Center for Law and Religion Hosts Fall Reading Society Featuring Author Tara Isabella Burton


On November 1, 2022, the Center for Law and Religion reconvened its Reading Society, welcoming author Tara Isabella Burton to St. John’s Law for a conversation about the rise of the religiously unaffiliated in America, a topic she explores in her recent and much-discussed book, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World. Professor Mark Movsesian, who co-directs the Center with Professor Marc DeGirolami, facilitated the conversation and a lively Q&A session that gave attendees a chance to quiz Burton on aspects of her book.

The Center for Law and Religion Reading Society gathers once a semester to discuss works of fiction and non-fiction raising law and religion themes. All St. John’s Law students are welcome. Previous sessions featured Sophocles’ Antigone, St. Augustine’s City of God, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and C.S. Lewis’ essay, “Learning in Wartime.”

In Strange Rites, Burton argues that the increasing number of the religiously unaffiliated—what some scholars refer to as “the rise of the Nones”— should be understood as rejection of religious institutions, not faith as such. The large majority of the unaffiliated, she writes, continue to believe in some sort of higher power. They believe that they can follow and, indeed, create their own spiritual paths, and need not accept the authority of traditional religious communities.

Students participated in the conversation with great enthusiasm. “I found Burton’s talk to be interesting in that it didn’t focus on law so much as on a societal trend that she and others have noticed,” says Billy Michaca ’23. “Her position was well thought out and accords with the experience of many in today’s world. Thanks for yet another incredible book club meeting!” Kassandra Pugliese ‘23 also came away with deeper insight. “I found Burton’s Strange Rites to be a wonderful explanation for a phenomenon I think most are noticing and feeling,” she says, adding, “It was refreshing to be able to discuss a shift in American culture that I think we’re experiencing in real time, but that most of us haven’t quite put our finger on.”

Reflecting on the successful event, Professor Movsesian notes, “I’ve benefitted from Tara’s research in my own scholarship on the religiously unaffiliated and the First Amendment, and it was a great pleasure to meet and hear from her in person. Strange Rites has received a lot of attention from scholars and public intellectuals, and deservedly so. She is writing about social trends that are influencing American law, and her work will be important for years to come.”

About the Center for Law and Religion
Established in 2010, the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s Law provides a forum for studying law and religion from domestic, international, and comparative perspectives with the aim of:

  • Examining the role of law in the relationship between religion and the state
  • Exploring the concept of law in different religious traditions
  • Promoting St. John’s Vincentian mission by encouraging an open dialogue on law and religion in the local, national, and international communities

In addition to hosting academic programs locally and around the world, the Center coordinates the Law School’s law and religion curriculum. It also hosts the Law and Religion Forum, a blog about recent law and religion scholarship and news, and Legal Spirits, a podcast series on law and religion issues in the courts.