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John Witte Jr.

Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, McDonald Distinguished Professor, and CSLR Director

Areas of Expertise

Legal History, Human Rights, Religious Freedom, Marriage and Family Law, Law and Religion


Constitutional Law: Religion and State, Criminal Law, History of Church/State Relations in the West


John Witte Jr., JD (Harvard); Dr. Theol. h.c. (Heidelberg), is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, McDonald Distinguished Professor of Religion, and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University. A specialist in Legal History, Human Rights, Religious Freedom, Marriage and Family Law, Law and Religion, he has published 260 articles, 17 journal symposia, and 32 books.

Recent book titles include: The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion, and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism (Cambridge University Press, 2007); Christianity and Law: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2008); The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered (Cambridge University Press, 2009); Christianity and Human Rights: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2010); Religion and Human Rights: An Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2012); From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition (Westminster John Knox Press, 2d ed., 2012); No Establishment of Religion: America’s Original Contribution to Religious Liberty (Oxford University Press, 2012); The Western Case for Monogamy over Polygamy (Cambridge University Press, 2015); Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment (Oxford University Press, 4th ed., 2016); Christianity and Family Law: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2017); Church, State, and Family: Reconciling Traditional Teachings and Modern Liberties (Cambridge University Press, 2019).

Witte’s writings have appeared in fifteen languages, and he has delivered more than 350 public lectures throughout the world, including, recently, the Franke Lectures at Yale, the Pennington Lectures at Heidelberg and Yale, the Jefferson Lectures at Berkeley, and the Cunningham Lectures at Edinburgh. He will serve as the Gifford Lecturer in Aberdeen in 2020.

With major funding from the Pew, Ford, Lilly, Luce, and McDonald foundations, he has directed fifteen major international projects on democracy, human rights, and religious liberty; on marriage, family, and children; and on law and Christianity. He is Series Editor of both “Emory Studies in Law and Religion” (Eerdmans) and “Cambridge Studies in Law and Christianity” (Cambridge University Press), and he coedits the Journal of Law and Religion. He has been selected twelve times by the Emory law students as the Most Outstanding Professor and has won dozens of other awards and prizes for his teaching and research.  

Witte is married to Eliza Ellison, a theologian and mediator. They have two daughters and four grandchildren.

Education: JD, Harvard University, 1985; BA, Calvin College, 1982