Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Law & Theology Degrees

In our complex world where religion, philosophy, law, and public policy all often overlap, there is a need for ministerss with legal training and lawyers with training in religious studies or theology.  For instance, my friend, J. Brent Walker, the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, is both a lawyer and a minister. (I met Brent when we were both M.Div. students at the once great Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pre-fundamentalist takeover.  Brent managed to earn both a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Florida (Gainesville) without having his brains turned to mush–something almost incomprehensible to a Florida State University (Tallahassee) alumnus like me. 🙂 Then he earned his law degree (J.D.) at Stetson University School of Law before earning his M.Div. at SBTS. )

So, at least here in the U.S., some institutions have begun to offer joint religion/law or theology/law degrees.  Here are a few of the better ones for those interested.  I have not ranked them in any particular order.

Wake Forest University has two programs involving joint degrees from the WFU Law School and WFU Divinity School.  One is a joint J.D./M.A. (Religious Studies) degree and the other is a joint J.D./M.Div. degree.

Emory University Law School has three joint degrees in its “Law and Religion” Program, all involving the juris doctor law degree.  Two of these joint degrees, the J.D./M.T.S. (Master of Theological Studies), and the J.D./M.Div. (Master of Divinity–the basic seminary degree for ordination in most denominations in the U.S., equivalent to the B.D. in Commonwealth nations), are run jointly with the Law School and Emory’s Candler School of Theology.  The third joint degree, the J.D./Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy in Religion) is conducted jointly with Emory University’s Graduate Division of Religion in its Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Duke University Law School offers a J.D./M.A. joint degree in numerous studies, including religion, through the Graduate School.  It also offers the J.D./Ph.D. in either philosophy or political science.

The University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law offers a joint J.D./Ph.D. program in Religion and Social Ethics that is VERY strong.

If anyone knows of other joint law and theology programs, please let me know.

Update:  From the comments:

Vanderbilt University Law School also offers both joint J.D/M.Div and J.D./M.T.S. degrees in conjunction with Vanderbilt University Divinity School.

A Master of Divinity and Law degree is jointly offered by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law (named after the famed Supreme Court justice Louis B. Brandeis).

Baylor University offers a unique program through its J.M. Dawson Institute for Church-State Studies which I hesitated to include because they do not include a law degree, but the interdisciplinary degrees offered at both the M.A. and Ph.D. levels involve work with theologians, jurists and legal scholars, sociologists, historians, and political scientists.  It is truly unique.  (The Dawson Institute also  publishes the great Journal of Church and State which, long ago, published my first academic writing–an article on Bonhoeffer and Human Rights.  It has since published two  other of my articles and hasn’t seemed to suffer too much in circulation as a result. 🙂 ) Although named after the great Baptist J.M. Dawson, a very strict church-state separationist, the institute’s scholars include those of a more “accomadationist” outlook and publish and encourage debate between widely differing views of church-state relations (since it is an educational institution and not an advocacy group).  It includes the Center for Constitutional Studies and the Islam and Democracy Project and it works closely with Baylor’s Center for Jewish Studies (which used to be called the Center for Jewish and American  Studies).  (Yes, a Baptist university in deep Texas is the first explicitly Christian university in North America to have a Center for Jewish Studies–run by Jewish theologian Marc Ellis.  Ellis is not a Jewish Christian, but an orthodox Jew–but he is nevertheless controversial because in his strong push for Middle East peace he has been far more critical of the State of Israel than is common among Jewish theologians.  He has also said that some version of “Holocaust theology” have ended up justifying the occupation  and oppression of Jewish people.  Obviously, Baylor did not appoint Ellis in an attempt to stave off controversy!)

I have not listed them here, since I am mostly fascinated by the  intersection of religion/theology, law, and politics, but many law schools list other kinds of dual degrees, including dual degrees in law and business, law and social work, law and political science, law and public health, and law and medicine.  (The brains it would take to earn a joint J.D./M.D. degree floors me!)

May 28, 2009 - Posted by | education, law, theological education, theology


  1. LOL. Florida StatUe University alumnus?

    An extra letter can really turn out funny.


    Comment by Chuck | May 28, 2009

  2. Not exactly what you referring to but LPTS in Louisville has a program where students go to seminary and the University of Louisville law school.

    Comment by John inman | May 28, 2009

  3. Baylor’s J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies is a unique Religion, Law & Society (Sociology) program that would fit this list. You can’t earn a JD but you can earn both an MA in Church-State Studies and a Ph.D. in Religion, Politics and Society. With this degree you could teach and research or even work for a religious liberty organization.

    Comment by Big Daddy Weave | May 29, 2009

  4. Actually, John, that’s a great example. I had not thought of checking programs which combine efforts from two or more institutions.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 29, 2009

  5. Aaron, I thought about the J. M. Dawson Institute, but didn’t list it because it didn’t seem to involve courses at the Baylor law school. But maybe I was being overly narrow in thinking that at least part of the dual degrees should include a law degree that would prepare someone to pass a bar exam. Certainly, this is a unique institute that fills a niche in society not found anywhere else.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 29, 2009

  6. I believe Vanderbilt also awards M.Div/J.D. joint degrees.

    Comment by Dustin | May 30, 2009

  7. I have a B.A.Degree in Theology and was considering before doing an M.Div. to do a law degree with a minor in theology.I want to be able to argue excellently from a legal side and defend the gospel from an apologetics side. In this way I can have a professional degree, before I do the “MDIV.theological ” professional degree.
    Any suggestions?

    Comment by Vonnie Elisha Lucas James | June 18, 2010

  8. Mr. James, this blog is mostly defunct, now. It depends on your denominational, geographical, and theological orientation/context.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 18, 2010

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: