complete that week’s readings and then write a short summary (approx. 250–500 words) of the author’s main argument(s). You will then submit it in hard copy at the end of the next week’s lecture (e.g. you submit the summary of Week 4’s readings in Week 5’s lecture, etc.). This is a reading comprehension exercise that will help to develop your skills in analysing and explaining academic scholarship. It will also help you remember the content of the readings for class discussions. You can find sample reading summaries and a short how-to guide on Blackboard. 

You will only need to write argument summaries for eight out of the eleven weeks. This means that you get to skip three argument 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 11th December. This paper 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. I will give you more details about how to research, write, and format your paper during the lecture in Week 9. 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.
  2. You must come to speak to me at least once before Week 9’s lecture (13th November) to discuss your idea for your final paper. 

You should upload your research paper to the relevant section of the Blackboard course website along with a signed declaration of academic honesty from VeriGuide (which you can find at If possible, please upload your paper in MSWord .docx format (the VeriGuide receipt can be uploaded in .pdf format). 


Tutorials and Participation

Active participation in class discussions is an important part of the course and your learning experience. Whenever you engage in discussion in either lectures or tutorials, it will count towards your course participation score. To be clear, participating in discussions means that you will actually have to speak. Sitting in silence is not participation and will not count. But don’t worry! You don’t have to be an expert (or even knowledgeable) about a topic to join in the discussion. Any kind of contribution, even if it is just a simple comment or a question, will count as participation and will thus add to your course grade. So don’t be shy! 



Course Readings

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. 

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). 


Need Help? 

It’s ok to ask for it! I know that you have probably not studied this subject before. If you have any difficulties with the readings, assignments, discussions, or any other aspects of the course, let me know and I will be happy to help you – that is what I am here for. You can always email me, come to my open-door hours, or just ask a question in class. 

World History Seminar 

This term, the History department will be holding the fourth series of its ‘New Approaches to World History’ seminar. This will take place online on Zoom every Wednesday for a lecture by a leading world historian. At the end of the lecture, members of the audience will have the chance to engage in a Q&A with the speaker. 

Since this seminar has a clear relevance to our course, I would like you to attend no fewer than three meetings of the New Approaches to World History Seminar. You should also ask at least one question during one of the Q&A sessions. Your attendance and participation in this seminar will form part of your overall participation grade for this course. 

Extensions and Lateness Penalties 

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 50%) 3 days after the deadline, you will lose 3 of the 50% available for that assignment; if you submit it 5 days late, you will lose 5 of the 50%, etc. I will not accept any further submissions after 7 days have passed unless I have granted special permission. 

Attendance and Absences 

You are expected to attend all lectures and tutorial sessions. For every class that you miss without my approval, 1% will be deducted from your final course grade. If you have a valid reason for being absent from a seminar or tutorial (such as a doctor’s appointment, a family emergency, or similar), please contact me as soon as possible to ask for permission. 

Add/Drop Period 

During the second and third weeks of term (11th–22nd September), students are allowed to change their course enrolments by adding and dropping courses. You are welcome to either add or drop this course during that period for any reason. Please note that it is not possible to drop the course after the add/drop period unless there are exceptional circumstances (e.g. if a medical emergency or similar makes it impossible for you to continue the class). 

Plagiarism and Academic Ethics 

Studying at the university level requires a high standard of professionalism and honesty in your academic work and personal conduct. This falls under the broad category of academic ethics, a matter that the History Department at CUHK takes very seriously. I expect you all to behave in an honest and respectful manner in class and in your assignments. Unethical behaviour, including plagiarism, will not be tolerated. You can find more information on university policy at 

Use of Generative A.I. 

In the past year, so-called ‘generative A.I.’ tools such as ChatGPT, Sage, Claude, and others have become extremely popular. You may be tempted to use these to help complete your course assignments. Do not give in to this temptation. A.I.-written essays are not as good as you might think and they are very easy to detect. If you submit A.I.-written work under your own name, I will treat it as a case of suspected plagiarism, with all the consequences that go with it (see ‘Plagiarism and Academic Ethics’ above). 

Grade Appeals 

You can find information on the grade appeals process here: 

I deal with grade appeals on a case-by-case basis. If there has been a technical error or some other important oversight (I try to avoid this, but it can happen occasionally), then I will be happy to correct your grade. Otherwise, you should be aware that grading is entirely at my discretion; I do not accept appeals just because a student disagrees with their grade.  

Open-Door Hours 

I am normally in my office from 2 to 5pm on Friday so that anyone can come in and speak to me about anything they want. If you would like to chat with me about any aspect of the course, your university studies, career development, favourite historical books and movies, or anything else, feel free to drop in. If you would like to talk to me but can’t make it to my open-door hours, just send me an email and we can set up an appointment at a more convenient time. 

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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