Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Regulations & Requirements

Regulations & Requirements


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses


Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought

Professors Douglas (Chair, spring semester), Hussain†, Sarat (Chair, fall semester), and Umphrey; Associate Professor Sitze*; Senior Lecturer Delaney; Visiring Professor Meyer; Visiting Assistant Professors Johnson and Youssef.

*On leave 2015-16.

The Department of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought (LJST) places the study of law within the context of a liberal arts education. The Department offers courses that treat law as an historically evolving and culturally specific enterprise in which moral argument, distinctive interpretive practices, and force are brought to bear on the organization of social life. These courses use legal materials to explore conventions of reading, argument and proof, problems of justice and injustice, tensions between authority and community, and contests over social meanings and practices. In addition, the curriculum of LJST is designed to foster the development of a substantive focus for student interests in the study of law and skills in analysis, research, and writing as well as capacity for independent work.

Major Program. A major in Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought consists of a minimum of eleven courses.

Offerings in the Department include courses in Legal Theory (these courses emphasize the moral and philosophical dimensions that inform legal life and link the study of law with the history of social and political thought), Interpretive Practices (these courses emphasize the ways law attempts to resolve normative problems through rituals of textual interpretation), Legal Institutions (these courses focus on the particular ways different legal institutions translate moral judgments and interpretive practices into regulation and socially sanctioned force), and Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives (these courses explore the ways in which law and societies change over time, as well as the interdependence of law and culture).

Students wishing to major in LJST must complete LJST 110 (Legal Theory) by the end of their sophomore year and before declaring their major. In addition, prior to graduation, LJST majors are required to take LJST 103 (Legal Institutions) and LJST 143 (Law’s History). LJST majors also must take two seminars during their junior year, one of which will be an Analytic Seminar and one of which will be a Research Seminar. Analytic Seminars emphasize close analysis of text, practice, or image, and frequent writing; Research Seminars require students to complete substantial, independent projects.  Study abroad or other contingencies may require alterations of the timing of these requirements in individual cases.

Departmental Honors Program. The Department awards Honors to seniors who have achieved distinction in their course work, whose independent projects are judged to be of honors quality, and who have a college-wide grade average of A- or above.  Students with a college-wide grade point below an A- may petition to write an Honors Thesis. Students should begin to identify a suitable project during the second semester of their junior year and must submit a proposal by the end of that semester for Departmental evaluation. The proposal consists of a description of an area of inquiry or topic to be covered, a list of courses that provide necessary background for the work to be undertaken, and a bibliography. A first draft of the honor thesis will be submitted before the start of the second semester. The final draft will be submitted in April and read and evaluated by a committee of readers.

Post-Graduate Study. LJST is not a pre-law program designed to serve the needs of those contemplating careers in law. While medical schools have prescribed requirements for admission, there is no parallel in the world of legal education. Law schools generally advise students to obtain a broad liberal arts education; they are as receptive to students who major in physics, mathematics, history or philosophy as they would be to students who major in LJST. 

LJST majors will be qualified for a wide variety of careers. Some might do graduate work in legal studies, others might pursue graduate studies in political science, history, philosophy, sociology, or comparative literature. For those not inclined toward careers in teaching and scholarship, LJST would prepare students for work in the private or public sector or for careers in social service.

RELATED COURSES.  Students may receive credit toward a major in LJST for up to two “related” courses from outside the Department (see list below) or for approved study abroad courses. In no case may those courses be used to satisfy the Analytic or Research Seminar requirements.

Law, Jurisp & Social Thought

101 The Social Organization of Law

(Offered as LJST 101 and POSC 218 [IL])  Law in the United State is everywhere, ordering the most minute details of daily life while at the same time making life and death judgments.  Our law is many things at once--majestic and ordinary, monstrous and merciful, concerned with morality yet often righteously indifferent to moral argument.  Powerful and important in social life, the law remains elusive and mysterious.  This power and mystery is reflected in, and made possible by, a complex bureaucratic apparatus which translates words into deeds and rhetorical gestures into social practices. 

This course will examine that apparatus. It will describe how the problems and possibilities of social organization shape law as well as how the social organization of law responds to persons of different classes, races and genders.  We will attend to the peculiar way the American legal system deals with human suffering--with examples ranging from the legal treatment of persons living in poverty to the treatments of victims of sexual assault. How is law organized to cope with their pain?  How are the actions of persons who inflict inquiries on others defined in legal terms? Here we will examine cases on self defense and capital punishment. Throughout, attention will be given to the practices of police, prosecutors, judges, and those who administer law's complex bureaucratic apparatus.

Limited to 100 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Sarat.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Fall 2020

103 Legal Institutions and Democratic Practice

This course will examine the relationship between legal institutions and democratic practice. How do judicial decisions balance the preferences of the majority and the rights of minorities? Is it possible to reconcile the role that partisan dialogue and commitment play in a democracy with an interest in the neutral administration of law? How does the provisional nature of legislative choice square with the finality of judicial mandate? By focusing on the United States Supreme Court, we will consider various attempts to justify that institution’s power to offer final decisions and binding interpretations of the Constitution that upset majoritarian preferences. We will examine the origins and historical development of the practice of judicial review and consider judicial responses to such critical issues as slavery, the New Deal, and abortion. The evolving contours of Supreme Court doctrine will be analyzed in the light of a continuing effort to articulate a compelling justification for the practice of judicial intervention in the normal operation of a constitutional democracy.

Limited to 40 students. Spring semester.  Professor Douglas.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

105 Race, Place, and the Law

(Offered as LJST 105 and BLST 147 [US].) Understandings of and conflicts about place are of central significance to the experience and history of race and race relations in America. The shaping and reshaping of places is an important ingredient in the constitution and revision of racial identities: think of “the ghetto,” Chinatown, or “Indian Country.” Law, in its various manifestations, has been intimately involved in the processes which have shaped geographies of race from the colonial period to the present day: legally mandated racial segregation was intended to impose and maintain both spatial and social distance between members of different races.

The objective of this course is to explore the complex intersections of race, place, and law. Our aim is to gain some understanding of geographies of race “on-the-ground” in real places, and of the role of legal practices--especially legal argument--in efforts to challenge and reinforce these racial geographies. We will ask, for example, how claims about responsibility, community, rationality, equality, justice, and democracy have been used to justify or resist both racial segregation and integration, access and expulsion. In short, we will ask how moral argument and legal discourse have contributed to the formation of the geographies of race that we all inhabit. Much of our attention will be given to a legal-geographic exploration of African-American experiences. But we will also look at how race, place and the law have shaped the distinctive experiences of Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans.

Limited to 40 students. Omitted 2015-16.  Senior Lecturer Delaney.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, January 2021, Fall 2023

107 The Trial

If media coverage is any evidence, it is clear that legal trials capture, and have always captured, the imagination of America. Trials engage us affectively and politically by dramatizing difficult moral and social predicaments and by offering a public forum for debate and judgment. They also “perform” law in highly stylized ways that affect our sense of what law is and does. This course will explore the trial from a number of different angles: as an idea, as a legal practice, and as a modern cultural phenomenon. What does it mean to undergo a “trial”? How do various historical trial forms--trial by ordeal or by oath, for example--compare with our contemporary adversarial form? What cultural and legal trajectories have trials followed in U.S. history? What narrative and structuring roles do trials play in literature and film? How do popular renderings of trials in imaginative texts and the media compare with actual trial practice, and perhaps encourage us to sit in judgment on law itself? In what ways do well-known trials help us to tell a story about what America is, and what kind of story is it?

Limited to 40 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Umphrey.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013

110 Introduction to Legal Theory

This course explores questions in the philosophy of law: What is law? What is justice? What is morality? Is there a relation between law, morality, and justice? What is legal authority or validity? What are the sources of law and/or justice? How are texts law and how ought one to interpret them? What is the relation between law and power? What is the role of judges in interpreting law and deciding cases?

Limited to 40 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Meyer.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

136 Law Between Plato and the Poets

Ancient tragedy, ancient comedy, and Platonic political philosophy pose very different questions about the essence and basis of law, and about law’s relation to such matters as conflict, politics, guilt, love, suffering, action, justice, and wisdom. This course is a preliminary study of the relationships between these differing modes of inquiry. We will spend the first half of the course outlining the theories of law that govern select dramatic works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Aristophanes. In the second half of the course, we will trace the intricate way these theories are at once incorporated into and rejected by Platonic political philosophy, as exemplified by Plato’s Republic. Along the way, we shall weigh and consider competing versions of the “return to Plato” in contemporary philosophy. In addition to reading key works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Plato, we will read contemporary texts by Giorgio Agamben, Danielle Allen, Alain Badiou, Hans-Georg Gadamer, René Girard, Martin Heidegger, Bonnie Honig, Bernard Knox, Nicole Loraux, Ramona Naddaff, Martha Nussbaum, Jacques Rancière, Leo Strauss, Jean-Pierre Vernant, and Simone Weil.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2011, Spring 2014, Fall 2019

143 Law's History

This course examines the ways in which historical thinking and imagining operate in the domain of law.  History and law are homologous and tightly linked.  Law in various guises uses history as its backbone, as a lens through which to view and adjudicate tangled moral problems, and as a means of proof in rendering judgment.  Questions of history and precedent are integral to an understanding of the way language and rhetoric operate in the very creation of legal doctrine.  Moreover, law’s use of history also has a history of its own, and our present understanding of the relationship between the two is a product of Enlightenment thinking.  Conceiving of history as one kind of “narrative of the real,” in this course we will explore the premises that underlie history’s centrality to law as we inquire after the histories that law demands, creates, and excludes, as well as the ways in which law understands and uses history to seek finality, and to legitimize its authority.

Limited to 40 students. Spring semester. Professor Umphrey.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2025

206 Apartheid

(Offered as LJST 206 and BLST 217) The goal of this course will be to understand some of the problems posed for legal studies in the humanities by the emergence of the system of administrative and constitutional law known as apartheid. This system, which was designed to institute “separate development for separate peoples” in South Africa, is widely and rightly regarded to be among the most inhuman régimes of the 20th century. Yet even and especially today, more than a decade after its formal end in South Africa, apartheid’s social, economic, and epistemic conditions of possibility, as well as the place and function of lawyers, legal discourse, and legal scholars in the resistance to it, remains at best vaguely understood.

This course is designed to remedy this gap. Our inquiry will be at once specific and general. Under what economic and political conditions did apartheid come into being? What legal traditions and practices authorized its codification? What academic disciplines and intellectual formations rendered it intelligible and enabled its theorization? What specific arrangement of juridical institutions, practices, and theories together comprised the apartheid state? What was the place and function of law in the critique of and resistance to apartheid? What new and specific problems did apartheid pose for legal theory?

Limited to 40 students. Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2009, Fall 2011, Spring 2015, Fall 2019

207 Roman Law

The influence of Roman law far exceeded the spatial and temporal limits of the Republic and Empire that produced it. Concepts and doctrines from the Roman legal tradition have informed how subsequent societies have understood the idea of private property, for instance, and they have also played a role in the evolution of the law of the sea, international law, and human rights law. In this course, we will study this important legal tradition through sources that date from 450 BC to 533 AD, including the Law of the Twelve Tables; Cicero’s speeches and treatises; the histories of Sallust, Livy, Plutarch, Suetonius, and Appian; the Institutes of Gaius; and the Digest of Justinian. We will use these texts as resources for exploring the ways in which the law both reflected and shaped ethical, social, and political systems within Rome. Throughout the course, we will be especially attuned to the meanings that law and justice held for the Romans, the diverse sources of law in Rome, the forms of power that the law secured within the Roman socio-political order, the ways in which Romans sought to use the law to resolve problems that arose within the Republic and the Empire, as well as the relationship between law and rhetoric. Among the specific laws that we will examine are those concerning landholdings, theft, citizenship, slaves, marriage, and the family.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester.  Visiting Professor S. Johnson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015

212 Psychoanalysis and Law

Although psychoanalysis is not usually considered a part of the discipline of jurisprudence, its theories allow for comprehensive answers to the fundamental questions of jurisprudence, and its lexicon permits us to refer with clarity and precision to realities of juridical experience about which disciplinary jurisprudence remains silent. Psychoanalysis interprets law within a field defined by the vicissitudes and impasses of unconscious desire, giving us a way to speak about the pathologies that are constitutive of law’s normal operation, and this amounts, in effect if not in name, to a jurisprudence as compelling as it is unorthodox. At the same time, however, psychoanalysis also has been constrained, at key points in its history, by some of the very juridical forms and forces it seeks to analyze and to question, sometimes even to the point where those forms and forces have reappeared, internalized, within its own most basic theories and practices. If psychoanalysis allows for a comprehensive theory of law, so too then can law serve as an exemplary point of departure for the rethinking of psychoanalysis itself. The purpose of this course will be to pursue this twofold inquiry. After tracing the way that law emerges as a question within the thinking of Sigmund Freud, and considering the ways in which certain juridical problems and events are prior to and generative of Freud’s thought, we then will explore the various ways in which post-Freudian thinkers have not only applied but also rethought Freudian psychoanalysis in their own studies of law. 

Limited to 40 students.  Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2017

214 What's So Great About (In)Equality?

In our world, commitment to "equality" in one sense/form or another is nearly uncontested.  At the same time, the form that it should take, its normative ground, scope, limits and conditions, the ways in which it may be realized, and much else are deeply contested.  It is also the case that the world in which we live is characterized by profound, enduring and intensifying inequalities and numerous exceptions to the principle.  These may be justified with reference to various countervailing commitments that are accorded ethical or practical priority (desert, liberty, efficiency, political stability, ecological integrity, pluralism, etc.). This suggests that while for many "equality" may be normatively compelling, its realization may be subordinated to any number of interests and desires; or, to put it bluntly, there may be such a condition as too much equality or not enough inequality, privilege and "disadvantage."  This course treats these themes as they have arisen in distinctively legal contexts, projects and arguments.  It will engage a range of debates within political philosophy and legal theory as to the appropriate limits of equality.  While many forms and expressions of inequality have fallen into relative disfavor, some seem virtually immune to significant amelioration.  Among these are those associated with social-economic class.  Following general investigations of egalitarianism and anti-egalitarianism in social thought and legal history, we will devote closer attention to the legal dimensions of class inequality in contexts such as labor law, welfare and poverty law, education and criminal justice.  We will conclude with an examination of the limits of legal egalitarianism vis-à-vis international class-based inequalities under conditions of globalization and cosmopolitan humanitarianism. 

Limited to 40 students.  Spring semester.  Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Spring 2023

218 Hegel's Philosophy of Right

In 1820, G.W.F. Hegel completed the last of his major published works: the Philosophy of Right. Almost immediately, Hegel’s text would be criticized as a work of philosophical apology—a rationalization and justification of the repressive Prussian state. Later readers of Hegel would intensify this criticism, interpreting the Philosophy of Right as a terminal limit for Hegelian thought as such—a point in Hegel's intellectual itinerary where his dialectical reason turned into undialectical dogma, his attempt to think actual experience deteriorated into mystical abstraction, and his affirmation of freedom reconciled itself with an affirmation of unfreedom. The goal of this course is to review and rethink these criticisms. By engaging in a close reading of the Philosophy of Right, we shall seek to derive from Hegel's text a relation between thought and law that has been occluded by the traditional assessment of this work. As a part of this reading, we shall pay special attention to the place and function of the criticism of the Philosophy of Right within the genesis of the scholarly field known as “critical theory.” Along the way, we shall pose general questions about what it means to interpret a canonical philosophic text, how to perform a close reading of a translated work, and why “critique” remains essential for education today.

Limited to 40 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014

219 Between Facts and Norms:  Liberalism and the Case of Islam

(Offered as LJST 219 and SWAG 219.)  Every day on the news the same drama of liberal and Islamic mutual incomprehension plays out. In flare-ups over cartoons and Mohammed, or the veil and citizenship, the same comments repeat themselves. This repetitiveness begs the question of what constitutes liberalism, and whether religious belief, specifically Islam (but also in sensational coverage of practices such as polygamy), might be anathema to liberalism. If the American Constitution cherishes religious expression, why do even mainstream, dominant religions in the U.S. claim that they are under fire? Why does Islam remain a problem for pluralism even in a political philosophy designed to govern a multicultural society? Can there be liberal forms of Islam? This course seeks first to explore issues related generally to understanding the relationship of religious belief and practice to the politics of a liberal state and second to apply these to understanding the place of Islam and Muslims in liberal states. We will also discuss the law of religious accommodation in Canada and the United States, the related problem of multiculturalism, religious formulations of these problems, including contemporary writing by Jewish and Christian theologians, and historical Muslim responses to the possibility of non-Islamic rule. In addition to examining some of the political thought of pre-modern Muslims, we will discuss Muslim responses to liberalism and modernization. Finally, we look at the practice of religious freedom as related by Muslims in liberal and Islamic societies.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Youssef.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016

220 Histories of Judgment

Although their jobs are distinct, the judge and the historian confront a number of similar questions. How, for instance, can we arrive at sound judgments about events that have occurred? What kinds of evidence should we rely upon as we do so? What should be our standard of proof? In what ways do our social and cultural contexts inform our judgments? Can we ever be certain in these judgments? In this course, we will explore various answers to these questions as we consider the similarities and differences between the roles of the judge and the historian. We will do this by studying exceptional histories of three trials—Carlo Ginzburg’s account of the heresy trial of Domenico Scandella, Natalie Zemon Davis’ account of the imposture trial of Arnaud du Tilh, and Jill Lepore’s account of the 1741 conspiracy trials of slaves and poor freemen in colonial New York—along with primary documents from each case and essays on historical methodology. Taken together, this material will help us to analyze the logics through which legal judgments were reached in the various cases, and to explore questions about legal evidence and standards of proof at different times and in different societies. It will also allow us to consider the kinds of judgments that historians can make about past societies given the primary evidence that is available to them, as well as the significance of their investigations for the present.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor S. Johnson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2017

225 Film, Myth, and the Law

(Offered as LJST 225 and FAMS 371.)  The proliferation of law in film and on television has expanded the sphere of legal life itself. Law lives in images that today saturate our culture and have a power all their own, and the moving image provides a domain in which legal power operates independently of law’s formal institutions. This course will consider what happens when legal events are re-narrated in film and examine film’s treatment of legal officials, events, and institutions (e.g., police, lawyers, judges, trials, executions, prisons). Does film open up new possibilities of judgment, model new modes of interpretation, and provide new insights into law’s violence? We will discuss ways in which myths about law are reproduced and contested in film. Moreover, attending to the visual dimensions of law’s imagined lives, we ask whether law provides a template for film spectatorship, positioning viewers as detectives and as jurors, and whether film, in turn, sponsors a distinctive visual aesthetics of law. Among the films we may consider are Inherit the Wind, Call Northside 777, Judgment at Nuremberg, Rear Window, Silence of the Lambs, A Question of Silence, The Sweet Hereafter, Dead Man Walking, Basic Instinct, and Unforgiven. Throughout we will draw upon film theory and criticism as well as the scholarly literature on law, myth, and film.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2015-16.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2021

226 Critical Legal Geographies

The spatiality of social life is a fundamental element of human existence, not least through its involvement with power of various sorts. Spatiality is also a significant--and problematic--dimension of law (think of sovereignty, jurisdiction, citizenship). At the same time, law is a significant force through which spatiality is produced, reinforced, contested and transformed. Law literally constitutes social spaces through constitutions, treaties, statutes, contracts, modes of surveillance and policing, and so on. As it does so, it constitutes itself as a force in the world. Law may also be an arena in which other social-spatial conflicts are played out and, provisionally, resolved. The course will consider both the changing spatiality of law (its scope, scale, limits; its vectors and circuits) and the changing legal constitution of other social spaces. This will be done through an engagement with contemporary socio-spatial and legal theories and through a survey of exemplary events and situations. Among the more specific topics we will consider are privacy and property; public space of speech and dissent; migration, displacement and sanctuary; colonialism and occupation. The contexts of our study will not be limited to/by American law but will include examples involving international law, forms of legal pluralism, and other legal-cultural contexts. The course will conclude with an investigation of globalization and the emergence of cyberspace and their posited effects on the very possibility of law as we have come to understand and experience it.

Requisite: LJST 110 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2015-16. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2010, Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2018, Spring 2021

227 Sustainability and the Fate of Law:  Can Law Save the World?

Most people are aware that "the world" (the sum of planetary environmental systems) is changing in ways that are already generating dramatic and largely negative consequences for "the world" (Earth as the home of Life) and that the trajectories of change presage even greater instability. Since the blossoming of environmentalism a half-century ago, those most concerned and involved in responding to these challenges have recognized that a robust engagement with law is required for reversing or mitigating these changes. This has resulted in a massive body of environmental law from local land use regulations to national environmental regulatory regimes and international conventions. While some of this has been effective, the velocity of global political, economic and cultural change appears to undermine or render ineffective many legal interventions. As scientists revise predictions regarding the severity and rate of environmental degradation, doubts have been raised about the sufficiency or capacity of existing law to respond appropriately.  This course undertakes a broad, critical examination of the role of law in promoting and perhaps impeding environmental sustainability and asks what this reveals about the possibilities and limits of law. It begins by posing such questions as: Does "sustainability" entail sacrifice? If so, what role do distinctively legal practices and institutions play in giving effect to such sacrifices? Might something that we feel is fundamental to law itself need to be sacrificed? Following a brief survey of key aspects of existing environmental law, in which we assess what has and has not worked, we will engage a range of recent arguments in environmental legal theory (such as earth justice, wild law, green legal theory) which ask us to rethink what we want--or need--law to be.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Senior Lecturer Delaney.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2022

228 The Law, the Human, and the Person: Corporate Legal Theory and Corporate Representation

Recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court that posit corporations as persons transform our law, culture and understanding of what it means to be a "person" (Citizens United (2010); Hobby Lobby (2014). This course concerns the corporate person and the assumptions behind this legal doctrine, derived from the the law of the household. We will explore corporate legal theory, its compatibility with public law and the corporation’s access to rights. Special attention will be paid to the way the notion of the corporate personhood entails a shift in how we understand specific rights, such as rights to expressive and religious freedom. In addition to the unique nature of corporate expression, students will also examine fictional and popular representations of the corporation. The course is thoroughly interdisciplinary, so students will have the opportunity to engage in discourses outside of their training and comfort zone.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Youssef.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

230 Law, Speech, and the Politics of Freedom

In the United States, the idea of free speech is held to be both a political and moral ideal. The First Amendment makes freedom of speech a centerpiece of liberal democratic values and processes, and thus of American identity itself. But what, precisely, do we mean when we link the ideas of freedom and speech? What kinds of speech, and what kinds of freedom, are implicated in that linkage? Correlatively, what does it mean to “censor”? Drawing upon political philosophy, literary theory, court cases, imaginative writing, and examples from contemporary culture, this course will explore the multiple meanings of “free speech,” their legal regulation, and their deployment in American public culture. Why should we value “free” speech? Who do we imagine to be the speaker whose speech is or ought to be free: the man on the soapbox? The political protester? The media conglomerate? The anonymous chat-room inhabitant? What does it mean to say that various kinds of speech may be dangerous, and under what conditions it might be conceivable to shut down or regulate dangerous speech, or conversely to promote “politically correct” speech in either formal or informal ways? How do speech forms (for example, parody, poetry, or reportage) differ, and should some garner more legal protection than others? Can silence be considered a kind of speech?

Requisite: LJST 110 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Umphrey.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

231 Social Movements and Social Change

This course examines social movements (and related phenomena) as integral elements of legal orders and as significant sources of legal transformations. Through interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and historical analyses, the course will explore the ways in which non-state actors engage formal legal institutions to shape or reform law, in order to affect the conditions of social life. Of particular interest are not merely desired changes in laws but resultant changes in the culture of law more broadly. The course will draw on a wide range of movements (historical and contemporary; “progressive” and conservative; broad-based and narrowly focused; American and non-American; local, national and global; North and South, activist and bureaucratic from “below” and from “within”; etc.) and study two or three in closer detail. The over-arching objective is to achieve a richer understanding of both the inner workings of “the law” and the dynamic life of law outside of formal institutions.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2015-16. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2022, Spring 2025

232 Marx, Revolution, and the Law

To what extent can we change our world by changing our laws? We will explore this question through an intensive study of Karl Marx’s writings. Although Marx is most widely known for his arguments about political economy and revolution, his earliest scholarly energies were devoted to jurisprudence, and throughout his life he frequently returned to questions about the law’s nature, possibilities, and limits. He did so not only in his analyses of the state and capitalism, but also in his efforts to document the aims and experiences of political radicals and democratic and labor movements as they navigated repressive legal systems, fought for legal reforms, and developed alternative visions of how to regulate social life. We will therefore draw on diverse genres of writing from across Marx’s life—including letters, newspaper articles, pamphlets, speeches, manuscripts, essays, and Capital, vol. 1—as we examine the relationship between the law and social transformation.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor S. Johnson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016, Spring 2017

235 Law's Nature: Humans, the Environment and the Predicament of Law

“Nature” is at once among the most basic of concepts and among the most ambiguous. Law is often called upon to clarify the meaning of nature. In doing so it raises questions about what it means to be human.

This course is organized around three questions. First, what does law as a humanistic discipline say about nature? Second, what can law’s conception of nature tell us about shifting conceptions of humanness? Third, what can we learn by attending to these questions about law’s own situation in the world and its ability to tell us who we are? We will address these questions by starting with the environment (specifically wilderness). We will then expand our view of nature by examining legal engagements with animals (endangered species, animals in scientific experiments, and pets), human bodies (reproductive technologies, involuntary biological alterations, the right to die) and brains (genetic or hormonal bases for criminal defenses). Throughout, we will focus our attention on the themes of knowledge, control and change. We will look, for example, at relationships between legal and scientific forms of knowledge and the problematic role of expert knowledge in adjudicating normative disputes. We will also look at law’s response to radical, technologically induced changes in relations between humans and nature, and to arguments in favor of limiting such transformations.

Requisite: LJST 110 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2015-16. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Fall 2016, Spring 2019, Fall 2021, Fall 2024

239 Judgment and the Novel

This course approaches the problem of judgment and narrative in the context of a “crisis of judgment” that plagued the eighteenth-century novel and returned in the twentieth century. In this crisis, we see either a suspension of judgment (judgment is withheld, deemed condemnatory, moralizing, idiosyncratic) or an insistence that judgment be reached objectively, scientifically, or we see it as simply necessary. The novel stages and complicates this crisis. We will ask whether novels teach readers how to judge others or complicate and forestall judgment? In the first part of the course, we will look at other responses to the crisis of judgment, such as aesthetic and legal responses. We will think about what goes into a judgment; what makes a judgment legitimate; whether judgments even should be objective or intuitive; and what problems are posed by judicial discretion and precedent. We will read these in the context of historical work on common law legal judgment, record-keeping and stare decisis. We then turn back to the eighteenth century to broach the problem of judgment in moral and aesthetic writings. We will consider some major, but relatively short novels (that might include Haywood’s Fantomina: Or, Love in a Maze, Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, Austen’s Emma, Godwin’s Caleb Williams, Brown’s Wieland and, more recently, McEwan’s Saturday and St. Aubin’s Never Mind) with a view to how they stage the interrelated problems of judgment, subjectivity, and autonomy.

Limited to 30 students.  Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Youssef.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2022

240 Law, God and Modernity

It is the hallmark of modernity that law is secular and rational, made by humans for their purposes. Modern law relegates the divine to the realm of private belief, while the modern state guarantees the uninterrupted observance of a multiplicity of beliefs. Yet secularism has never been an uncontested position and many philosophers have suggested that the sovereignty of the modern state is itself a worldly duplicate of religious understandings of god’s omnipotence. Today the connection of law and the sacred has taken on new urgency with the so-called “return of the religious,” most famously with the rise of political Islam but also with Christian movements in the west, and with the transformations of sovereignty through globalization. This course is a historical and cross-cultural examination of the relationship of law, sovereignty, and the sacred. It focuses on a range of topics: the understanding of secularism in general and the American doctrine of the separation of church and state in particular; the legal theory of Islamization; the meaning of orthodoxy, both legal and religious. It examines both the secular uses of the concept of the sacred, and the religious deployment of modern legal concepts. It asks how the proper names of law and god are used to anchor various normative visions.

Requisite: LJST 110 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Hussain.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Fall 2008, Fall 2010, Spring 2012

241 Critical Theory

Enlightenment philosophers argued that law and reason were sources of freedom and human flourishing. This course explores the ways in which later social theorists challenged and qualified this claim as they confronted the legacies of Enlightenment and the effects of capitalism. We will begin by studying the roots of critical theory in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century philosophy before turning to works by some of the most prominent critical theorists of the last century: Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse. These readings will invite us to examine the forms in which domination and alienation appeared in the mid-twentieth century; the relationship between art and society; the meaning of values such as equality, progress, self-reliance, morality, thrift, and truth; as well as a variety of accounts of the requirements for emancipation and flourishing. In the second part of the course we will turn to writings by Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas, and Nancy Fraser in order to consider the nature of power, domination, and critique in the late-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In both parts of the course, we will be especially concerned to discover how critical theorists’ concepts and models of inquiry can help us to interrogate contemporary social orders.

Limited to 30 students.  Spring semester.  Visiting Professor S. Johnson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016

247 Genres of Responsibility

If someone attempts to buy a stolen iPad and it turns out that the iPad wasn’t stolen, should the state prosecute an attempt to purchase stolen goods? Under what circumstances should the use of a voodoo doll to inflict injury be considered an aggravated assault or an attempted murder? If my family stole your family’s land 150 years ago and has worked it since, what (if anything) are you owed? Law has a unique approach to such situations because it has its own internal logic and an account of judgment that differs from what we typically recognize as moral judgment. This course explores what distinguishes the legal account of responsibility from moral reasoning, aesthetic judgments, and psychoanalytic and sociological explanations of behavior. We will examine different legal categories, such as torts and crime and the way mental and physical (neurological) disabilities are treated by the law; the litigation of impossible acts, omissions, fraud, and the creation of passive risks; the reasonableness of social/sociological justifications and excuses (and the difference between a justification and an excuse); and, finally, the appropriateness of legal remedies to structural discrimination and ancient wrongs.

Limited to 30 students.  Fall semester. Visiting Professor Youssef.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Spring 2020

315 Jurisprudence of Colonialism and Occupation (Research Seminar)

(Research Seminar) This class is organized as an inquiry into the questions that are raised for jurisprudence by the specific cultural, spatial, and political experience of colonialism and occupation.  In particular, we will examine the experiences of colonial occupation in twentieth-century India, South Africa, Malaya and Algeria, as well as contemporary occupations in the West Bank, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan, focusing throughout on the continuities and discontinuities between the two.  Throughout the course, we will concentrate on the way in which the jurisprudence of occupation blurs many of the distinctions that modern, liberal jurisprudence seeks to maintain and justify--fusing, for example, everyday practices of governing (e.g., policing, census-taking, and policies of segregation) with distinctively military actions (e.g., air power, destruction of lives and infrastructure, and counterinsurgency campaigns). The questions we ask in this course will be both theoretical and historical.  What might the genealogy of colonial occupation have to teach us about aspirations and limits of the jurisprudence of contemporary occupation?  How, if at all, have paradigms of occupation changed with the advent of the era of decolonization, the introduction of tactics of sophisticated air power, the emergence of advanced communications technology, and the unprecedented temporalities and spatialities of economic globalization?  Additionally, we will examine how international law defines and regulates occupation.  What is occupation?  On what grounds does modern jurisprudence authorize and  constrain occupation?  What is the difference between a legal occupation and an illegal occupation?  Last but not least, we will ask what precedents, insights and lessons occupation provides for a more general understanding of law, governance, and conflict. 

Requisite LJST 110. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16.

2023-24: Not offered

341 Interpretation in Law and Literature

(Analytic Seminar) Interpretation lies at the center of much legal and literary activity. Both law and literature are in the business of making sense of texts--statutes, constitutions, poems or stories. Both disciplines confront similar questions regarding the nature of interpretive practice: Should interpretation always be directed to recovering the intent of the author? If we abandon intentionalism as a theory of textual meaning, how do we judge the “excellence” of our interpretations? How can the critic or judge continue to claim to read in an authoritative manner in the face of interpretive plurality? In the last few years, a remarkable dialogue has burgeoned between law and literature as both disciplines have grappled with life in a world in which “there are no facts, only interpretations.” This seminar will examine contemporary theories of interpretation as they inform legal and literary understandings. Readings will include works of literature (Hemingway, Kafka, Woolf) and court cases, as well as contributions by theorists of interpretation such as Spinoza, Dilthey, Freud, Geertz, Kermode, Dworkin, and Sontag.

Requisite: LJST 110 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students.  Omitted 2015-16. Professor Douglas.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2020

345 Law and Political Emergency

(Analytic Seminar) This course introduces students to one of the more sustained problems in jurisprudence and legal theory: what happens to a constitutional order when it is faced with extraordinary conditions such as rebellion, war and terrorism. While it is generally agreed that rules, rights and procedures may be temporarily suspended, it is less clear which rights, and who decides on the suspension (the executive alone or in some combination with the legislature, with or without oversight by the courts). While these questions have now become familiar to us--and this course will guide students through the policy shifts and court battles in the United States since 9/11, from the issue of enemy combatants to the use of Guantanamo Bay as a detention center--we will take a more theoretical and historical approach to these questions. Thus we will look at the earliest use of some emergency techniques by the British in the colonies, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War and the notorious Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, which has often been blamed for facilitating the rise of the Nazis. We will end by examining alternative methods for contending with emergency.  One class meeting per week.

Requisite: LJST110 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Hussain.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Spring 2013, Fall 2013

349 Law and Love (Analytical Seminar)

(Analytic Seminar) At first glance, law and love seem to tend in opposing directions: where law is constituted in rules and regularity, love emerges in contingent, surprising, and ungovernable ways; where law speaks in the language of reason, love’s language is of sentiment and affect; where law regulates society through threats of violence, love binds with a magical magnetism. In this seminar, placing materials in law and legal theory alongside theoretical and imaginative work on the subject of love, we invert that premise of opposition in order to look for love’s place in law and law’s in love. First we will inquire into the ways in which laws regulate love, asking how is love constituted and arranged by those regulations, and on what grounds it escapes them. In that regard we will explore, among other areas, the problematics of passion in criminal law and laws regulating sexuality, marriage, and family. Second we will ask, how does love in its various guises (as, philia, eros, or agape) manifest itself in law and legal theory, and indeed partly constitute law itself? Here we will explore, for example, sovereign exercises of mercy, the role of equity in legal adjudication, and the means that bind legal subjects together in social contract theory. Finally, we will explore an analogy drawn by W. H. Auden, asking how law is like love, and by extension love like law. How does attending to love’s role in law, and law’s in love, shift our imaginings of both?

Requisite: LJST 110 or consent of the instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester.  Professor Umphrey.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Spring 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2024

350 Twentieth-Century American Legal Theory

(Analytic Seminar) The discipline of legal theory has the task of making law meaningful to itself. But there is a variety of competing legal theories that can make law meaningful in divergent ways. By what measure are we to assess their adequacy? Is internal coherence the best standard or should legal theory strive to accord with the extra-legal world? Then too, the institutions and practices of law are components of social reality and, therefore, as amenable to sociological or cultural analysis as any other component. Here again, many different kinds of sense can be made of law depending upon how “the social” is itself theorized. This course engages the theme of law and the problems of social reality by way of a three-step approach. The first part of the course presents an overview of the main lines of twentieth-century American legal thought. We begin with a study of legal formalism and the challenges posed to it by legal realism and its various successor theories. One focus of debate between formalism and its rivals is how much social realism should be brought to bear on legal analysis. Another question is: what kind of social realism should be brought to bear on the analysis of law. The second segment of the course provides a survey of some of the candidates. These include the Law and Society Movement, neo-Marxism and Critical Legal Studies. In the final segment we look at how these theoretical issues are given expression in connection with more practical contexts such as poverty law, labor law or criminal law.

Requisite: LJST 110. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester.  Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2010, Fall 2012, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2022

354 The Crisis of Neoliberal Legal Theory

(Research Seminar) The theory of governance known today as "neoliberalism" is most often understood as a mainly economic policy.  Both its opponents and its proponents seem to agree that neoliberalism is best debated as an ensemble of practices (such as free trade, privatization, deregulation, competitiveness, social-spending cutbacks and deficit reduction) that emphasize the primacy of the free market in and for the arrangement of social and political orders.  But, particularly in its initial theorizations, neoliberalism was also, perhaps even primarily, a philosophic doctrine concerning the place and function of law in and for human civilization in general.  At the 1938 Walter Lippman Colloquium in Paris and then again at the inaugural 1947 meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in Switzerland, the leading figures of what would later become known as neoliberalism criticized existing economic theories for neglecting basic questions of legal theory and argued that capitalism could not be saved from the perils of socialism and communism without a renewed understanding of, and insistence on, the rule of law.  In this course, we shall take this, the "legal theoretical" origin of neoliberalism, as a point of departure for understanding neoliberalism as a whole.  In the first half of the course, we shall seek to understand neoliberalism on the basis of the way it posed law as a problem for thought.  In relation to what alternate theories of law did neoliberalism emerge?  On what terms did neoliberals reinterpret the "classical" liberalism of Hobbes and Locke?  How did certain concepts of law figure into the way that neoliberal thinkers arrived at their understandings of the basic meanings of life and labor?  In the second half of the course, we shall explore the ways in which various critics of neoliberalism have sought to expose and to question the legal theories at its origin.  How might renewed attention to legal theoretical problems help us today in our attempt to think and act beyond neoliberalism's constitutive limits?  Our goal in all phases of the course will be to reconstruct neoliberal thought on its own terms in order to grasp better its contemporary incoherence, crisis, and dissolution.   Readings will include Samir Amin, Zygmunt Bauman, Michel Foucault, Milton Friedman, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, David Harvey, Friedrich Hayek, Maynard Keynes, Naomi Klein, Karl Marx, Ludwig von Mises, Alexander Rustow, and Saskia Sassen.

Requisite:  LJST 110 or consent of the instructor.  Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Fall 2014

355 Animals: Law, Ethics, Biopolitics

(Research Seminar)  The treatment and legal status of animals has often provided a rich resource for legal theory. Jeremy Bentham famously yoked the denial of rights to animals with pro-slavery arguments in order to argue that the basis of rights was not the shape of the body or the level of intelligence but the capacity to feel pain. Since then a considerable literature on animal rights and the nascent field of animal studies has emerged. This course covers many of these debates but goes further, asking what are the historically contingent grounds on which humans relate to animals? Such a perspective draws us to consider the contingency of moral arguments and the changing structures of sovereignty and legal personality.  Finally, in a world where at least a billion people have been reduced to what Giorgio Agamben calls "bare life," how do global capitalism and biopolitics shape our contemporary conceptions of human and animal?  Readings include Sunstein and Nussbaum, Animal Rights, Jonathon Safran Foer, Eating Animals, Giorgio Agamben, The Open: man and animal, J.M Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello.

This writing-attentive seminar operates on twin tracks.  Over the course of the semester, students will identify, research, write and revise a topic resulting in a 30-page paper.  At the same time, weekly assignments will not only probe content but also focus on style.  What constitutes a piece of evidence in a research project?  How do writers make choices in the construction of sentences and paragraphs? 

Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016

356 Representing and Judging the Holocaust (Research Seminar)

(Research Seminar) This seminar will address some of the foundational questions posed by radical evil to the legal imagination. How have jurists attempted to understand the causes and logic of genocide, and the motives of its perpetrators? Is it possible to “do justice” to such extreme crimes? Is it possible to grasp the complexities of history in the context of criminal trial? What are the special challenges and responsibilities facing those who struggle to submit traumatic history to legal judgment? We will consider these questions by focusing specifically on a range of legal responses to the crimes of the Holocaust. Our examination will be broadly interdisciplinary, as we compare the efforts of jurists to master the problems of representation and judgment posed by extreme crimes with those of historians, social theorists, and artists. Readings will include original material from the Nuremberg, Eichmann, and Irving trials, and works by, among others, Hannah Arendt, Zygmunt Bauman, Christopher Browning, Primo Levi, and Art Spiegelman.

Limited to 15 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Douglas.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

357 Property, Liberty and Law

(Research Seminar) What we call property is enormously important in establishing the nature of a legal regime. Moreover, an exploration of property offers a window on how a culture sees itself. Examining how property notions are used and modified in practice can also provide critical insights into many aspects of social history and contemporary social reality.

We will begin our discussion of property by treating it as an open-ended cluster of commonplace and more specialized notions (e.g., owner, gift, lease, estate) used to understand and shape the world. We will look at how the relation of property to such values as privacy, security, citizenship and justice has been understood in political and legal theory and how different conceptions of these relations have entered into constitutional debates. We will also study the relationship of property and the self (How might one’s relation to property enter into conceptions of self? Do we “own” ourselves? Our bodies or likenesses? Our thoughts?), property and everyday life (How are conceptions of property used to understand home, work and community?) and property and culture, (Do our conceptions of property influence understandings of cultural differences between ourselves and others? Does it make sense to claim ownership over one’s ancestors?). In sum, this course will raise questions about how property shapes our understandings of liberty, personhood, agency and power.

Requisite: LJST 110 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

374 Norms, Rights, and Social Justice: Feminists, Disability Rights Activists and the Poor at the Boundaries of the Law

(See POSC 474)

490 Special Topics

Independent Reading Courses. Reading in an area selected by the student and approved in advance by a member of the Department.

Fall and spring semesters.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

498, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

Independent work under the guidance of a tutor assigned by the Department. Open to senior LJST majors who wish to pursue a self-defined project in reading and writing and to work under the close supervision of a faculty member.

Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

Departmental Courses

348 Law And War

The traditional understanding of war involved the armies of two nation-states confronting each other on a battlefield. And other than general customs of a just war, the law was thought to have little to say about war. But in the last half century even as the traditional form of war has changed rapidly, as conflicts involving non-state actors (such as insurgency and terrorism) have increased, international law has developed an intricate set of rules regarding who can fight and what methods of fighting are legal.

This course explores the connection between different types of conflict and the norms and rules of international law that are used to regulate that conflict. In this course, we will take a historical approach. We will read classic theorists of war such as Clausewitz, Schmitt and Michael Walzer. We will examine the history of The Hague and Geneva Conventions. And we will focus on specific instances of war from nineteenth-century colonial conflicts and guerilla warfare, to the 1999 “humanitarian” intervention in Kosovo, to the various fronts in the contemporary “war on terror.” Throughout we will ask how changes in technology and law change the definition of war. How do legal definitions of war attempt to demarcate it from other forms of violent conflict such as insurgency or terrorism?

Requisite: LJST 110. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Douglas.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2012, Fall 2016, Fall 2018

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