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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 mediƦval 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.