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We American lawyers pride ourselves on the secular nature of our legal system. We celebrate the separation of Church and State. We think that the moving spirit of the law is to be found not in eternal truths about the universe but in the contingent needs of social and economic policy. "The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience," said Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in a sentence that since 1881 has broadcast to every new generation of lawyers the pragmatic foundations of their craft.

We assume that we have little in common with the great religious legal systems found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. After all, our law does not come from God. It comes from the pen of human legislators. It is fallible, imperfect, subject to change, and hardly worthy of the respect we associate with Church and Synagogue.

How then can I propose to speak today about nearly sacred books in the Western legal tradition? It is simple. I am going to challenge the conventional view that law and religion occupy totally separate spheres of social life. On the contrary, I will argue that our legal culture and other secular legal cultures function very much like religious communities.


Comparative and Foreign Law | Law