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The Unity of Law and Religion in Ancient Rome and Classical India: Learning From the ‘Other’

Clifford Ando v. Donald Davis

Thursday, October 13, 2011
12.10 – 1:45 pm (Lunch provided)
SLB 122


Law and religion are commonly conceived as dualistic antinomies in many modern Western states. The distinction between the mundane and the transcendent, religion and the law is often held up normatively as a fundamental basis for the organization of societies. These assumptions, however, have been and still are being challenged. 
In this debate, our speakers discuss ancient India and Rome, which seem to stand as genuine "others" to the contemporary West in their acceptance of continuity between religious and mundane life, between gods and politics. In examining the place of law and religion in ancient Rome and India, the debate focuses on the interpenetration of legal and religious discursive and normative systems along three themes: (i) pluralism; (ii) the problem of priority between law and religion (both as regards historical development and as regards the ideologies of modern reception and scholarship); and (iii) the nature of legal and religious argument and innovation. 

Thus, we ask: What role did religion in Rome and India play in the political life of the people and in the formation of their laws?  And, conversely, how did law and politics structure or intersect with religious institutions and ideas? What are the implications of thinking of law and religion as much more closely connected than modern secularism permits?  


Clifford Ando

Professor of Classics, History and Law at the University of Chicago and the author of Law, Language and Empire in the Roman Tradition (2011).

Donald R. Davis, Jr.

Associate Professor at the Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the author of The Spirit of Hindu Law (2010).