Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Regulations & Requirements

Regulations & Requirements


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses


Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought

Professors Douglas*, Sarat (Chair), and Umphrey; Associate Professor Sitze; Senior Lecturer Delaney; Visiting Assistant Professors Dichter and Oraby.

* On leave 2017-18.

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). Students in the classses of 2018 and 2019 who have not already done so, need not take LJST 103 (Legal Institutions) as part of the major requirements. 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

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. Omitted 2017-18.  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. Spring semester. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

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

110 Introduction to Legal Theory

This course provides an introduction to the primary texts and central problems of modern legal theory. Through close study of the field’s founding and pivotal works, we will weigh and consider various ways to think about questions that every study, practice, and institution of law eventually encounters. These questions concern law’s very nature or essence; its relations to knowledge, morality, religion, and the passions; the status of its language and interpretations; its relation to force and the threat of force; and its place and function in the preservation and transformation of political, social and economic order.

Limited to 40 students. Spring semester. Professor Sitze.

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

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

162 Law and Disorder

Law takes many forms. Traversing social norms, statutory controls, constitutional provisions, international covenants, and enforcement mechanisms, law suffuses countless arenas simultaneously. Where there is law, order and disorder also thrive in unpleasant company. But what order does law ensure? And what kinds of disorder does law generate? Employing a global approach to the study of law in society, this course examines five domains of human experience (caste, revolution, desire, war, and indigeneity) that law organizes as well as five figures (the convert, the revolutionary, the queer, the terrorist, and the native) that challenge its regulatory logic. The course addresses the ways social actors harness law’s organizational power. We will examine the social life of law in postcolonial, neocolonial, and imperial contexts.

Limited to 40 students.  Fall semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Oraby.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019

163 Civility

Today’s crisis of civility reflects enduring anxiety about the kinds of disagreement and diversity a liberal democracy can sustain. Yet civility remains a notoriously difficult concept to define. Its meanings include politeness in the exchange of ideas, respect for rules of conduct, and even personal sacrifice for the public good. If civility’s contours are elusive, so too are those of its opposite. Incivility is thought to inflame social disparities. This course surveys canonical and emergent debates in the study of disagreement, toleration, and moral reasoning. What forms of dissent are authorized, repressed, and rewarded in claims to civility and incivility? Under what conditions do notions of the civil change? What role does law play in organizing civil speech? Should speech be subject to legal constraint and judicial review? If civility is a democratic virtue, of what should it consist?

Limited to 40 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Oraby.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020

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

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

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 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 several trials—Carlo Ginzburg's account of the heresy trial of Domenico Scandella, Natalie Zemon Davis’ account of an 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. Omitted 2017-18.

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

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.

 Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. 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. Omitted 2017-18. Senior Lecturer Delaney.


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

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 2017-18. 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 modern state and capitalism, but also in his efforts to document the goals, victories, and set-backs of democratic movements, labor unions, and political radicals 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, and speeches—as we explore the relationship between law, social criticism, and social transformation.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2017-18.

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.

 Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2017-18. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Fall 2016, Spring 2019, Fall 2021

242 Social Forces and Social Criticism

Human societies are governed not only by the written laws and political institutions that we willfully create and modify. They are also governed by informal laws that are just as powerful, but that are far more difficult to see and control. These informal laws are produced by a variety of social forces, including moral values, truth claims, social norms, and popular culture. This course introduces students to the practice of identifying, analyzing, and critiquing these informal laws. Our primary goals will be to explore: (1) the ways in which social forces organize and regulate both individual lives and human relationships independent of written laws; (2) the ways in which formal legal and political orders depend upon and are shaped by these same social forces; (3) the social value of critiques that interrogate beliefs, practices, and tastes that are commonly taken for granted; and (4) whether it is possible to resist, transform, and escape the social forces that regulate our lives. Readings will include works by Nietzsche, Adorno, Césaire, and Foucault.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2017-18.

2023-24: Not offered

258 Cicero: Law and Crisis in the Roman Republic

This course examines the legal and moral writings of Marcus Tullius Cicero in their historical context: the Roman Republic’s tumultuous final century. Through his roles as a public official, lawyer, and philosopher, Cicero became one of the most important figures in the history of Roman law. We will explore how he understood the nature of law, obligation, and justice through close readings of his treatises and speeches, and we will pay especially close attention to his claims about how we should navigate conflicts between doing what is right and doing what is expedient. We will also examine how he dealt with these same conflicts in practice, namely as a public official who was intent on defending the Republic from the civil and moral crises that threatened it. Throughout the course we will use the writings of Roman and Greek historians to study the wars, conspiracies, and class conflicts that shaped Cicero’s experiences in, and reflections upon, Roman public life. Readings will include Cicero’s Catilinarian Orations, On the Republic, On the Laws, and On Duties, as well as works by Sallust, Livy, Plutarch, and Appian.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2017-18.

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

259 Law, Liberty, and Slavery: The French and Haitian Revolutions

In 1791 a slave insurrection that soon became one of the world’s most significant and transformative revolutions began in Saint Domingue, France's most valuable colony. Over the next thirteen years it led France to abolish slavery in all of its colonies and to extend French citizenship to former slaves; it decimated the colonial economy in Saint-Domingue and overthrew French rule there; and it produced the independent state of Haiti. Just two years earlier a revolution in France had overthrown monarchical rule, established popular sovereignty, and enshrined natural rights in law. Yet in the words of historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot, the idea of a slave insurrection had been unthinkable to the French people, despite their own struggles for liberty, because it violated widely-held assumptions about who can and should fight for the right to self-determination.

This course explores the interconnected histories of the French and Haitian Revolutions in order to consider how a revolution in one of France’s colonies betrayed the limits of its own revolutionary principles. In particular, we will investigate the ways in which the Haitian Revolution challenged the legal order that triumphed in France in 1789. We will also explore what the French and Haitian Revolutions can teach us about the nature of freedom, rights, and revolution itself.  In addition to primary sources, readings will include classic studies of the French and Haitian Revolutions by Alexis de Tocqueville and C.L.R. James.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2017-18.

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

270 Race, Law, and American Literature

The story of race in America is inextricably tied to the story of the law, but the nature of that connection is controversial. Is the law a reliable tool for the pursuit of justice, or an obstacle that tends to create injustices of its own? Law has faced longstanding criticism for serving the interests of the powerful at the expense of everyone else. Yet, throughout US history, individuals working for justice have also looked to the law as a means for achieving lasting change. This course will consider how a range of American literary authors have engaged with questions about race, justice, power, and the law. We will read narratives written about (and sometimes against) the law, addressing such issues as slavery, colonialism, crime, incarceration, segregation, civil rights, immigration, and marriage. At the same time, we will study pertinent legal texts (court cases, legislation, treaties) to see what kind of stories the law has told about itself. 

Limited to 30 students.  Fall semester.  Visiting Assistant Professor Dichter.

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

273 The American Prison

The United States currently keeps more of its own citizens behind bars than any other country. While the US’s emergence as the global leader in incarceration rates is a relatively recent development, the prison has loomed large in American public life for 200 years. In this course, we will approach the prison not as a marginal phenomenon, but as an institution central to American culture. We will examine works of literature by and about prisoners alongside an expansive historical archive that includes reformers’ pamphlets, sociological studies, government reports, and inmate manifestos. Over the years, American prisons have been variously described as models of innovation and reform, as hotbeds of unrest and rebellion, as vestiges of slavery, and as vital components in the wars on drugs, crime and terror. These evolving debates about imprisonment have also continually raised questions about what it means to be “free” in America. This interdisciplinary course will trace those debates from the early days of the penitentiary through our present era of mass incarceration.

Limited to 30 students.  Fall semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Dichter.

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

277 Islamic Constitutionalism

Islamic constitutionalism is now a global phenomenon. References to Islam or Islamic law have been incorporated into more than thirty constitutions. Many states that are constitutionally Islamic also espouse commitments to liberal rights such as religious freedom, freedom of speech, and nondiscrimination. Rather than rehearse common binarisms that assess the compatibility of Islam and liberalism, this course considers the dilemmas that emerge in societies where more than one normative source of legal and institutional authority operates. We will consider how classical Islamic law varies from its modern codification, as well as how colonial inheritances such as British common law and French civil law shape legal systems in post-independence states. Drawing on an array of case studies, we will address issues like religious liberty, criminal sentencing, and personal status. How do judges in different places adjudicate between various and often competing sources of authority? What discursive resources become available to complainants, litigators, and jurists living under these hybrid legal regimes? How does Islamic constitutionalism compare with other varieties of religious establishment?

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assitant Professor Oraby.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020

280 Sectarian Modernity

Sectarianism and modernity are often understood as diametrically opposed phenomena. Subnational ethnic and religious identities, it is said, prevent the development of modern politics, cultures, and social affinities. And yet, sectarian difference in states like Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq seems to be a necessary condition for their coherence as modern political entities. What if sectarianism, which undermines the secular national ideal of universal citizenship, is instead understood as distinctly modern, its emergence dating no further back than the nineteenth century? This course examines the intertwined genealogy of sectarianism and modernity, paying particular attention to the administration of law, religion, and society in three phases of historical development: the late Ottoman Empire, the French and British Mandate periods, and the postcolonial present. Under what conditions did sectarianism emerge as a meaningful analytic category for the study of Middle East politics? What legal innovations have constituted and transformed the meaning and practice of sectarianism over time? In what ways do global sovereignties contribute to the persistence of sectarian identities? Why does sectarianism endure?

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Visitng Assistant Professor Oraby.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018

281 Fugitives in US Law and Literature

Outlaws, escaped slaves, refugees, and rebels are all on the run in the pages of American literature. In a nation founded in the name of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” stories of the fugitive making a break for freedom have been both troubling and enchanting. In this course, we will examine narratives of flight by American writers from the early days of the Republic through the present. We will consider how, in widely different cases, fugitivity is both an affront to the law and also a product of it. How do literary authors represent life that exists beyond, without, or against the law? Is the concept of “fugitivity,” in the abstract, even useful? Or can scenes of flight only be understood in light of the specific institutions, authorities, and laws being evaded? We will also pay attention to how notions of innocence and criminality inform stories of escape. Subjects will range from the narrative of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who, in 1849, hid in a crate and mailed himself to freedom in the North, to recent fiction by Edwidge Danticat and Viet Thanh Nguyen. Along the way, we’ll consider literary representations of outlaws, war refugees, undocumented immigrants, and insurrectionaries. Our texts will include autobiography, novels, poetry, and folklore that all explore antagonistic—but dynamic—relationships with the law.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Dichter.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

317 Thinking Law with Shakespeare

(Offered as LJST 317 and ENGL 337)  [Research Seminar] It is well known that Shakespeare’s texts put into play an intricate set of juridical terms and forms. The premise of this course is that we can retrieve from this “putting into play” a unique way of thinking about modern juridical order at the moment of its inception. Through the close reading of three Shakespearean texts, we will trace the way these works "put into play" some of the most basic concepts of modern Anglophone jurisprudence (such as person and impersonation, inheritance and usurpation, contract and oath, tyranny and sovereignty, pardon and mercy, matrimony and patrimony, and civil war and empire, marriage and divorce). The aim of this inquiry will not be to apply jurisprudence to Shakespeare’s texts; nor will it be to use Shakespeare’s texts to humanize a legal training that otherwise would risk remaining sterile and unfeeling; nor, finally, will it be either to historicize Shakespeare's texts (limiting them to a particular place and time) or to universalize those texts (treating them as the exemplar for all of humanity). It will be to treat the play of juridical terms and forms within Shakespeare’s texts as an occasion to think law with Shakespeare, and as such to learn to rethink the genesis and basis of modern Anglophone jurisprudence more generally.

Recommended requisite: LJST 110. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019

320 Murder

(Analytical Seminar) Murder is the most serious offense against the legal order and is subject to its most punitive responses.  It gives meaning to law by establishing the limits of law’s authority and its capacity to tame violence.  Murder is, in addition, a persistent theme in literature and popular culture where it is used to organize narratives of heroism and corruption, good and evil, fate and irrational misfortune.  This course considers murder in law, literature, and popular culture.

We will examine the legal definition of homicide and compare that crime with other killings which law condemns (assisted suicide) as well as those it tolerates (killing in self-defense) or itself carries out (police use of lethal force and capital punishment).  We will explore various types of murders (e.g. school shootings, terrorism, serial killing and genocide) and inquire into the motives of those who commit these acts.  In addition, we will consider representations of murder in literature and film.  Can such representations ever adequately capture murder, the murderer, and the fear that both arouse?  In addition to numerous court cases, course materials will include Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, Toni Morrison, Beloved, and Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem as well as such films as Menace 2 Society, Unforgiven, and Silence of the Lambs. Throughout, we will ask what we can learn about law and culture from the way both imagine, represent, and respond to murder.

Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Sarat.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2022

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?

 Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Douglas.

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

349 Law and Love

(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

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.

 Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18.  Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Fall 2024

352 Film, Myth, and the Law

(Analytic Seminar)  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.

Requisite: LJST 110.  Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Umphrey.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2016, Fall 2021

355 Animals: Law, Ethics, Biopolitics

(Offered as LJST 355 and POSC 355) (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 2017-18. Professors Sitze and Dumm.

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

356 Representing and Judging the Holocaust.

(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. Omitted 2017-18.  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.

 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

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

Related Courses

- (Course not offered this year.)ANTH-323 History of Anthropological Theory (Course not offered this year.)BLST-237 Incarcerating Blackness (Course not offered this year.)COLQ-234 America's Death Penalty (Course not offered this year.)PHIL-310 Ethics (Course not offered this year.)POSC-136 Regulating Citizenship (Course not offered this year.)RELI-263 Beginning the Bible (Course not offered this year.)RELI-267 Reading the Rabbis (Course not offered this year.)SOCI-315 Foundations of Sociological Theory (Course not offered this year.)