USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Program on Religious Accommodation

The issue of religious exemptions—claims by religious objectors that they have a right to be exempt from laws that offend their religious beliefs—is exploding. With the example of the controversy over the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act uppermost in mind, the issue of exemptions for religiously affiliated institutions promises to be a hot button issue in the next presidential election. The controversy over “Obamacare” is just one of a proliferating number of religious exemption claims. Challenges to anti-discrimination law are the tip of the iceberg, and advocates for civil rights now recognize that religious exemption claims represent the new frontier in the war on anti-discrimination law.

At the same time, advocates for religious rights see the fight for religious accommodation as their civil rights movement. The stage has thus been set for a political confrontation not only with, but within, the framework of civil rights. Beyond anti-discrimination law, claims to religious exemptions threaten to carve out holes in environmental law regimes, in public health frameworks—indeed, there is no limit to the potential reach of claims to religious accommodation, and such claims are garnering more support than they ever have before.

Under the direction of Prof. Nomi Stolzenberg, the USC Program on Religious Accommodation aims to create an interdisciplinary framework for examining these complex issues and the “age of accommodation.” The moment is ripe for analysis of the fundamental issues and clashing rights and values that underlie the current controversy over religious accommodation.

The Program on Religious Accommodation brings together scholars from the various disciplines of law, history, sociology, anthropology and religion along with other professional fields, such as journalism, medicine and public health, where the issue of accommodation is emergent as a central issue confronting policy makers and service providers alike. USC has singular strengths in all of these fields, making it the ideal place to develop programming that brings together scholars from different disciplines to overcome the fractured, polarized discourse that too often prevails in discussions of religious accommodation.

Through conferences, symposia, and a working group, the Program on Religious Accommodation aims:

  1. To deepen understanding of the basis of claims to religious accommodation, and the competing values involved in adjudicating these claims;
  2. To broaden our understanding of the variety of contexts in which claims to religious accommodation are made, and of the variety of religious groups who make the claims, and thereby overcome the overly simplistic framing of the issue as fight between “the religious right” and the liberal left. (This includes the recognizing both the variety of geographic and cultural contexts in which religious accommodation claims are made, internationally as well as in the United States, and the variety of institutional settings in which claims to accommodation are pressed);
  3. To create the truly interdisciplinary framework that is necessary for an adequate understanding of the issues presented by accommodation claims. In particular, to bring the professions of law, medicine, public health and journalism into conversation with the social sciences and humanities, as each of these fields sheds light on an important aspect of the issues presented, each being integral to the others.


The Program on Religious Accommodation’s activities are made possible by the generous support of USC’s Center for Law, History and Culture, USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, the USC Interdisciplinary Research Group, the USC Gould School of Law, the Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, the Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics, and the Early Modern Studies Institute.


About the Director

Nomi M. Stolzenberg joined the USC Law faculty in 1988. Her research spans a range of interdisciplinary interests, including law and religion, cultural pluralism, law and liberalism, and law and literature. A strong proponent of multidisciplinary research and teaching, she helped establish the USC Center for Law, History and Culture, which involves scholars and students from throughout USC’s campus.

Professor Stolzenberg’s scholarly publications are widely respected. Among them are the frequently cited “He Drew a Circle that Shut Me Out’: Assimilation, Indoctrination, and the Paradox of a Liberal Education” (Harvard Law Review); “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting,” (Harvard Law Review); “The Property of Culture,” (Daedalus), “The Profanity of Law” (in Law and the Sacred, Stanford University Press) and “Righting the Relationship Between Race and Religion in Law” (Oxford Journal of Legal Studies). She is currently at work on a book about the Satmar community of Kiryas Joel with David Myers, which explores the conundrum of an anti-secular, anti-modern, anti-liberal religious community flourishing in a modern liberal secular state.

A summa cum laude graduate of Yale University and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, Professor Stolzenberg was an editor on the Harvard Law Review and clerked for Judge John J. Gibbons of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, prior to joining USC Law. She is a member of the Advisory Board of University of San Diego’s Institute for Law and Religion; the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities; and Phi Beta Kappa. She sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Law, Culture, and the Humanities. Professor Stolzenberg teaches Family Law, a course on the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, Property Law, Law and Literature, and seminars on a variety of interdisciplinary topics.

Her newest teaching venture is Law 300, a course offered to undergraduates who are majoring in one of USC’s two innovative undergraduate law programs, Philosophy, Politics and Law and Law, History and Culture.

The Working Group

The Program on Religious Accommodation convenes an interdisciplinary working group with USC scholars from disciplines such as sociology, history, medicine, public health, religion, and law.

Contact Nomi Stolzenberg if you are interested in participating in the working group meetings or other activities.

From USC
Lisa Bitel (History)
Rebecca Brown (Law)
Kim Buchanan (Law)
Alex Capron (Law, Pacific Center)
David Cruz (Law)
Sam Erman (Law)
Ronald Garet (Law, Religion)
Camille Gear Rich (Law)
Ariela Gross (Law, History)
Sofia Gruskin (Medicine, Institute for Global Health, Law)
Sherman Jackson (Religion, American Studies)
Patrick James (International Relations)
Lyn Boyd Judson (Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics)
Brie Loskota (Center for Religion and Civic Culture)
Peter Mancall (History, Early Modern Studies Institute)
Jessica Marglin (Religion)
Donald Miller (Religion)
Clare Pastore (Law)
Megan Reid (Center for Religion and Civic Culture)
Alison Renteln (Political Science)
Stephen Rich (Law)
Hilary Schor (English, COLT, Law)
Dan Schnur (Unruh Institute)
Varun Soni (Religious Life)
Nomi Stolzenberg (Law)
Duncan Williams (Religion)
Diane Winston (Annenberg, Religion)

Outside USC
Robert Goldstein (UCLA, Law)
Michael Helfand (Pepperdine Law)
Douglas NeJaime (UC Irvine, Law)
Jack Rakove (Stanford, Political Science)
Rebecca Sager (Loyola Marymount University, Sociology)
Steven Smith (University of San Diego, Law)