What is the proper role of religion in public life? To what extent should religious belief shape our political discourse? How should religious leaders approach politics? How should political leaders approach religion?

This two-week course will introduce students to the perennial and contemporary political, philosophical, and moral issues that bear on the topic of religion and politics. For the first week, taught by professor Daniel Burns, students will consider the ways in which religion and politics intersect in a liberal democracy. In the second week, led by legal scholar Adam J. White, students will examine the interactions of law and religion in America, tracing Supreme Court jurisprudence and the role of the government in limiting or protecting religious freedom through history.

Image: Alexander Rider & Hugh Bridport, Camp-Meeting, c.1830 courtesy Library Company of Philadelphia 

Adam White on the Supreme Court & religious liberty


Daniel Burns

Daniel Burns is Associate Professor of Politics at the University of Dallas. He has held fellowships at the Catholic University of America and the University of Texas at Austin, and he is currently on academic leave for government service.

Adam J. White

Adam J. White is a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and an Assistant Professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, where he also directs the Gray Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session




  1. According to Locke, why is the care of souls not the business of civil society?
  2. In what does the act of tolerating consist? Is it only a negative “action”?
  3. What is Locke’s argument against theocracy?
  4. What goes into Locke’s distinction between practical and speculative articles of faith?
  5. According to Madison, why is the exercise of religion a natural right? What is the relationship between the religious person’s right and duties?
  6. What are Madison’s principled or deductive arguments against religious tests? What are his empirical or inductive arguments against them? Why does he use both?




  1.  Livy describes fear of the gods as “a principle of the greatest efficacy with the multitude, in that rude and ignorant age.” How did Numa use that principle for political ends? What political functions did religious rituals serve under Numa?
  2. Why was Numa unconcerned with the dangers of theocracy? Should he have been concerned?
  3. In this chapter, Rousseau argues that theological and civil intolerance are the same. What is his argument for this claim? Is it effective?
  4. According to Rousseau, what are the three kinds of religion and how do they fit (or not fit) with civil society?
  5. Why does Rousseau claim that religious and civil obligations are necessarily incompatible? Is he correct?




  1. How—both in practice and in theory—does the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom combine in early New England? Where the combination falters, is there a solution that does not require diluting either spirit?
  2. How does the separation of church and state contribute to the co-reign of the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom? How does it contribute to the individual benefit of each?
  3. What is the utility of religion? What is its special utility among democratic peoples?
  4. What did Tocqueville mean by “pantheism,” and why did he think democratic citizens were likely to find it attractive?

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