Professional and Biographical Information


LL.D (Honorary), Providence College (2008)

J.D., Yale Law School (1988) 

A.M. (Honorary), Amherst College (1984)

Ph.D., University of Wisconsin (1973)
M.A., University of Wisconsin (1970)

B.A., Providence College (1969)

Teaching Interests

Some of my teaching tracks my research, some does not. I teach courses about law and violence, one of which is called Murder. This course discusses the representation of murder in law, literature, and popular culture. Another course takes up the subject of punishment. In that course I try to help students understand why and when we punish and what punishment reveals about those who punish. These courses, like almost everything I teach, are deeply interdisciplinary, moving out from the study of law or political science to draw on philosophy, literature, sociology, and history. My hope is to take students on a journey from the familiar to the strange, that is to start with something about which my students are familiar and, using the insights of different disciplines, to illuminate the complexities of those familiar subjects. I also co-teach a course on law and film in which I seek to develop the competency of my students as readers and interpreters through close attention to the narrative, visual, and jurisprudential dimensions of the portrayal of law in popular culture.

I also am an enthusiastic teacher of first-year students, regularly offering an introduction to Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought and a First-Year Seminar, Secrets and Lies. Both of these courses move me away from the domains of my own scholarly preoccupations. Introducing students to the study of law in the liberal arts, I try to help them comprehend law as a distinctive combination of moral argument, particular interpretive traditions, and the social organization of violence. In my First-Year Seminar, I ask students to think about when and why people lie and seek to keep parts of their lives from the penetrating gaze of others, as well as when and why deception and secrecy might be justifiable in our social and political lives.

Awards and Honors

Jeffrey B. Ferguson Memorial Teaching Prize, awarded to an Amherst College faculty member for distinguished teaching and contributions to the curriculum and intellectual life of the college, 2022

Ronald Pipkin Service Award, awarded annually to a Law and Society Association member who has demonstrated sustained and extraordinary service to the Association, 2014.

Lasting Contribution Award, awarded by the American Political Science Association’s Section on Law and Courts “for a book or journal article, 10 years or older, that has made a lasting impression on the field of law and courts.” Recognizing "The Emergence of Transformation of Disputes: Naming, Blaming, Claiming," 2011

Huffington Post, Best Books 2010 for When Government Breaks the Law: Prosecuting the Bush Administration (

Honorary Doctor of Laws, Providence College, awarded for being an “internationally renowned scholar of capital punishment and for pioneering work in the development of legal study in the liberal arts,” 2008. Honorary Degree Citation.

    "Austin D. Sarat, once a precocious honors student at Providence College determined to change the world through political action, you followed a different, though no less transforming, path.

   Your unquenchable passion for knowledge has found expression in your esteemed scholarship, inspired teaching, and prolific writing. Convinced that a vital understanding of the law is instructive for every citizen, you introduced and nurtured the interdisciplinary academic field in which legal education intersects with liberal arts studies in culture and the humanities. Our nation's higher-education and legal systems both are immensely richer because of your insight and influence.

   You have presented generations of students with a great gift: the example of an engaged mind that joyfully embraces lifetime learning. Your success and honor as a teacher come from this and from your commitment to truly know your students and to help them discover who they are meant to be and what they can achieve.

    For these reasons, Father Chairman and Father President, the Corporation of Providence College presents Austin D. Sarat as one deemed worthy to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws and requests you to confer upon him this degree together with all its rights and privileges."

Hugo Adam Bedau Award, given to honor significant contributions to death penalty scholarship by the Massachusetts Coalition Against the Death Penalty, 2009.

Stan Wheeler Prize, awarded by the Law & Society Association for distinguished teaching and mentoring of undergraduate, graduate, and/or professional students working on issues of law and society, 2009.

James Boyd White Prize, awarded by the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities for “distinguished scholarly achievement” and in recognition of “outstanding and innovative” contributions to the humanistic study of law, 2006.

Reginald Heber Smith Book Award, awarded by the National Equal Justice Library to “honor scholarship on the subject of equal access to justice” for Cause Lawyering: Political Commitments and Professional Responsibilities and Cause Lawyering and the State in a Global Era, 2004.

Harry Kalven Prize, awarded by the Law & Society Association in recognition of a distinguished body of scholarly work that has contributed most effectively to the advancement of research in law and society, 1997.

Center for Public Resources 1989 Award for Excellence and Innovation in Alternative Dispute Resolution—Book Prize, for contribution to Quality of Dispute Resolution Symposium Issue (66 Denver University Law Review)

Scholarly and Professional Activities

Past President, Consortium of Undergraduate Law, and Justice Programs

Past President, Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities

Past President, Law and Society Association

Editor, Law, Culture, and the Humanities, 2004-

Editor, Studies in Law, Politics and Society, 2004-

        Co-Editor, 1990-2004

Editor, Series on the Cultural Lives of Law, Stanford University Press, 2004- Princeton University Press,1999-2003

Co-editor, with Martha Minow and Elaine Scarry, Series on Law, Meaning and Violence, University of Michigan Press, 1991-

Co-editor, with Lawrence Douglas and Martha Umphrey, Amherst Series on Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought, Stanford University Press, 2004- ; with Lawrence Douglas and Martha Umphrey, University of Michigan Press, 2001-2003; with Thomas Kearns, 1991-2001

Editor, Series on Law, Justice and Power, Dartmouth/Ashgate Press, 1998-

General Editor, The International Library of Essays in Law and Society, Dartmouth/Ashgate, 2004-


Expecting more and getting it

Law for Laypeople: Undergraduate legal-studies are proliferating, but some scholars deride them as 'baby law'

Law as a College Major? Professors Press for Liberal-Arts Degree; 'After All, Law Is Too Important To Be Left to the Lawyers.'

Amherst College professor gets award

After 24 Years on Death Row, Clemency Is Killer's Final Appeal

A Course Called 'Murder' (And It's Tough, Too)

Death Row Clemency Is Much Rarer These Days: Traditionally, a
Prisoner's Claims of Redemption Have Not Prompted Clemency

Sarat makes case against death penalty in new book

Sarat wins book award for work on cause lawyers

Association Grants Sarat Prize

See also: Research Interests and Selected Publications

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