PUBLISHED:September 09, 2011

Scholars examine the work of Stanley Hauerwas

Legal and religious scholars from across the country gathered at Duke Law on Sept. 9 to discuss the work of noted Duke University theologian and public intellectual Stanley Hauerwas, whose scholarship was the focus of a daylong conference titled “Theological Argument in Law: Engaging With Stanley Hauerwas."

The conference featured discussions of Hauerwas’s work as it relates to legal and political theory and a broad range of specific topics, ranging from disability law to bioethics.

Hauerwas responded to the various panelists and took questions from the audience during a session in which he addressed the challenges of retaining a Christian identity and belief system while functioning in a society that requires other allegiances.

“I don’t know that being an elite lawyer in the Department of Justice is any more compromising than being a tenured member of the faculty at an elite research university,” he said. “That’s pretty compromising.”

The theologian also discussed the tension between being a believer in nonviolent Christianity and living in a society based on a rule of law requiring some sort of enforcement mechanism.

“As a practicing nonviolent Christian, I have to ask myself the question, ‘Do I call the police?’” he said. “That’s a real question. Yet I want there to be a law against theft and a law against fraud.”

Hauerwas, the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School, holds a joint appointment at the Law School. He has focused his research and writing on recovering the significance of the virtues for understanding the nature of the Christian life, emphasizing the importance of the church as well as narrative for understanding Christian existence. His largely interdisciplinary work addresses systematic theology, philosophical theology and ethics, political theory, as well as the philosophy of social science and medical ethics. Conference organizer John Inazu ’00 pointed out the relevance of Hauerwas’s work to law, in particular.

"He has written for decades about issues central to the law: violence, liberalism, bioethics, theories of disability, theories of interpretation, capital punishment, just war theory, reconciliation, public reason, patriotism, euthanasia, abortion, and religious freedom, to name only a few of the more obvious connections,” said Inazu, an assistant professor of law and political science at Washington University in St. Louis and until recently a visiting assistant professor at Duke Law.

Conference participants, in addition to Hauerwas and Inazu, included Professor Guy-Uriel Charles of Duke Law, Paul Griffiths, the Warren Professor of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School, H. Jefferson Powell, the Lyle T. Alverson Professor of Law at The George Washington University, and Professor W. Bradley Wendel ’94 of Cornell University Law School.

Hauerwas was named "America’s Best Theologian" by Time in 2001 and delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectureship at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, that year. He is the author of A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic, (University of Notre Dame Press, 1991); Matthew: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006); and The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007).

Duke’s oldest law journal, Law & Contemporary Problems, sponsored the event, along with the Duke Program in Public Law, Duke Divinity School and the Franklin Humanities Institute, and the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and School of Law at Washington University in St. Louis. L&CP will publish a symposium issue of papers presented.