From 2005 to 2007, the law school organized a discussion series on Law, Religion and Society.

The Faculty of Law’s Religion, Law and Society Series offered audience members an opportunity to discuss compelling issues of the day in an engaging and intellectually challenging format.  In some sessions an article chosen by the panel members is provided that sets out broad themes to be discussed.

Scroll down to see all of the archived sessions.


November 15, 2007

Lawyering and Social Work: Legal Professionalism in a Multiculturalism Context

A Panel Discussion:

  • Judith McCormack, Director, U of T Law, Downtown Legal Services
  • Uzma Shakir, Director, South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
  • Karima Kanani,  U of T Graduate of Law and Social Work currently a corporate lawyer with Miller   Thomson and co-author of "Essential Law for Social Work Practice in Canada"

The Faculty of Law's Alumni Office has sponsored the Law, Religion, and Society series for the past two years.  In each session, we have had speakers address how issues within a particular faith tradition  raise questions for how we manage diversity in society and through the  law.  But we also recognize that faith is one type of value system, among the many others that exist in a city like Toronto.

Our national, provincial, and municipal commitment to multiculturalism  will often put those of us in the legal profession in a situation  where we will come face-to-face with value systems other than our own,  and yet must ensure that we effectively service our clients and that our clients have a fair and sufficient voice in our legal system.  This is of importance to legal professionals practicing in all areas of the law.    How we as legal professionals gain the skills to ensure that how we practice law and the law itself are not deaf to the value-systems of others is not easy to teach in law schools.

This second session in the series is designed to offer insights from professionals who combine lawyering with social  work and other skills to fulfil their roles as legal professionals living and working in a multicultural world.

The session will be lead by Erin Murray, currently enrolled in the joint program in law and social work at the University of Toronto.

October 17, 2007

"Knowledge, Power and Gender in Medieval Islamic Legal Thought"


Discussed by - Prof. Mohammad Fadel

The Law, Religion, and Society series has offered lectures and discussions over the last two academic years, which have raised questions about how one might dialogue about religion in the public space.

Despite popular stereotypes regarding Islamic law and women, Islamic  law in fact displays considerable ambiguity regarding the potential of   females for citizenship equal to males.  This paper explores some of   these ambiguities in the context of Islamic evidentiary law.  Even as this body of law facially discriminates against women, it also accepts  women as the intellectual equals of men with respect to the production  and reproduction of knowledge generally.  The tensions between general norms of equality and specific discriminatory rules produced juristic discussions that remain significant for discussions of the legal equality of men and women in Islamic law.


Session 5

April 10, 2007
Litigating Religion in the Courtroom: Judicial Limits, Conceptual Restraints

Discussed by - Profs. Anver Emon and Kent Roach

The Law, Religion, and Society series has offered lectures and discussions this academic year that raise questions about how one might dialogue about religion in the public space.

On March 1, the latest installment of the series will focus on whether and how religion can be effectively litigated in the courtroom.

Professor Kent Roach will begin the session with a discussion of the 2006 Ontario Superior Court decision R. v. Khawaja [2006] O.J. No. 424, in which Rutherford J. severed a section of the Criminal Code that made religious motive an element for defining a terrorist activity.

The discussion will consider that case in particular, and more generally the ways in which religion has been litigated in the courts, and lastly the kinds of presumptions courts make about religion as a subject to be litigated.

Audience members will be asked to participate in a discussion of various hypotheticals that raise questions about how a court can or should respond to issues of religion in the courtroom.

Session 4

March 29, 2007
Murdering Holiness

Discussed by - Profs. Jim Phillips, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto and Rosemary Gartner,  Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto

Murdering Holiness: The Trials of Franz Creffield and George Mitchell (UBC Press and University of Washington Press, 2003), tells the story of Franz Creffield and his radical Christian holiness sect in Oregon and Washington in the early years of the twentieth century.

The first half of the book recounts how Creffield, a charismatic self-styled prophet who operated in Oregon from 1902 until 1906, encouraged his followers to forsake their families and worldly possessions and seek salvation through him. As the group's practices became more extreme, family members of followers and the community reacted with increasing hostility: Creffield and another member were tarred and feathered and driven out of Corvallis, his followers were institutionalised in the state asylum, and Creffield was sent to the penitentiary for adultery with a follower. Finally, Creffield was murdered in Seattle in 1906 by a male relative of two of his followers.

The second half is located in Seattle, and examines the reaction to the murder and the accompanying legal proceedings, especially the claim that the "unwritten law" justified a man in killing another who seduced a female relative. Creffield's murderer, George Mitchell was acquitted, but killed two days later by his sister, a Creffield follower and one of the women for whom he claimed to have been acting.  Esther Mitchell was not tried but placed in the asylum because, it is argued, resort to vigilantism and the "unwritten law" was gendered, not available to a woman or a religious fanatic.

Murdering Holiness uses one connected series of events to examine the relationships among formal and informal law, gender relations, and religious repression.

Read the press release about this event.


Session 3

November 28, 2006
Adisokanak (Ojibway Sacred Stories) and Canadian Law

Discussed by Prof. Darlene Johnston

Sacred stories say a great deal about how people understand their place in the universe and their relationship to other living things.  The earliest recorded Ojibway Creation story grounds community identity in a particular geographic landscape.  The legal implications of this cultural and geographic specificity in the context of Aboriginal rights claims will be explored.

Session 2

October 20, 2006
Apostates, Cartoons and Islamic Law: Beyond the Headlines

Discussed by - Prof. Anver Emon

Presented in conjunction with Reunion 2006 and alumni Life-Long Learning Day.

In 2006, we witnessed innumerable headlines about Islamic law, apostates, and cartoons.  Putting aside the polemics of political pundits, what can we learn from the incidents and the way they were covered by the media? 

Professor Emon will place the incidents in the context of Islamic legal history and the growing debate about religious pluralism in a liberal state like Canada.


Session 1

October 4, 2006
Gay Rights and Religious Expression: An Irreconcilable Conflict?

Discussed by - Prof. Jennifer Nedelsky and Prof. Guilio Silano

Over the past decade the Supreme Court of Canada has moved from recognizing sexual orientation as an analogous ground of discrimination in the section 15 equality guarantee of the Charter to confirming the authority of Parliament to legalize same-sex marriage.  In the Same-Sex Marriage Reference, [2004] SCJ No. 75, the Supreme Court downplayed the prospect that the legalization of same-sex marriage would give rise to 'irreconcilable conflicts' between the Charter guarantees of freedom of religion and equality.

Is such a view realistic?  Or is it more likely that a wide variety of conflicts will continue to emerge?  Faculty of Law Professor Jennifer Nedelsky and Professor Giulio Silano (Law 1978), Christianity and Culture scholar from St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto will discuss some of the longer-term implications of the legalization of same-sex marriage for religious groups, touching on such diverse areas as the education of children, the freedom to voice opinions critical of sexual conduct and the extension of legal benefits to religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage.

This will be a conversation not just about same sex marriage, but the far reaching implications of legal action when it engages deeply held and fiercely contested views.  More and more, not just lawyers but all members of society are confronting the fact that there are many instances in which the law cannot be neutral in such contests.  As Canadian society moves toward being more inclusive, to hearing the voices of those once excluded, there will inevitably be times when the depth of our differences around core values becomes clear.  And the law will inevitably be drawn into those debates.  This evening is aimed at a conversation about how to go forward constructively in the face of such differences



The first session of this new series took place on November 10, 2005 with Professor Anver Emon, who presented an overview of the intellectual history of Islamic law, showing how political, social and economic movements in history have fundamentally affected the prevailing conceptions of Islamic law, both globally and here in Canada.

The second session, on December 1, 2006 featured Professor Giulio Silano, from the Medieval Studies Program, speaking on "The Beginnings of Canonical Jurisprudence: Gratian's Concordance of Discordant Canons." The discussion looked at how the Catholic Church is notoriously a Church of law, and how the Church has failed in recent times to adhere to its own juridical traditions.

In the third session, on January 12, 2006, Professor Ernest Weinrib looked at Jewish legal traditions, illustrating the approach of the Talmudic rabbis to the reading of Biblical texts, and examined some brief extracts from the Talmud dealing with issues in criminal law, such as self-defence and transferred intent.

Finally, on March 16, 2006, Prof. Emon addressed the debate about Sharia-based arbitration in Ontarion. He illustrated how the conception of Islamic law in the Ontario debates has a political and legal history originating in the late 18th century and extending well into the modern day. Generally, he argued, those who participated on both sides of the Sharia debate in Ontario uncritically relied on a narrow, reductive, and reified notion of Islamic law, while ignoring the tradition’s interpretivist past and its capacity for change and accommodation in changing social, cultural, and institutional contexts.


A video of Prof. Emon's March 16, 2006 talk can be viewed over the web

Click here to watch Prof. Emon's discussion of Sharia law
Available in Windows Media or RealMedia formats