Proving Religion: What Evidence is Relevant?

Thu, October 16, 2014, 4:00 - 6:00pm
3401 Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley

Winnifred Sullivan, Professor of Religious Studies and Law, Indiana University

All talk of special accommodations for religiously motivated persons, or separation of religion from government, presumes a capacity to give an account of what religion is. Often what counts as religion in such situations is implicit, largely by assumed analogy to majority religious traditions; often it is strategically deliberately left ambiguous. We shout at each other about whether religion belongs or not in the public square and whether religious folks ought to have privileged exemptions from laws that apply to everyone else. But “religion” operates largely as a black box in these contests.

The familiar challenge of the incoherence of the category (at least to religion scholars) is explored here in the larger context of the crisis of the relevance and admissibility of expert evidence in the US courts. What evidence is relevant in proving religion? Subjective witness by a party? Testimony by a cleric? Authoritative religious texts? Expert reports by religious studies scholars? Who decides and how? What theories of law and of religion are implied by these various alternatives? (Sullivan)

Winnifred Fallers Sullivan is Professor and Chair of Religious Studies and Affiliate Professor of Law at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is the author, most recently, of The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton, 2005), Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution (Princeton, 2009), and A Ministry of Presence (Chicago 2014).

To register for the colloquium and receive the pre-circulated paper, please contact

The Berkeley Lecture on Religious Tolerance and colloquium are sponsored by the Endowed Fund for the Study of Religious Tolerance.