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John Witte Jr.

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

Areas of Expertise

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


Advanced Religious Freedom, Constitutional Law: Religion and State, Criminal Law, First Amendment: Religious Freedom, History of Church/State Relations in the West, History of Law, Religion, and Family


John Witte Jr., JD (Harvard); Dr. Theol. h.c. (Heidelberg), is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, McDonald Distinguished Professor of Religion, and Faculty Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University. A leading specialist in legal history, human rights, religious freedom, marriage and family law, and law and religion, he has published 300 plus articles, 18 journal symposia, and 45 books.  

His major book titles include: Law and Protestantism: The Legal Teachings of the Lutheran Reformation (Cambridge University Press, 2002); 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); Christianity and Family Law: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2017); Church, State, and Family: Reconciling Traditional Teachings and Modern Liberties (Cambridge University Press, 2019); The Blessings of Liberty: Human Rights and Religious Freedom in the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 2021); Faith, Freedom, and Family (Mohr Siebeck, 2021); and Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment, 5th ed. (Oxford University Press, 2022)

Professor Witte's writings have appeared in fifteen languages, and he has delivered more than 350 public lectures throughout the world, including the Franke Lectures at Yale, the Pennington Lectures at Heidelberg, the Jefferson Lectures at Berkeley, the Beatty Lectures at McGill, the McDonald Lectures at Oxford, the Cunningham Lectures at Edinburgh, and the Gifford Lectures at Aberdeen. 

With $27 million of funding raised from the Pew, Ford, Lilly, Luce, and McDonald foundations and other benefactors, he has directed 20 major international projects on democracy, human rights, and religious liberty; on marriage, family, and children; and on law and religion – collectively involving 1600 scholars worldwide and yielding 380 new volumes and journal symposia. He is Series Editor of 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, Brill Research Perspectives on Law and Religion, and the new Colección Raíces del Derecho (Aranzadi). 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.  

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

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