Skip to main content

Centre for Law and Religion

The Centre for Law and Religion was established in the summer of 1998 to promote research and its dissemination in this field.

The Centre for Law and Religion was established in the summer of 1998 to promote research and its dissemination in this field.

Its activities are carried out in relation to the theory and practice of substantive law concerning religion, the focus being principally upon religious law and national and international law affecting religion, with regard to their historical, theological, social, ecumenical and comparative contexts.

The Relevance and Study of Law & Religion

Like other major institutions in society, both groups and private individuals with religious convictions function within a legal framework. Furthermore, the lives of these religious organisations and their members are often facilitated and regulated by a complex system of rules, which are created not only by religious organisations themselves but also by the State.

In the mediæval period, the law of the western Christian Church was studied in the Canon Law faculties of the major European universities, who awarded degrees in Canon Law to their graduates. The English Reformation of the sixteenth century involved the dissolution of the canon law faculties of both Oxford and Cambridge and put an end to such study in England and Wales. Nevertheless, religion and canon law have been fundamental to the development of both the common law and the civil law traditions, especially in the field of marriage and family law, as well as in criminal law, trusts, contract and public law.

In more recent years, there has been in the United Kingdom a renewal of interest in the law relating to churches and other religious organisations. This has resulted, in the last decade, in an increase in cases involving religious groups entertained by the courts, in a growing literature on law and religion, in university courses on the subject, and in the development of societies devoted to its study.

The subject of law and religion may itself be conceived in a number of different ways.

  • First, it involves the study of state law applicable to religious organisations: in the European tradition this is known as Ecclesiastical Law; and in Germany the discipline is known conveniently as Staatskirchenrecht.
  • Secondly, it involves the study of the internal rules of religious organisations, some of which operate systems of canon law with respect to their governmental, ministerial, doctrinal, ritual and proprietorial activities.
  • Thirdly, it has a strong comparative dimension: comparison of the ecclesiastical legal systems of different states; the relationship between state law and the laws of religious groups; and relationships between the internal laws of religious organisations.
  • Fourthly, it is an inter-disciplinary subject, involving both religious and legal concepts as well as the operation of different branches of public and private law and international human rights instruments.


The objectives of the Centre are:

  • the exchange and development of ideas, through conference, seminar and workshop programmes, between academics, practitioners and others
  • the encouragement and development of research output
  • the provision of research posts
  • the establishment of projects studying new developments in the field of church law in the UK, to bring together academics and practitioners to consider topical issues of importance, and to print reports resulting therefrom;
  • the development of links with home and overseas institutions, particularly universities in the USA and Europe
  • engagement in collaborative research with home and overseas institutions and scholars and to welcome and support visiting scholars
  • the dissemination of research output through assistance in the provision by the Law School of postgraduate degrees and other courses
  • the collection of an internationally recognised library on law and religion.


Centre members are engaged in research into all areas of law and religion.

Recent research includes Social Cohesion and Civil Law, a study of religious courts and tribunals across the UK, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)/The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Religion and Society Programme with an award of £79,862.

The Centre has been particularly fortunate to have received financial support from a great many bodies, including:

Meet the team

Lead researcher

Next steps


Research that matters

Our research makes a difference to people’s lives as we work across disciplines to tackle major challenges facing society, the economy and our environment.


Postgraduate research

Our research degrees give the opportunity to investigate a specific topic in depth among field-leading researchers.


Our research impact

Our research case studies highlight some of the areas where we deliver positive research impact.